A step-by-step guide to going skiing for the first time.
Heaven on Earth - A Powder Day in Breckenridge
There’s a chill in the air here in the Rockies and that can only mean one thing to us ski bums; we’re just a month or so away from clicking into those bindings and having the time of our lives. Skiing is a remarkable sport for the whole family. But if you’ve never done it before, you are probably daunted by the prospect of gathering equipment, finding a place to stay and just how to get started on the slopes. In the winter, I work as a ski school supervisor for Breckenridge Ski Resort, one of the absolutely best places to learn how to ski. So here’s a step-by-step guide how to have more fun than ever before in the snow.
Before you get to the slopes, I highly recommend getting into a little bit of shape. Many folks arrive at 10,000 feet above sea level and expect to feel great on day one. Your first days in town are all about acclimation. We recommend drinking plenty of water and just taking it easy, walking around town and keeping your alcohol consumption to small amounts only, if at all. At our altitude, one drink is equivalent to that of three. The booze sneaks up on you, if you’re not careful. If you haven’t done any exercise all summer, you need to get started before your vacation. I recommend working on your wind and strengthening your legs through weight training. I would start with a spin cycle at the gym and jump into an aerobics class at least a few times a week. You need to get your heart rate up and get the muscles in those legs firing.
What to Pack and Bring On Your Big Adventure
Here’s a list, but remember, if you forget anything, Summit County is complete with everything you could ever wish for including Target, Walmart, City Market and hundreds of clothing and equipment stores.
Sunscreen (we are at 10,000-up to 13,000 feet above sea level, so the sun is so much more intense here, even when it’s cloudy). Make sure that you buy the highest SPF you can find, and reapply it regularly. The best ones tend to have zinc and parsol.
Think layers – you will want long underwear (I prefer silk, but if you don’t know if you are ever going to use it again, just buy a good quality Polyprolene from Walmart or other discounter). Next layer should be a close fitting turtleneck and comfortable ski pants. Then, the next layer should be a fleece or sweater on top, followed by a jacket.
Hat – no excuses here, you must wear a hat or better yet, a helmet. A large percentage of your body heat escapes through the top of your head. I see beautiful women who epitomize the “ski bunny” persona, long hair flowing, freezing their butts off by noon, ending their day early because they just can’t get warm. Be smart and wear a great, warm hat or helmet. There’s nothing fashionable about frostbite.
Gloves or Mittens – most women prefer mittens. My big secret is putting chemical hand warmers in the tips of the mittens, so while riding the chairlift, I can grab the warmers and take the chill out of my paws. They even make warmers for your boots too! Don’t scrimp on gloves or mittens. Make sure you invest in a good fitting, comfortable pair of hand covers. Some people wear liners that are made of Polyprolene or silk in addition to hand warmers. All of these items are available at your local sporting goods store, Target or Walmart.
Socks – Make sure the socks do not have ribbing or nubby parts, because your boots must fit very close to your legs and feet. After time, those ribs will start boring into your legs and provide incredible discomfort. You only need to wear one pair of socks. Do not layer socks. When sliding your feet into your boots, make sure to remove your pant legs or other layers. Just a sock in the boot please. Personally, I prefer a brand called Thorlo. The socks should extend to just below your knee. Do not wear short crew style socks.
Shoes for Around Town – You will need some snow boots of some sort. You can go super stylish and buy Uggs or Technica’s or you can go entirely functional and buy Sorrel’s. Just make sure they are heavy bottomed boots with comfortable and warm liners. There’s nothing more satisfying that putting your tired dogs into your comfy snow boots after a day of skiing, so make sure you pick a good looking pair. They will last you a lifetime if you choose well.
Don’t Do It!
Don’t even think about Scotch guarding your jeans, please. If you can’t afford to buy adequate ski clothing, you can rent clothes from Ski Country Resorts & Sports. Just give them a call and reserve your sizes. It’s a very affordable option.
Flying into Denver is generally pretty easy. The airport is one of the best and if you are inclined to bring equipment, you’ll find the revolving ski/snowboard baggage claim is super convenient.
There are some wonderful places to stay while in town. Do not attempt to drive back and forth from Denver to the ski area. Though it’s only 90 minutes from the airport, it can be 6 hours if it snows hard. Call my buddies at Ski Country Resorts and Sports for the best selection and prices on lodging. They have everything from hotel rooms to homes that will sleep a small city.
Once you land in Denver you can rent a vehicle – make sure you have your reservations, because during the busy season, vehicles with 4-wheel drive are in demand and often hard to come by. At minimum, rent a front wheel or all wheel drive. If you just call Ski Country they can make sure to rent your auto/SUV through Alamo Car Rental. A word of caution…just because it’s a 4-wheel drive, doesn’t make the car invincible. Us locals see our share of folks roll their rental Jeep’s going too fast and taking too many chances.
We have busses coming to Summit County on a regular basis. Just click on this link for full details: http://summitnet.com/Transportation/
Here’s some good news too. The Summit Stage provides free bus service throughout Summit County. Buses have ski/snowboard racks in the winter and bike racks in the summer. Route maps and schedule information is available online. Breckenridge also has a free bus that runs during the ski season that takes skiers & snowboarders to the slopes. And if you have had a few too many, it’s a wonderful way to get your tipsy butt home without incident. And trust me, the cops love to arrest drunk drivers here. Do not take a chance.
Rental Equipment – Don’t buy until you try.
Don’t get talked into buying equipment until you know you love the sport. It’s expensive stuff. See my sidebar, for everything you’ll need to know. Ladies, pay particular attention to my boot advice. Please.
Shaped Skis Make Learning Super EasyYou need Skis, boots and poles for skiing and a board and boots for snowboarding. Most ski shops are staffed with knowledge people who can direct you as to size and quality of equipment, so just place yourself in their hands. Most lodging companies have affiliations with stores in Breckenridge or actually offer rental equipment in the lodging deal. I like Ski Country Resorts and Sports for a very important reason. Your equipment is located where you check in. Kind of a one-stop shop and all within walking distance of the gondola and busses that will take you up the mountain. Please don’t rent itty-bitty short skis. Some staff at local stores attempt to get you to try these skis and they are just not going to help you learn. As instructors, we get so frustrated trying to teach a group how to ski and somebody invariably shows up with those skis and we just can’t take time out to teach that sport too. You will probably get a ski that’s 140cm to 170cm that’s called a shaped ski – it makes turning so much easier and you’ll get to experience the joy of skiing much more quickly. But trust your ski shop techs. Make sure your boots are snug but not uncomfortable. If you feel something uncomfortable in the store, it will only amplify on the slopes. You need to be insistent at finding a good fitting boot. And ladies, our legs are shaped differently from a man’s. Our calf muscle sits lower on our legs than a man’s. So ask for a ladies boot! Do not wear a man’s boot unless you have a very thin calf muscle and even then, take my advice and get a woman’s boot.
Rent your equipment in town. Do not drag equipment from home. Trust me!
Lift & Lesson Tickets
Skiing and snowboarding require lessons. Do not have your friends attempt to teach you how to ski. Unless they are ski school instructors for a living, don’t burden your friends with the task of teaching you. Friends have terrible judgment and forget how it feels to be a beginner. We ski professionals learn a process that is concise and works. We can have you up on the slope in no time, but there are some basics that you must learn before getting on a lift. My advice is to take a minimum of 3 days lessons. And of course, there are better prices for the more lessons you take. If you tend to learn better with one-on-one instruction, hire a ski instructor for 3 hours your first day, 6 hours your second day and 6 hours for your third day. Yes, this is an investment, but totally worth the money you’ll spend. Check with www.snow.com for prices.
Learning skiing vs snowboarding is this: There are some people who are natural athletes and can just get right up and going right away, but for the rest of us, here’s what we know about the learning curve: it takes approximately 4 hours of training to learn how to slow, stop and turn on skis which also includes getting on and off a lift – so you can actually cruise the bunny hill pretty proficiently after a day’s instruction in skiing. The learning curve is a little more difficult with snowboarding (I’m told about 3 days) but you can go more places, more quickly after learning the snowboard. If I were you, I would try both! Why not?
If you are on a budget, which most of us are, then full day lessons are for you. You’ll start at 10:00 am, break at 12:15pm or so and resume the class at 1:30pm and you’ll finish for the day at around 3:45pm or when your legs give up. Don’t buy lift tickets until you know which class you are going into. We have package prices up on the mountain or at the gondola sales office. You and several other people will be directed by ski instructors who have years of experience and patience! Learn the right way, please.
The others in your group can really benefit by buying discount lift tickets from Ski Country Resorts. Remember, you must have booked your lodging with them, but the discounts are really pretty amazing.
If you are traveling from abroad, please be sure to check into a ski pass such as the Epic Mix. Many of you travel here for several weeks at a time and buying onesy-twosey tickets will break you. We are always astounded that you guys end up paying thousands of dollars are day tickets and could have bought a pass for $599!
Getting to the Slope & Some Great Suggestions
First of all, make sure everyone in your party has the following stuff:
skis, boots, poles, snowboard, boots, sunglasses or goggles, cell phone, sunscreen, hat, gloves, money or credit card, ski pass or lift ticket, lesson tickets and a wristwatch or timepiece. If you are taking your kids to go ski, make sure you have a central place to meet at various times of day. This should be a non-negotiable idea. Parents often implore us to try and find their children at the end of the day and we simply do not have the technology or manpower to locate a single child at the end of the day. We do have RFID towers being installed that log a skier/snowboarder when they get on the lift and when they get off the lift, but that’s the extent of our abilities. Communication and a predetermined meeting spot will eliminate most issues.
Wear A Helmet. Trees don't move.
Please be sure to ski safely – I haven’t mentioned this idea yet, but I am a firm believer that you need to rent helmets for the whole family. Every year we sustain many accidents here at the ski area and some are fatal. Humans were not meant to hit trees at speed, but it happens regularly and some very
It's Truly Cool to Wear A Helmet. And They are Warm!
famous people have lost their lives as a result. Why take chances and besides, helmets do a dandy job of keep your head warm too!
There are ski lockers located on mountain for your convenience too. On Peak 8, they are located in the building next to the gondola. We recommend storing your valuables while skiing. Every summer, we locals love to hike up the trails just beneath of chairlifts. It’s a veritable treasure trove of jewelry, credit cards, cell phones and more. Make sure that your zippers are solid and working! And you just don’t need to wear jewelry on the slopes. Earrings and diamond rings should be locked in your hotel safe!! In fact, diamonds are often found on the slopes too. Seems metal likes to shrink and those precious stones fall out quite easily.
So there you have it – my ideas on how to get started skiing or snowboarding for the first time. See you on the slopes!