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5 Things Your Instructor Wants You to Know Before Your First Ski Lesson

Whether your New Year’s resolution included bigger adventures or a new fitness routine, skiing for the first time is a fun and exciting plan. The best way to start anything new, different, and (let’s face it) potentially painful is to get a lesson on it for at least the first time you try it.

I was born and raised in Colorado, so I’ve completed the dual rites of passage for lifelong residents known as learning how to ski and working for a ski resort so I could continue skiing without selling a kidney to pay for lift tickets. I taught skiing for two years, and while my training was very thorough in letting me know how to get people on the chairlift and down the mountain for the first time, I had to pick up some of the other essential elements about first-time ski experiences through my students.

For those of you who have never visited the slopes before and are looking for a hopefully non-literal crash course, here are some of those essential elements that your instructor won’t necessarily tell you about before you get on the chairlift, but that you really need to know before your first ski lesson anyway:

1. Your boots will hurt. 

In both texture and flexibility, ski boots tend to resemble foot-shaped bowling balls. There’s a good reason for this: without the stiffness and relative inflexibility, it would be really easy to injure your ankles and feet with all the new and unusual movements you’ll be making on the hill. But those features won’t make your footwear any more comfortable to walk in, especially while you’re schlepping your gear to the mountain’s base.

The rental shop will have you try on the boots and walk around a little bit with them in the store. If you have a burning pain or feel like you’re losing circulation, definitely adjust the boots. If you’re feeling a little cramping or soreness from doing a Frankenstein’s Monsterish shuffle, that’s perfectly normal. Don’t worry, no one will laugh at you–even the experts will be crying with you.

2. Deliberately sliding on snow will feel really weird.

I had plenty of students from warmer climates. Just being on snow at all was a novelty for some, and the slipperiness of the substance was challenging for them to get used to.

However, even some of my Rocky Mountain-based students were unfamiliar with the concept of starting to slide on snow and taking no steps to correct that immediately. The first lesson your instructor will go over with you, though, will be how to stop, so you’ll be able to get comfortable with making like Elsa and letting go, knowing that you can catch yourself.

3. Sunscreen is your new BFF. 

Yeah, we hardened, frostbitten mountaineers know. It’s twenty degrees outside, and while we’re waxing enthusiastic about what a perfect day it is temperature-wise (because the snow’s a perfect consistency at that temp, and we’re not going to sweat too hard in our waterproof gear, in case you needed to know why we’re making crazy talk), you’re shivering in your Long Johns and wondering if IQ drops inversely in relation to altitude or directly in relation to degrees Fahrenheit.

So you’re probably wondering why sunscreen is a necessity when any type of burn seems like a physical impossibility. Though you think your lips are turning blue, the rest of face will turn red in a hurry if it’s not protected. The higher elevation means a thinner atmosphere, which means harsher UV rays. If you don’t want your face to have the consistency and painfulness of your boots, lather up before you leave your room.

4. You don’t need to impress anybody.

My trainers and managers always impressed upon me that I was to teach group lessons at the pace of the slowest learner in the class. If one or two people were really struggling with mastering basic stops and turns, I had their permission, encouragement even, to talk to a supervisor and see about moving the rest of the group to a different instructor so I could take my time and work with the individuals who were having the hardest time. Don’t feel pressured to do unsafe or uncomfortable exercises that you’re not ready for. Your instructors (and their bosses!) want you to come back and ski again, and that means making sure you feel safe and are having fun.

This also ties in to recommendation 4(a), which is that you avoid taking a lesson with your significant other. I’ve seen many cases in which the partner who was mastering the exercises more quickly wanted to “help” their slower partner. Suffice to say that I privately thought I could run a great side business by handing out business cards for local divorce attorneys by the ends of those lessons.

5. Tipping your instructor is A-OK! 

Let us say that I was not teaching skiing for the fabulous salary. Sure, there were great perks: I got to work outside, I was doing something I loved, and I got a free ski pass and discounts on gear, but I was hardly pulling a Scrooge McDuck and frolicking in my piles of money.

Like any other service industry, tipping, while not mandatory (ski instructors do get paid a bit above minimum wage, and full-timers are able to rent discount employee housing), is very much appreciated. If you enjoyed your lesson, find a way to let your instructor know! If you don’t have cash on hand, make a comment at the ski school office or recommend your instructor by name to a friend who’s thinking about trying the sport for the first time. At the mountain I worked, instructors got a bonus if they were requested by name, so if you or any other interested parties want to learn more, the instructor you had will be happy to have you back.

Once you’ve finished your lesson for the day, be sure to get your instructor’s recommendations on where to go for dining and drinks. Go ahead and get a spiked hot chocolate–you, and your feet in particular, will have earned it!