How To Get Started:
So you want to learn to slide?
By Diane Scholfield, Snowlink.com editor - From the Snowlink.com web site
Winter sliding sports — downhill skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing — are fun, and only partly because of the sports themselves. For urban dwellers, a snow sports vacation allows escape from everyday routines. We can admire stunning scenery created by the hands of nature rather than the hands of humans, and breathe fresh air. Winter sports provide an opportunity for family togetherness or outings with friends your age, because all ages can learn and enjoy them.
Skiing — either downhill or cross country — and snowboarding are not difficult to learn. With some lessons, you'll be having fun in no time. Here are some answers to questions you may have:
Are snow sports dangerous?
Is driving dangerous? Drivers who are reasonably cautious usually reach their destination without harm. If they drink and drive, or drive too fast for the conditions, the risk of an accident increases. The same applies to snow sports. The majority of serious injuries happen to skiers or snowboarders who are speeding, have been drinking alcohol or are on terrain too difficult for their level. Thousands of people learn to ski or snowboard each year with no injury more serious than a bruised back side.
Undoubtedly, you've seen TV commercials or movies showing skiers and snowboarders jumping off cliffs or doing flips in the air. Perhaps you fear that's what skiing and snowboarding are ultimately all about. Mountain resorts have plenty of terrain — most of it for those who want to ski or snowboard at moderate speeds and keep their board(s) flat on the snow.
Are snow sports difficult?
Depending on your natural coordination, you may find skiing and snowboarding a bit tricky at first. They are like no other sports you've tried, so don't think that natural athletic ability will carry you through. No matter how heavy the peer pressure, do not head for the summit with your friends the first time. At best, you'll have a lousy time getting back to the bottom. At worst, you'll get hurt. If you try to learn on your own, you'll develop bad habits that later will make it difficult to progress to a level that is more fun.
It's always a good idea to take a few lessons with a Canadian Ski Instructors' Alliance (CSIA) or Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors (CASI) certified pro to help you learn. (This also applies to Nordic skiing. Let your friends go out on the trail; you head for a lesson.) If you are very athletic, one or two lessons may be all you need. For those of normal athletic ability, three days of lessons is a reasonable expectation.
Which sport is the easiest to learn?
The easiest sport for YOU to learn is the one you think will be the most fun. Some believe snowboarding is easier while others will say skiing. We've seen plenty of skiers who take a spill or two when they try snowboarding, and snowboarders who can't seem to make their skis go the same direction the first time they try two boards.
The first snow sport you learn will be the most difficult. But once you master the first one, it's easier to pick up a second one, because you will have mastered some basic principles of sliding on snow, such as balance and using the edges of your equipment to turn and stop. So choose the one you want to learn, take a lesson or two, and you'll be having fun before you know it.
What should I wear?
Clothes that will keep you warm and dry. Du-u-u-uh, I'll bet you're saying. But after you fall a couple of times — and you probably will fall — cotton clothing (jeans and a sweatshirt) become wet, then cold. You'll need the right kind of clothes to keep you warm and dry. You probably have most of what you need. If you don't, borrow some from friends.
Dress in layers. Turtleneck shirts, sweaters, long underwear and footless tights work well as underlayers. Avoid wearing cotton next to your skin, because it will absorb sweat and snow and make you shiver. For that same reason, wool or acrylic socks are better than cotton athletic socks. Wear one, thin pair. Ski and snowboard boots are designed to be warm. Thick socks, or multiple layers of socks, will only give you blisters. If you buy anything, it should be a pair of waterproof shell pants and warm, non-cotton long underwear (tops and bottoms). You probably have a winter sports jacket.
You may not need as many layers of clothing as you think. On a sunny day, you may only need two layers — the waterproof outer layer and the turtleneck/long underwear first layer. But bring a middle layer (fleece or wool sweater) just in case. You can always take off clothes as you get warmer.
What do beginners forget to bring the first day?
Sunglasses, goggles and sunscreen. The sun is very strong at high altitudes and against a snow-white background. Also remember to bring water-resistant gloves or mittens and a hat. If you're taking snowboard lessons, wear wrist guards if you have them (and try to rent them if you don't). Knee pads will help cushion snowboard falls.
Which mountain resort should I choose?
Beginners need three things from a ski/snowboard area: good instruction; a learning area isolated from other trails (preferably with its own slow-moving lift); and gentle, wide slopes for practice. Ask for recommendations from friends and ski/snowboard shop personnel. Post a message in the outdoor forum of a Web site. Ask lots of people. Ski areas vary in size so be sure to do your research.
If you're learning Nordic skiing, pick a cross-country ski center that has regularly scheduled lessons, rental gear and lots of flat terrain.
Do you have to be in good shape?
The better shape you're in, the more fun you'll have. Skiing and snowboarding are exercise, and exercise is tougher at high altitudes. A moderate and regular exercise program that includes aerobics and stretching can mean the difference between fun and no fun.
How do I sign up for a lesson and get rental equipment?
Your first stop should be the ski-school office, not the lift-ticket window or the rental shop. ("Ski school" is no longer a politically correct term, because of the popularity of snowboarding and the belief that people on vacation don't want to be in school. Resorts now use all sorts of terms for their learning programs. So you may need to look for "mountain instruction," "coaching" or another term.)
Most resorts offer a novice package that includes a lesson, a beginner ticket and equipment rental and at many ski areas this is called a DISCOVER PACKAGE (See Discover Packages section for more information). A valuable hint: Rent your equipment in the early afternoon prior to your first lesson. Usually, you won't be charged for that partial day, and you'll avoid the morning madhouse. Don't rent too late in the day, or you'll run into the late-afternoon rental-return madhouse.
The rental shop will want a credit-card imprint as insurance you'll bring back the equipment, so bring one. (If you don't have a credit card, you often can leave your driver's license at the shop until you return the equipment. But it's a good idea to call ahead to be sure.) Many resorts offer group lessons for women or seniors. If you qualify, inquire about such lessons.
Don't think you'll be the oldest person on the hill, either. Lots of people learn when they are in their 40s, 50s or 60s. Children's instruction begins at age 3 or 4 at most areas. Children younger than that usually don't have the necessary motor skills to learn, and children's ski schools are strict about enforcing minimum ages. Snowboard lessons for children usually start at about age 7, though some resorts will teach younger children. If you have a toddler, call ahead to ask about children's lessons and daycare.
Now you're ready!
Take your time, don't get discouraged, and we'll see you out on the snow.
Diane Scholfield has been the Snowlink.com editor since 1996. She has received the Excellence in Snow Sports Journalism award from the North American SnowSports Journalists Association (NASJA) three times. Though she lives where it doesn't snow, she has been an avid skier since the age of 19. She definitely remembers when getting off the chair lift was the most challenging part of the day.
Food for thought:
Ski areas offer a variety of food options. If you want to beat the rush on your day at the slopes, arrive early and enjoy breakfast before embarking on your ski adventures. You will be exercising, so make sure to stay hydrated and be sure to fuel up before you do so. Also, take a break when you feel tired and enjoy a hot beverage and a snack to keep your energy level up.
(Provided by Chicopee, On. www.skichicopee.com)