Skiing, once seen as a sport enjoyed exclusively by the rich, has evolved into a popular pastime with a much broader fanbase, welcoming the rich, semi-rich, and kids in school programs that get them hooked with all the subtlety of an opioid ring. Perhaps you’ve been bitten by the “ski bug”* and want to get out on the trails with your local friends and/or WASPs!
*also known as alpine illness, downhill disease, mountain malady and “carver’s lament”
Stuck on where to begin? Don’t worry, moron – it’s actually surprisingly easy to get started. Let me guide you through the basics.
If you want to hit the slopes, you’re going to need skis with bindings; boots; and poles. This “holy trinity” of gear works in tandem to keep you sliding down the hill, attach your boots to your skis, provide balance and stability, and remove thousands of dollars from your wallet.
Browsing skis online or at a ski shop, you may feel overwhelmed by choices, but here’s the secret ski manufacturers don’t want to to know: all skis are exactly the same. You may think that skis come in different shapes and lengths, but this is an optical illusion. Every ski is 170 cm long, curved slightly on the sides, and deep mauve in color. Just pick a pair you can afford and you’ll be fine.
For much of the sport’s history, skiers attached their feet to skis with leather straps or cables; it wasn’t until the mid 20th century that these “cable bindings” were replaced with “safety bindings,” which eject the skier in case of a crash. Modern bindings are much safer, and require special boots that snap into place. These hard plastic ski boots, based on the designs of the Spanish Inquisition, serve the dual purpose of keeping your feet stable and slowly removing all feeling from them. Find the right fit by looking at your normal shoe size, pounding your foot repeatedly with a hammer, then picking boots that replicate that sensation.
I lied, you don’t need poles.
…Unless you want to look cool, that is! Pick up a pair of those bad boys, roll a pack of cigarettes in your parka sleeve, and use your pole to point out random trails on the giant map at near the lift. Nice, dude. Nice.
Clothing and Outerwear
Dressing for a day of skiing is something of a balancing act; you need base layers that will keep you warm (but not too warm), mid-layers that insulate you (without overheating), a jacket and ski pants that are waterproof (but still breathable), and gloves that let you flex your hands (without letting cold in). Here’s a rule of thumb: if you are incredibly hot, uncomfortable and drenched in itch-sweat the second you step into the lodge, then chilled to the bone as soon as your sweat cools in the lift line, congratulations! You are properly dressed for alpine skiing. Find your comfort in the fact that everyone else is just as miserable as you are.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”
―Alfred Wainwright, a dead person.
Only children, barbarians and touring skiers walk up the mountain. If you want to get into recreational skiing, you need to learn how to use a ski lift. Luckily, there are a variety of lifts that you can easily learn to ride, so you can choose the exact number of strangers you want to be sitting with when you plummet to your death.
Many ski areas feature an easy beginner trail, or “bunny slope,” where first-timers can learn in relative safety. These nearly-flat trails often feature a “magic carpet” conveyor belt or rope tow—the easiest lifts to use, which keep the rider on the ground. Rather than positioning yourself in front of a chair that rushes up behind you, you simply step onto the conveyor like a dumb bag of groceries, or grab onto the rope like a stupid piece of dry cleaning. It is impossible to look cool on bunny lifts, even with poles, so an “old pro” trick is to compensate by singing Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” at the top of your lungs, repeatedly, all day long.
The t-bar is something of a hybrid between the bunny lifts and a chairlift; while it’s a surface lift that keeps you on the ground, it also features a number of evenly-spaced bars — shaped like upside-down Ts—that can violently pull one or two skiers up the mountain at a time. While t-bars are a little tiring on the legs, they offer two great advantages: they make a great “sproing!-y” sound when you let them go, and they allow you to see a number and variety of “do not ski down the t-bar line” signs that you won’t find anywhere else. Unfortunately, these are the only good things about t-bars.
Ahh, the chairlift. With the simple act of suspending an uncomfortable park bench dozens of feet above the ground, ski areas discovered a revolutionary way to get people to the top of the ski trails. Chairlifts come in a wide variety of sizes, and can seat between one and eight riders, depending on how dead-set you are on ignoring the liftie directing you from the lift line. Chairlifts feature a safety bar that often has footrests, which riders can swing down from overhead. Some skiers refuse to drop the bar, choosing instead to enjoy the freedom of hanging from a thin cable without any obstruction, like motorcycle riders who won’t wear helmets. These veteran pros are also known, in the skiing community, as “assholes.”
The enclosed gondola is like the Rolls-Royce of skiing: cushy, warm, and you’ll have to wait a long time before you ever get into one. Unlike other lifts, you actually have have to remove your equipment before getting into a gondola; your skis ride in a rack on the outside, while you, your poles, and a pungent mélange of body odors travel inside. Protection from the wind is nice, but be deliberate about who you ride with — traditionally, riders “draw poles” at the bottom of the hill to see who the party eats first if the gondola gets stuck. Shortest pole loses, so this is the one time you want to look for snowboarders to hang out with.
Now that you have your equipment and know how to get to the ski trails, it’s time to focus on the final (and some would argue most important) element of skiing: skiing. While it may look difficult, it also feels difficult, but working your way up from these basics will get you from Green Circles to Black Diamonds in no time.*
*These are trail difficulties, not subway lines. Green Circle is “Easy”; Blue Square is “Moderate”; Black Diamond is “Difficult”; and Court Square is “in Queens.”
The first thing to learn is how to move across flat surfaces, so you can travel between the lodge and the lifts. Many amateurs will stand straight up and use their poles to push themselves, but this method is quite tiring. Instead, “kick” your ski back and away, diagonally, like you’re skating. In addition to moving you across the snow more quickly, this technique increases the likelihood that you will fall over, at which point somebody attractive might ski over to help you. Win-win.
When heading downhill, form a “V” with your skis – front tips together, back ends flared out – that resembles a slice of pizza. This position allows you to control your speed, and by putting weight on your left or right ski, you can angle yourself left or right. This is the most important, basic skill you can learn, and you can apply it on any trail in any snow conditions — even deep powder (known as skiing “Chicago-style”).
The basic plow will get you down the trail, but you’ll probably start out either going in a straight line or making long, sweeping trips horizontally back and forth across the trail. The art of skiing comes with linking your turns; making a smooth transition from putting weight on one “downhill leg” to the other. This takes a long time to master, but with practice, you’ll be able to bounce gracefully down any part of the trail with complete mastery of your line. Unless you want to keep pissing off skiers who are trying to get by you. In that case, by all means, continue going slowly back and forth across the entire trail like an alien from Space Invaders. You’ll find yourself with a lot of company.
You can easily spend many years perfecting the basics, mortgaging any number of homes and children to keep buying lift tickets and five-dollar hot cocoas. But, just like with the fine arts of lovemaking or decoupage, once you’re even moderately skilled you can really start having fun.
One mark that separates a beginner from an intermediate or pro skier is the placement of your skis. The “pizza plow” is the mark of an amateur; an advanced skier keeps her skis parallel, aiming for a desired trail or hotel bar like it’s the North Star. Once you’re linking turns, try keeping your knees bent and your torso forward, and lean into the curves to keep your momentum up; eventually, you’ll find your skis naturally drifting towards parallel. And remember, it’s always your responsibility to be aware of other skiers that arre in your path, so keep a lookout for any lawyers. That way you can have somebody on retainer in case you really nail someone.
Sometimes you’ll come across an advanced trail that it looks like the ski patrol forgot to groom, pockmarked with ugly bumps and at least one or two ejected skis. Those bumps are called “moguls,” and for some reason, there are people who like to ski on, over and through them. The trick to bouncing from mogul to mogul is to keep your upper body stable and your legs spring-like, so you absorb the shock with your legs. This way, when you sit down in your car at the end of the day, you’ll be able to truly appreciate how stupid you were to put your legs in this much pain.
Once you’ve conquered the ground, you may feel the desire to bend the air to your icy will — and my friend, you have picked the right sport for that. Unlike baseball or tennis, which have refused my many petitions to introduce backflips, there’s a whole discipline of skiing devoted to gnarliness. Aerial or freestyle skiing is the art of launching yourself into the air and doing ridiculously-named tricks like the Daffy, the Double-Daffy, the Laffy-Taffy, the Muammar Gaddaffy, and the Ski Jump. For more information on freestyle skiing, refer to the latest season of the X-Games, or anyone with an obvious Red Bull tattoo — like on their face. They’ll definitely know what you’re talking about.
As the old saying goes, skiing takes a Medium story to learn and a lifetime to master. Now that you know the basics, you can get out there and put theory into practice, and start losing money like the pros.
Oh yeah, and you should probably wear a helmet or some shit.
Good luck and have fun out there!