Learning to Ski as an Adult

The bottom of Lionshead Mountain in Vail, Colorado. (February 2017)

The bottom of Lionshead Mountain in Vail, Colorado. (February 2017)

My Perspective

Learning to ski as an adult is scary. I didn't grow up skiing, but found that the majority of my new friends when I moved to California are experienced skiers and snowboarders. After five winters of sitting in a cabin and drinking hot toddies (not a bad life, I'll admit), I decided to give this snow sport a try and attended three days of ski school in Vail, Colorado.

Some thoughts I had during my lessons were...

"I'm going to die."

"Why is that five year old better than me!?"

"My knees don't bend that way."

and then eventually,

"Whoa! This is really fun."

In this post, I'm sharing my experience learning to ski and five takeaways for anyone that is thinking of picking up this sport as an adult. I also include a recommended packing list and some insider tips to help you prepare. I still have a long way to go, but can't wait to get back on a mountain next winter.


My friend,  Lucy , having coffee on the balcony at  The Arrabelle Club . 

My friend, Lucy, having coffee on the balcony at The Arrabelle Club

My Experience

Day 1 was all about the basics. I purchased a ski class package ahead of time online that came with rentals. My first stop before meeting my instructor was picking up boots and skis. I signed up for the very beginner level of skiing (level 1), and was luckily placed in a class with all other adults. I had actually expected to be learning with 10 year olds! 

We started with a lesson on taking our skis on and off and then sliding down some very small bumps that don't qualify as hills. Throughout the first day, we learned how to french fry and pizza, two methods to slide down the mountain at different speeds. I focused on my form and found out that as a beginner, you don't even need ski poles.

I felt pretty confident after day 1 and wasn't scared at all, but on day 2 my instructor said I wasn't ready for the mountain yet. Day 2 was focused on getting better at the basics and I spent more time on the bunny hill. At the end of the day, I was a bit frustrated because I really thought I was ready to attempt the mountain. I decided that if my instructor wouldn't let me go, I'd just go after class with my friend and her family, who have been skiing for years.

The first minute went well, and then I fell. I got up, kept going, and fell again. I started losing my confidence and the mountain was a lot steeper than I had expected. Even the green run was scary to me, and there were skiers and snowboarders all over the place that I was trying to avoid. It took me almost two hours to tumble down a run that my more experienced friends told me would have taken them about 10-15 minutes. It was terrifying!

I'll admit, I wanted to quit after that experience. I headed straight for the hot tub with a drink and thought deeply about why I even wanted to learn to ski in the first place. My nervousness almost led me to quit, but my friend talked me through my anxieties and eventually I decided to give the last day of lessons a try. 

On the morning of day 3, I knew I needed to get back on the mountain as a part of my lesson. I told my instructor I wanted to move up a level and after a bit of resistance, she agreed to let me join the level 4 group and spend my day on greens and even a bit of blue runs. 

By the end of the day, I was having a blast. I was able to make it down a green without falling, and learned how to move my knees instead of my hips as I turned on the mountain. I even learned to side slide at some of the steeper sections when I was nervous.

After three days, I learned that skiing is really fun and I want to continue improving. It's not easy and I don't expect to become Lindsey Vonn any time soon, but the hot tub feels a whole lot better after a day on the mountain. 

Views from the bottom of the mountain.

Views from the bottom of the mountain.

Top 5 Takeaways

1. Find the perfect boots for you.

I thought my boots were too tight when I tried them on at the rental shop but was told they should feel a bit tight. Once I was on the mountain, I was thankful I listened! At one point, my boots even started to feel loose and my instructor helped me tighten them even more. Check out this great article I found to answer more questions about how your boots should fit. 

2. Don't lean back!

A common mistake I made was leaning back when I felt scared. Unfortunately, leaning back makes you go even faster because you're putting your weight on the back of your skis. Resist the urge!

3. Pretend you're squeezIng an orange between your shins & boots.

This sounds funny, but my ski instructor was constantly telling us to "squeeze the orange" in our ski stance. It really helped me remember how to stand and where I should be focusing my weight. 

4. Don't be afraid to ask questions. 

A lot of the other adults in my class seemed even more nervous than I was and would get discouraged when they fell, but did not ask how they could have prevented it. I constantly asked for explanations from my instructor. Why did I just fall? Why won't my uphill ski turn with me? How do I get my knees to bend that way? Get the most out of your class and ask as many questions as you can think of! 

5. Challenge yourself. 

While it's important to learn the basics, it's also important to push yourself to the limit so you're able to progress. If I didn't insist on being moved up into a higher level on Day 3, I would have left Vail having never *successfully* skied down the mountain. 

At least I looked the part :).

At least I looked the part :).

Packing list

  • Ski Pants & Ski Jacket...or a Onesie if you want to look cool like me.

  • Gloves or Mittens. I have a pair from Burton.

  • 1 Winter hat 

  • Leggings to wear under your ski pants

  • A thermal or Underarmour top to wear under your jacket. Depending on how cold it is, you might need both.

  • A neckwarmer. Burton has great options!

  • Ski goggles. I borrowed a pair since it was my first time and I wasn't sure if I'd like it.

  • Boots to wear before you change into your rental ski boots. I'm still a fan of UGGs, but also like these Sperry Duck Boots

  • Sunglasses

  • Warm winter socks. I borrowed some ski socks and the Hot Chillys brand were my favorite! There are also some great options at REI

  • A bathing suit for hot tubbing later!

+ your standard winter clothes depending on what your other plans will be and the usual undergarments, toiletries, etc. 

If this picture doesn't motivate you to ski, I don't know what will.

If this picture doesn't motivate you to ski, I don't know what will.

TBP Insider Tips

> Skiing and snowboarding are tough sports, and they can be really dangerous. I highly recommend signing up for lessons. You could hurt not only yourself, but others on the mountain. 

> Purchase lessons that come with equipment rental and always wear a helmet! I found a three day special on the Vail Ski School website and booked ahead of time.

> Make sure to dress warmly. I put hand warmers in my gloves and they lasted all day.

> Don't wear anything under your ski boots except long socks. I thought I'd be tucking my pants in, but found out that this often causes blisters and can be uncomfortable. 

> Try to borrow as much as you can since this is your first time. If you like the sport, you can invest in your own gear. 

> Bring a credit card to your ski lessons, you usually eat lunch on top of the mountain and will need to pay for it. 

> Don't have a beer with lunch. This is your first time and you want to stay sober and sharp. It can wait until after the day ends.

> Wear sunscreen and lip balm with SPF in it! You can get just as burnt on a mountain as you can on a beach.

> Have fun and don't take yourself too seriously.

Snapping pics in Lionshead Village.

Snapping pics in Lionshead Village.

Whether you're an expert skier or debating trying it for the first time, we want to hear from you! Leave comments, questions or tips of your own below.