Category:New to the Snow
- 1 If you've never been before
- 1.1 Preparation
- 1.2 On Snow
- 1.2.1 Alpine Responsibility Code
- 1.2.2 Other Safety Tips
- 1.2.3 Run Gradings
- 1.2.4 Good resorts for beginners
- 1.2.5 Should I ski or snowboard?
- 1.2.6 Other winter sport activities
- 1.2.7 Beginner's guide to ski jargon
- 1.2.8 Turns - What It's All About
- 1.2.9 Fall Line - An Important Concept
- 1.2.10 Driving Tips
- 1.2.11 Dressing for the weather
- 1.2.12 Sun Protection
- 1.2.13 Rental equipment tips
- 1.2.14 Should I take a lesson?
- 2 Been before but always looking for new ideas
If you've never been before
What can I expect?
For the first couple of days you will wonder what on earth possessed you to spend a fortune to feel like a gumby, but after a couple of days and some lessons (from a professional instructor - NOT your mate who started last year) you will begin to see what is so wonderful about a sport that you can enjoy for a lifetime. It is, incidentally, a sport you can enjoy with your children and grandchildren. There are not many of those around.
A bit of persistence is worthwhile. There is a theory around that the people who get addicted are those who committed for a week on their first trip. After four days you begin to get a feeling of what it is all about. After two days most people do not achieve that epiphany.
Skking and boarding occur in cold environments (Well doh). It is often windy. The combination means that appropriate clothing must be worn. To help keep the expense down for first timers, most items of outerwear can be hired, with the exception of gloves, beanies (toques) and goggles.
Experiencing unusual road conditions would be the first thing that you would be likely to encounter when travelling to a ski resort for the first time, although the roads to the Victorian resorts are much more 'interesting' than those to NSW resorts. The resorts are interested in increasing the number of vistors they receive, so generally work hard to minimise any risk or danger. Take your time, be careful, and follow all signs and directions by the Police, National Parks or Resort Management. Perisher Blue is the only resort in Australia where visitors can park well below snowline, and catch the 'SkiTube' up to the resort. This is a good option for first-timers or when the weather is bad. Once you arrive at a ski resort, you should be allocated to two different type of carparks, one for day trippers and one for the overnight stayers who have accommodation on the mountain.
Once you are on the mountain and planning to ski or snowboard, you should do the first thing first, get some lift and ski school tickets! Most ski resorts allow the customer to purchase lift tickets that are bundled with ski school admissions to reduce the hassle of handling multiple tickets for different purposes.
Is skiing dangerous?
Skiing can be dangerous if you are unprepared. You are travelling at high speed near solid objects and other slope users with little protection. If you fall and slide you may go downhill on ice at a very high speed with minimal control.
There are many things you can do to reduce the danger to relatively small proportions. Most of these are embodied in the Alpine Responsibility Code. This code is pretty much universal across all countries.
At ski school you will be taught how to slide safely, and be alerted to potential dangers of which you may not be aware.
Make sure your bindings are properly adjusted and tested. Binding should allow your skis to separate from your boots in a fall, reducing the chance of injury. If you are hiring the adjustment should be done by the hire shop. If you are borrowing gear it is vital that the bindings be adjusted by someone who knows what they are doing. Your mate who went last year almost certainly does not. Most ski shops will adjust bindings for a price. Be honest about your weight and ability. It is your bones and ligaments that are being protected.
You can also wear a helmet to reduce the potential for head injuries.
Cross country skiing has the potential to be dangerous, in particular hypothermia or getting injured in a remote area.
Before you go
You need gear and somewhere to stay.
Most gear can be hired. The only things that cannot be hired are goggles, waterproof gloves and small warming things like beanies, neck gaiters and all clothes underneath the outer layer. You will have to buy or borrow goggles and gloves. Much of the rest of what you need is probably in your wardrobe. Wool, thermal underwear and fleece is the way to go here. Cotton will not keep you warm when it is damp.
If you are driving to the resort you will have to organise chains. These can be hired either in the big cities, or at sub-alpine towns such as Bright, Mansfield, Cooma or Jindabyne. Practise putting them on where it is warm and you can see - putting chains on for the first time in a blizzard and in the dark is not a good way to learn. Chains for the car are mandatory in Victoria and NSW for 2 wheel drive cars. Victoria also requires 4 wheel drive vehicles to carry chains, and it is expected that NSW will also require this in the near future. Having a 4 WD vehicle does not make you bulletproof when driving. No amount of drive wheels will make a difference on ice.
Organise your accommodation in advance - most accomodation is booked well beforehand for 'peak' times such as school holidays and August. You can book on line or just see were to stay by visiting www.ski.com.au. If you are staying 'off mountain' investigate transport options to and from the snow fields. Your accomodation should be able to help you plan your transport.
If staying in the village on the mountain, check with your accomodation regarding access - many resort have access restrictions and you may not be able to drive to your lodge. In these cases you may need to take oversnow transport with all your baggage. If necessary, check the hours of operation for oversnow, make bookings and plan your travel as required. Remember not to pack too much excess baggage as this will result in extra fees on the oversnow transport.
An easy way to arrange your first trip is through a package deal. These usually include transport, accommodation, lift tickets and gear hire. Packages can be found through bus companies, the resorts themselves and specialist snow travel agents.
Get in shape before you go
It's strenuous exercise. It is more enjoyable if you are fit and strong. General strength and fitness helps, but a focus on the legs, particularly the quads, abductors and adductors will help a lot. Bicycling and in line skating are good dry land training.
Preparation is the key with young kids. Kids will get wet and will get cold very quickly so being prepared is an absolute must. Consider taking them for snowplay a year or two before introducing them to ski school. If they have already been to the snow and seen it all then they are usually super keen to get to ski school but if it is all new in the one trip it can be rather daunting. Here is a long list of hints for kids at ski school.
Many people think that the fact that their children are growing means that money should not be spent on good gear. Wet cold children are miserable, which means misery for parents. Buy them good gear, either new or second hand. There is a good market in second hand kids' gear, and the apparent front end expense will be ameliorated if you buy and sell on classified markets, the best of which is ski.com.au marketplace
Alpine Responsibility Code
This exists for everyone's safety. Read it, understand it, remember it and obey it.
Regardless of how you enjoy your snow sport, always show courtesy to others and be aware that THERE ARE INHERENT RISKS in all snow recreational activities that common sense and personal awareness can reduce. These risks include rapid changes in weather and surface conditions, collisions with other people as well as natural and artificial hazards such as rocks, trees, stumps, bare spots, lift towers and snowmaking equipment.
Know and Observe the Code below - It's YOUR responsibility
- Know your ability and always stay in control and be able to stop and avoid other people or objects. It is your responsibility to stay in control on the ground and in the air.
- Take lessons from qualified professional instructors to learn and progress.
- As you proceed downhill or overtake another person, you must avoid the people below and beside you.
- Do not stop where you obstruct a trail or run, or are not visible from above.
- When entering a trail or run or starting downhill, look uphill and give way to others.
- Always use chairlift restraining devices and always use proper devices to prevent runaway equipment. Ensure your equipment is in good condition.
- Observe and obey all signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails or runs and out of closed areas.
- Before using any lift you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.
- Do not ski, snowboard, ride a lift or undertake any other alpine activity if your ability is impaired by drugs or alcohol.
- If you are involved in, or witness an accident, alert Ski Patrol, remain at the scene and identify yourself to the Ski Patrol.
Failure to observe the Alpine Responsibility Code may result in CANCELLATION of your ticket by the Ski Patrol or other authorised personnel.
Other Safety Tips
If you are skiing or boarding in a group or class, always join the stationary part of the group by stopping BELOW everyone else. Particularly if you are a beginner, you cannot be sure that you will stop precisely where you think you will. If you stop below everyone else any imprecision will not result in your acting like a bowling ball and everyone else being involuntary pins.
It seems obvious, but not everyone can work this one out. If you are approaching a lift line slow down or stop well uphill of the line. Approach the line slowly and in control. If you lose it near a lift line your targets cannot escape.
When you are overtaking a boarder, be aware that their visibility is very limited on their heel side. Either give them a wide berth, or overtake on their toe side where they can see you. It is always the responsibility of the uphill person to avoid people downhill.
If you are overtaking someone who is turning erratically and unpredictably, wait until they have committed to a turn, and overtake them on the outside of the turn. It is pretty tough for a beginner (it will probably be a beginner) to flick back and get in your way. Of course, the Alpine Responsibility Code puts the onus on you to keep clear, however erratically the downhill skier or boarder is behaving.
On cat tracks and other narrow areas it is courteous to warn people that you are overtaking. This is usually done by saying "On your right (or left)" to indicate the side on which you intend to pass. Many skiers click their poles together behind their back as a warning that they are approaching someone.
If you fall while riding a surface lift get off the lift track IMMEDIATELY. It is a lot of fun to lie around giggling, but everyone else on the lift is still coming, and the lift will not stop. If you are still on the track the people behind you have very few options.
You should get away from the unload point at the top of a lift IMMEDIATELY. Other people are still coming, and if you are in the unload area you may cause a collision or be hit by an uncontrolled T-bar.
It is a good idea to take your pole straps off you wrist if skiing trees. If the basket hooks up on a stray branch only your pole will be left behind, not your arm.
Resorts rate their runs according to their difficulty. The gradings are denoted by colors and shapes. The easiest runs are designated by a green circle. Intermediate runs are marked by a blue square. In North America and Australia the next level is a black diamond. In some European resorts there is a red level before black.
Double ratings - double blue or double black are intended to convey a level harder than the single rating.
Ratings are deceptive. There is no standard internationally, or even within resorts in the same company. There is a magic mix - usually something like 20% expert, 60% intermediate and 20% beginner that suits the marketers' desired mix. Ratings are manipulated to suit this mix, regardless of objective criteria. In really extreme cases, ratings can vary across individual resorts.
The fact that you can ride all blue runs in one resort does not mean you can ski blue runs in another resort. If you are skiing or boarding in a new place spend a bit of time feeling the place out so you know the standard.
Good resorts for beginners
It is wise to go to small ski resort like Mt Baw Baw in Victoria and Selwyn Snowfields in NSW due to the small resort size and low lift ticket fee. It is unlikely that a beginner would need a huge variety of runs to choose from on the first day and making most of the lift/run ticket cost.
Should I ski or snowboard?
You will get a million polarised opinions. The only thing that matters is what you enjoy.
The conventional wisdom appears to be that snowboarding will get you to basic competence faster, but skiing rewards patience by eventually getting you to a higher degree of competence. In other words, the intermediate plateau of boarding is reached quickly but is harder to leave. Reaching the plateau takes a bit longer for skiing, but you spend less time there.
Other winter sport activities
There are so many activities to undertake in the winter, especially in the Alps. Such as white water rafting; horse riding; helicopter rides (Falls Creek and Mt Hotham have a reciprocal arrangement on their lift passes so you can ride from one to the other ski all day and fly back). You can visit www.ski.com.au/activities and see what activities are available.
Beginner's guide to ski jargon
Turns - What It's All About
If you stand on your skis or board with the tip or tips pointed straight downhill you will accelerate until you hit terminal velocity or hit something unyielding. Downhill racers travel at over 130 km/hr and the world speed record on skis is over 250 km/hr, so terminal velocity can be pretty quick. Unyielding objects are always unyielding. If your skis or board are across the fall line you will go nowhere. Controlling your speed is finding a happy balance between the two states. This is achieved by doing a constant series of turns across the slope. As you turn downhill you accelerate. As you complete the turn so your skis are across the hill you slow down. This is why all riders, apart from those generally out of control or hooning on bunny hills, perform a series of linked turns as they proceed downhill.
Turns have different radii, and riders will complete more or less of a turn before initiating the next turn. They may perform more or less turns for a given distance. How turns are performed depends on a particular sliders preferred style of riding, pose factors, the snow conditions and a rider's particular comfort zone.
Skiers use different types of turn, depending on experience and situation. The most basic is the snowplow. As skiers develop more skill they proceed through stem christies (although these are not taught much in modern teaching technique) to parallel turns. The parallel is so called because the skis remain parallel throughout the turn. Once the parallel is mastered, which can take as short a time as a few days for some people, the process is continuing refinement and development of the parallel turn to carving, and refinements of carving.
Turns also help you dodge obstacles.
Lessons are pretty much a process of refining turns, performing different types of turn in various conditions.
Fall Line - An Important Concept
You will often hear references to the fall line. This is a line directly downhill from where you are standing. "Across the fall line" is an important concept for beginners. If your skis or board are parallel with the fall line you will take off downhill. If they are perpendicular (at 90 degrees) to the fall line they will not slide as easily. If you dig your uphill edges into the snow they should not slide at all. For skiers, if you are clicking back into your skis (or bindings) make sure that they are across the fall line. If they are not, as soon as you click in you will take off down the hill to a new disaster. When you put your skis or board on the snow, they should always be across the fall line. A runaway ski or board is a potentially lethal object if it gets up enough speed.
One of the most common questions asked by new drivers to the snow is "Will I need chains"?. If you are travelling in Victoria, it is mandatory (by law) to carry chains whether you have a 2WD or 4WD vehicle. In NSW 2WD drive vehicles must carry chains in certain areas. Fitting the chains onto the wheels when needed is totally dependent on the road conditions, and in alpine areas conditions can change rapidly. It is strongly recommended (and law in some areas and times) that if you intend driving in alpine areas chains are carried by both 2WD and 4WD vehicles at all times.
On slippery roads, with or without chains everything takes longer. Aggression, and fast acceleration or hard braking do not work. Your wheels will spin or you will slide and you will lose control. The golden rule is smoothness and gentleness. And leave a lot of space between vehicles. If someone is tailgating, pull over and let them go by. Particularly going up hill, driving smoothly will maintain your momentum and keep you rolling. Once you stop it can be very difficult to get started again. If you aren't sure, fit chains.
Dressing for the weather
The snow is a cold environment. But you are exercising and getting hot. What to do? The best thing to do is dress in layers that you can add or remove to control your temperature. You may have a base layer of thermal underwear, a second layer of light fleece and a waterproof outer layer. Cotton is not a very efficient insulator, and is even less effective when it is damp or wet. The outer layer may be padded and insulated, or just a shell. Many people prefer a shell as they believe that this offers the greatest flexibility. You can buy parkas with zip out padding. Other parkas have "pit zips" - zips under the armpits that can be opened or closed to regulate ventilation. How many layers you need, and what they are made of, depends on your metabolism and tolerance for cold. What you need can only be discovered by experiment.
One way to control temperature is with a hat and neck gaiter. You lose something like a third of body heat through your head and neck. If you are hot, take your beanie off or open your helmet vents.
Good, waterproof gloves are vital - cold hands make you miserable.
If you are a beginner you will fall often. Snow can be wet, and a waterproof and windproof outer layer is vital. Jeans or trackie daks and footy jumpers will get wet and misery will soon set in not to speak of hypothermia. Wet cotton provides no insulation and you will get dangerously cold very quickly, particularly if it is windy.
You will also need eye protection. goggles give wind and sun protection, and can generally be used in all conditions. Sunglasses do not give as good wind protection, and many make it hard to see in foggy or cloudy conditions.
You cannot hire gloves, beanies or goggles. You must buy, or borrow from friends.
Although it is cold, you are at high altitude and there is less atmosphere to absorb radiation. Snow is also highly reflective. The combination means that sunburn can be a real problem, even on overcast days. Make sure you apply sunscreen regularly. Don't forget the underside of your chin and nose - the reflected light can burn these areas.
For the same reason it is important to wear eye protection - either sunglasses or goggles. Snow blindness does happen, and is apparently very uncomfortable.
Rental equipment tips
Most rental shops you can trust, but it is wise to shop around and compare prices in other rental shops around the area. Visit a range of shops and ask the staff questions about your needs. Ask your close friends who ski where they get their gear from, this may help you find a suitable shop that rents gear that suits your needs.
Just a hint - sometimes it is better to hire on or close to the mountain so that if you have any problems with the gear (eg. skis or boots) you can exchange them easily. Not so good if outlet is in Sydney or Melbourne. A draw back is that the price system can be higher on the mountain than in big smoke (the city).
Should I take a lesson?
YES!!! A lesson or 77 will get you to a point where you start to enjoy the activity, instead of wondering why you have paid a fortune to feel wet, cold and miserable.
You don't have to, but it is wise to have a lesson on your first day. Having a lesson is fun and an enjoyable experience while you learn all the important safety skills like snowplow and keeping control of your speed while on the slope in order to reduce a chance of injury. It is best to check with the resort you are visiting to find out about their ski school timetables and prices.
Much of skiing is counter intuitive (like leaning DOWN the hill). Most instructors say that 80% of their time is spent getting people out of bad habits and not developing good ones. Regular lessons when you are improving mean that you willl acquire good habits. Good habits mean control, and greater enjoyment. Many people with decades of experience still take the occasional refresher lesson to polish their technique.
Been before but always looking for new ideas
- Boot bags serve a purpose Sure, they hold your boots. And your helmet. And your goggles. And sunscreen. And beanies and gloves and gaiters and balaclavas. Keep all the little things that will only go anywhere when you are off to the snow in one place . A boot bag is as good as anything.
- Cold Feet & Fingers go for THINNER socks - preferably ski socks - and make sure your bottom 2 buckles over the arch of your foot and toe are so loose they almost come off. These are only there to ensure the boot holds its basic shape and are easier (possible) to get on. If you tighten them you will restrict blood flow to your toes and this results in cold feet and possibly cramps. If your feet and fingers get cold try putting on a beanie. You lose a lot of heat through your head and neck. Your body protects itself from the heat loss by cutting of blood flow to the periphery of your body, being fingers and feet. If you reduce heat loss through your head blood returns to your fingers and feet, and they warm up.
- Sore Shins One, apparently counter-intuitive, tip is that if your shins hurt try tightening your top two buckles. Often sore shins are caused by boots rubbing against the shin. If the buckles are tight, there is less rubbing.