For the first-time skier, there is but one thing certain when you arrive at a popular resort on a busy weekend: Everyone knows what he's doing except you. All around, people are carrying ski equipment -- without dropping it. They zip up and down stairs in clompy ski boots without hanging onto the rail with both hands. When they hit the slopes, the attendant doesn't have to slow down the lift chairs so they can get on. And when they fall, they don't just lie in the snow hoping a miracle will lift them up.
Learning to ski at any age can be a challenge. But getting a family of four up and skiing is a challenge upgraded to a dare, especially when the children are ages 9 and 4 and don't even want to carry their own skis.
My family made its skiing debut at a local resort on an organized group trip with friends. By the end of the three-day weekend we were able to ski down the easiest slopes with a reasonable amount of confidence and a minimal amount of fear -- and have a good time doing it. We learned how to get up when we fell. And although we were timid, we usually managed to get on and off the ski lifts without dropping our poles or falling.
There were times when we felt a bit overwhelmed as we tried to figure out this business of skiing. So we asked lots of questions, relying heavily on ski lessons as well as the helpful tips of both strangers and friends.
Before the trip, we studied the travel brochures and called the resort to ask questions. We talked to friends who had skied before. We purchased reasonably priced waterproof ski jackets and pants from a catalog -- the smartest choice for beginners, we decided. Stylish but more costly outfits are available at ski shops.
In addition to the latest ski fashions, local ski shops offer beginners the opportunity to become familiar with some of the equipment they will be using. Some shops have equipment available for rent; generally, rental is recommended for beginners because of the high price tag for purchase.
We reserved rental equipment at the resort so we wouldn't have to transport it. The cost was $156 for four people for the entire weekend. All we had to load into our car trunk were suitcases filled with hats, waterproof gloves and scarves to wrap across our faces as well as long underwear, sweaters, turtlenecks and sweat pants -- not tight jeans -- for easy leg movement.
When we arrived at the ski resort, a friend from our group helped us find the equipment rental center where we picked up our gear. The staff gave us the proper length skis based upon individual age, height, weight and ability. We received some assistance in selecting boots and poles but would have liked a bit more guidance.
There were two types of ski boots to choose from -- front-loading boots with several buckles and rear-entry boots with a single clasp. I tried both and found the rear-entry boots were more convenient to get on and off. Either type should fit very snugly but should not hurt.
Ski poles are selected based on length. When holding the proper poles, your arms should extend out from your body at a right angle or a bit higher. The poles provide stability and help you push yourself around.
The boots should be worn when walking around the resort, but this takes some getting used to and feels quite awkward and unsteady at first. The skis and poles must be carried, and this often seems like an unmanageable task. The poles with their straps can be used as a handle to carry the skis, but everything must be perfectly level or pieces will fall. We finally tied our scarves tightly around our poles and skis and carried it all upright. Some skiers use hard plastic carrying handles. Lockers are available for storage, and there are also ski check areas, which cut down on the amount of carrying around that must be done.
For the novice, there seems to be an awful lot to learn. Besides the actual mechanics of skiing, he must come to terms with proper use of his equipment and make sense of what appears to be utter chaos on the slopes, at the lifts, in the equipment rental area and inside the lodge. The skiing experience becomes much easier after a few lessons from a professional instructor.
We spent $69 for ski lessons for two adults and our oldest child. It was money well spent. The three of us took all of our classes together and the age difference didn't seem to matter. Since we were all beginners, our 9-year-old blended in easily with adults.