We have all felt the bite as winter looms before us. For most, it’s dark when we leave and dark when we return home at the end of the day. But aside from shorter days, winter is full of fun – and there’s plenty the mountains can offer. The powder hounds here at Outdoria have pulled together some tips to help you get the most out of your first trip to the snow.
Finding the right snow gear for you
Whether you are borrowing from a mate or hiring on the slopes, think about where to get your skis, boots, poles or board before arriving at the mountain. Get there early if you plan to hire on the mountain. If you have a large vehicle or roof rack you could always hire your gear at a shop in the local village before heading up and avoid the queues altogether.
Above all else, make sure your gear is fitted and tuned to your size and skiing ability. Start with your boots and work your way up. A well-fitted boot is essential for a great first day on the snow.
And if you are looking to buy, make sure you ready our guide to buying snowboard gear online first.
Be prepared to fit chains
There is no better way to ruin your trip right at the beginning than by sliding off the road on black ice. Black ice isn’t really black, it has simply frozen clear like glass, meaning it’s hard to distinguish it from the road on which it has formed.
Black ice is a common hazard in alpine areas and the best way to avoid it is with chains. Tyre chains wrap around the wheel like a net and help the tyres cut into the ice as they roll over it. You might never need them, but if you do, you’ll be happy they’re in your boot. If the mountain pass is really icy, there will most likely be staff on hand to help you put your chains on if you don’t know how.
Plan your lift pass ahead of time
Are you going skiing for a week or for a day? It’s a good idea to purchase your lift pass (or passes) based on the length of your stay on the mountain and your level of expertise. First-time skiers are better off buying a lower mountain (beginner slope) only pass for the first few days until you are confident enough to progress. Half day passes are available, so if you think you are nearly ready for the black diamond runs, buy a morning lower mountain pass, and upgrade in the afternoon. The snow up top will be smoother as it has been broken up by skiers and the sun will have softened the ice.
Arrive early, leave early
It is surely one of the greatest challenges you will face at the start of your first snow trip: waking up before the crack of dawn, scraping the ice off the windshield and hustling the rest of the team when it’s sub-zero and dark out.
But the rewards for getting there before the crowds are surely worth it. You will avoid the queues, snag a park up close to the first lift, and if you’re hiring gear on the mountain, you’ll get first pick off the day. Just be careful, runs are often icy first thing and need to see some sun and a few skis before conditions are ideal.
The only thing harder than getting up early is leaving when you’re having such a good time. But if you can drag the team to the car an hour before everyone else, you’ll be the first ones with beer in hand and the first ones in the Jacuzzi.
Go for a ski / snowboard lesson
The best way to learn the ropes is when you’re there on the snow, wondering how you keep your boot attached to your ski.
This one isn’t just for the beginners out there. Taking a lesson - even if you are an advanced skier - is a great way to refresh at the start of the season and keep up with any new techniques or tricks that have been developed since last year.
Dress (appropriately) for the snow
Anyone who has been to the snow before has felt pity for the guy who, at the start of the day looked so fresh in his new blue jeans, and who by the end of the day, looked like he had been through an industrial carwash – shivering, slightly embarrassed.
These guys have got it all wrong...
We don’t want that person to be you. If you don’t have ski pants or a ski jacket, you can always hire or borrow them. At the very least, you should have waterproof outer clothes (jacket/pants) and thermal layers underneath to retain heat and keep sweat and snow away from your skin. It might be cold, but you will sweat. Waterproof gloves are a must, and goggles or sunglasses save your eyes from the intense glare of the snow. A hat on your head and you’re ready to roll – because you probably will roll at some stage, but that’s half the fun. If you still need more info, check out our guide to the essentials to pack for the snow.
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Warm up before / between runs
Yes, take breaks in the café between runs, coffee is great for that extra boost and it’s important to save some energy for the afternoon session.
However, the café isn’t the only way to warm up. It’s sometimes easy to forget that skiing and snowboarding are intensely physical activities, and should be treated like sports. Perhaps it’s because, for some of us, it is a seasonal activity and we don’t necessarily compete or train for the snow. It is a good idea, however, to warm up before your runs – stretch, take a few gentle runs on lower slopes before heading up top – so as to allow your muscles to get ready for the bumps and spills you will put them through later.
Jump in the spa at the end of the day to help those muscles relax and your legs will look after you allowing you to ski more, spending less time in the café, and more time making tracks.
Ski lift etiquette
It is surely one of the most terrifying things to attempt for the first time. Chair lifts are a natural blunder maker as skier after skier, boarder after boarder, trips on the way off or misses it completely at the start.
Don’t be embarrassed if you fall, laugh it off and hit the deck! The only thing worse than falling on your face getting off is being hit in the back of the head as the chair passes over you. Ask to ride alone if you’re more comfortable with a bit of room, or try and ride with a friend who can share the spill with you.
Always keep the bar lowered until you are signalled to raise it. It helps to wriggle forward to the edge of the chair as you near the ramp and keep your tips high and uncrossed so all you have to do is lean forward and run straight. Keep your poles in one hand so they don’t tangle with your neighbour.
And while it might seem pretty hilarious to ‘clap’ snow off your gear onto unwitting snow goers below, dropping a ski on someone’s head or on a precarious clifftop is a sure fire way to ruin the day for two people.
Don’t eat yellow snow
We all know this one...classic snow gag. But, not only should you not eat yellow snow, you should really avoid eating snow altogether. The energy your body uses turning snow into water is valuable in harsh environments. You might think you are making up for that water bottle you left in the car, but in actual fact, you could be having the opposite effect.
When your fingers are blue and your lips are numb, sometimes the least of your concerns is having a drink of water. Dehydration and sunstroke are common on the mountain. The sun is harsh at high altitude and you are sweating way more than you think (you’ll notice when you take your socks off at the end of the day). Drink plenty of water, wear sunscreen like you’re at the beach, and make sure you are coming back tomorrow.