What you need to know before you go
Is this the year you’re going to learn to ski? To be sure it’s fun from your first run, you’ll want to brush up on some basics before hitting the bunny slope. For tips on how to avoid common newbie mistakes, we turned to Shannon Bahrke, a three-time U.S. Olympian and two-time Olympic freestyle medalist, who—as the Ski Ambassador to The St. Regis Deer Valley located in Deer Valley, Utah—hits the slopes with guests on the very mountain where she won her Silver medal. Take her advice, and it’ll be downhill from here—in the best sense possible.
“Beginners always under-dress,” says Bahrke. “They think ‘I’ll be out in the sun, so I’ll be fine’—and then they’re freezing and miserable.” The cold hard truth: Novices use much more energy than experienced skiers (all that tumbling down and getting up is work!), so they get sweaty and then catch a chill waiting in lift lines and sitting on the chairlift.
Do: Pile on the layers
Start with a tight base layer top and bottom in merino wool or polyester, which will hold in warmth and wick away moisture. A regular cotton T-shirt is a no-no. “Cotton doesn’t wick, isn’t warm, and will stay wet forever,” says Bahrke. Over your base top, wear a looser layer—a sweater, a turtleneck, shirt, or vest—that allows air to flow in and out. Consider a zippered garment, which will keep you from sweating too much. If you don’t have an insulated jacket, wear another thin layer under it—if you’re too warm you can always take it off. Heed the cotton caution for pants, as well. That means saving your jeans for après-ski and wearing shells (nylon waterproof pants) or—even better—investing in ski pants, which offer padding and insulation to keep you dry, warm, and bruise-free.
“Most people who go skiing don’t live at that altitude,” says Bahrke. But skiing at high elevations, where cold air tends to be very dry and oxygen levels reduced, increases the amount of fluid you lose through breathing. Couple that with the fact that beginner skiers tend to sweat a lot, and it’s easy to see why dehydration—which can lead to headaches, dizziness, and fatigue—is so common.
Do: Wet your whistle
“Our trainers always advised us to drink a liter of water every two hours we were outside,” says Bahrke. “That’s a ton of water, but a good rule of thumb is to have two glasses every time you put something in your mouth.” If you’re on the slopes for longer than an hour, rehydrating with a sports drink is recommended. Bahrke loves Gatorade G2 Low Calorie Thirst Quencher, which has the same amount of electrolytes as the original Gatorade, but only 20 calories per eight-ounce serving.
The more flexible you are, the more you’ll boost your performance and decrease your risk of injury.
Do: Warm up pre-skiing with active stretching
“Don’t just bend over and touch your toes,” says Bahrke. “You want to move while doing something,” says Bahrke, who suggests walking lunges to stretch your hips and hamstrings.
Unless he’s a good teacher and a good skier, you’re likely to pick up his bad technique and put stress on your relationship. “I see all these boyfriends teaching their girlfriends, and I’m sure it’s broken up a lot of relationships,” says Bahrke.
Do: Learn from an expert
Taking a lesson from a certified ski instructor ensures you’ll start off with good skiing form—planting your poles funny and turning too sharp are bad habits that can be difficult to break later on. For as little as $15 for a group lesson, an instructor will work on your deficiencies, build on your strengths, and provide instant feedback. Some advice Bahrke shares with her students: Look 10 to 15 feet ahead of you (and not at the tips of your skis). “You want to look at what’s coming, so nothing surprises you,” she says. Moving your eyes up will get your stance more forward—your shinbone should be touching the front of your boot. “This puts you in a very balanced position, which allows you to maneuver much better,” says Bahrke. Another tip: Bend your knees and put your weight on the balls of your feet. “Most people are too rigid, which is like running with stiff legs,” says Bahrke.
The sun is still strong enough all winter to cause burning and skin aging, especially at high altitudes. In fact, the reflection of UV rays off snow can nearly double their strength. “My skin looks much older than I am, which is so frustrating,” says Bahkre. “I lived my whole life in the sun and I’m paying the price for it now.”
Do: Slather on the SPF
Opt for a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection and an SPF of 30 or higher. Apply it at least 20 minutes before hitting the slopes to all exposed areas and reapply every two hours. Bahkre’s faves are Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 55 ($9.50; neutrogena.com) and California Baby Everyday/Year-Round SPF 30+ Sunscreen Lotion ($20; californiababy.com). Another defensive measure: When skiing in particularly skin-hazardous conditions (for instance, when it’s very windy), Bahkre wears a buff—à la snowboarder Shaun White—under her goggles (from $14-20 at rei.com).