A complete guide to surviving your first skiing trip

This January I finally took the plunge and went on my first skiing trip to Garmisch Partenkirchen near Munich. I’ve always wanted to try skiing and my husband loves it, but for some reason I never plucked up enough courage until now! One reason I was hesitant was because there’s quite a lot to think about and plan and if you’ve never been before it can be daunting. Where to go, how ski passes and ski lessons work, what’s the deal with hiring kit? I decided to put together a post with everything I could think of that someone might want to know when planning their first trip!

skiing_garmisch_trees

When should I go skiing?

The ski season generally runs from about the very end of November to the beginning of April so ski resorts will be up and running and open for business in these times. I’ve heard that it can be a good idea to avoid going in November/December as there’s a bigger risk of there not being snow. It’s not such a big problem if you’re a beginner as the nursery slopes often have snow cannons, but skiing along a patch of snow surrounded by brown trees and weathered grass is still not quite the same as postcard-ready, snow-covered mountains. For a better chance of snow its probably better to go in January or  February.

You probably know this, but if you can avoid planning your trip in school holidays then absolutely do as prices for flights and accommodation will be an order of magnitude higher in these times. Obviously there’s only so much you can do if you’re a teacher or have kids!

Weekends can sometimes be busy on the slopes with long queues for ski lifts and lots of traffic on the slopes which isn’t ideal and can be a bit off-putting if you’re a beginner. How busy the weekends tend to be can depend on the resort and how close the slopes are to big towns where locals can come from for a day trip. We went skiing in Garmisch from Sunday to Tuesday and the difference between the Sunday and the weekdays was astonishing because people come from Munich for the day which is about an hour away by train.

skiing_garmisch_view

Where should I go skiing?

Choosing a resort

For beginners, in terms of the general area or country, closer is cheaper while you work out whether you like it – don’t blow your money on a week in Canada! Going to the Alps is common for Europeans but there are cheaper up-and-coming areas like Bulgaria so make sure you take everything into account in your research. If you do choose a lower budget option, just still make sure you can hire gear and that there’s a ski school!

Take a look at a piste map because depending on how long you’re going for, you might want somewhere with plenty of beginner/intermediate pistes. Garmisch doesn’t have a huge number of beginner level pistes, but because we were only skiing for 2 and a half days with lessons in the mornings I didn’t get bored. If I had been staying for a week then I might have wanted a bit more variety.

Think about what you want the town to be like. Skiing towns range from cute alpine villages to modern party central towns. Make sure you know what you’re looking for in your apres ski before you book. Sometimes it might also be a trade-off between the number and level of pistes available and the type of town.

Choosing accommodation

A big factor to consider when looking at places to stay is that you’re going to be hiring a lot of bulky gear. Whilst you might be happy with a daily 5km walk normally, you’re not going to want to do it in ski boots and carrying skis and poles. Check whether there are lockers near the slopes as ski schools can often have them available for a small rental fee. Sometimes you can find ski-in-ski-out apartments where you ski right up to your door, but factor in your skiing ability and that it might be a few days before you can really take advantage of that. You might still be walking…

Accommodation tends to be split into 3 main types: hotels, self-catered apartments and ski chalets. Ski chalets are built for big groups and there are staff that provide food and clean etc. but it’s quite basic. If you’re a smaller group then booking into a shared ski chalet can be a good way of meeting people, like staying at a hostel.

skiing_garmisch_slopes

How many skiing lessons will I need?

It should go without saying that you will need lessons if it’s your first trip. The number of lessons you need depends entirely on the person learning as people pick it up at different speeds. We were only in Garmisch for a few days so I booked two mornings of 3-hour lessons. It meant I could practice what we had been learning in the afternoons in my own time and be totally ready for the next day’s lesson. I actually picked things up fairly quickly and so I was happy doing my own thing on the final morning and did a few of the actual ski runs with Mark. If we had been on a longer trip I think I would have booked 3 or 4 morning lessons to really boost my skills. Next time I go skiing I’ll still book a couple of intermediate lessons to get me back into the flow of things.

A word of warning – If someone else is booking for the group then make sure you’re booked into a beginner class! 

Booking ski passes

We waited until we got to the slopes to get ski passes rather than booking anything online in advance as we figured we should ask at the ski school. As it turned out there was a cheaper pass if you were only using the beginner slopes in a specific area so I got that for the first day and saved a bit of money!

skiing_garmisch_kit

What skiing gear will I need?

There are two assumptions that you can make when you’re going skiing for the first time: 1 – it’s going to be cold, 2 – you are going to fall over. It’s important then to make sure you’re going to be warm, you’re going to be safe, and you’re going to be dry!

Musts

Skis – duh

Ski boots – duh

Poles – you don’t always need poles and you’re likely to do some drills in lessons without them, but they are essential for getting around between pistes and they really help with balance. Often poles come with the ski hire anyway.

Helmet – you’ll see some people without helmets for sure, just like you see people riding bikes without helmets. They’re all morons and you’re not a moron. Chances are you won’t fall that badly, but it does you absolutely no harm to wear one plus it helps to keep your head warm!

Gloves – this shouldn’t need much explanation – just make sure they’re warm and make sure they’re waterproof.

Ski jacket – when trying ski jackets on, either to buy or to hire, bear in mind you might have substantially more layers on underneath if the weather turns icy cold.

Ski trousers – these waterproof and super insulated trousers are another essential item for keeping you warm and dry. Don’t worry if they’re a little bit long as they will be held off the ground by your ski boots and it’s best to have a bit of length anyway so that everything overlaps and you stay dry.

Other items

Goggles – I would almost be tempted to put these on the must list, but the truth is you can get by without them. I found them most useful when it was snowing so that I wasn’t distracted by getting snow in my eyes, particularly if I was picking up some speed. You can use sunglasses though if you want, just wear some that you wouldn’t be gutted about losing if you take them off. An advantage of using goggles is you can have them on your helmet if you’re not using them and they clip in so you’re unlikely to lose them.

Ski socks – I took thin base socks and some warmer walking boot socks and was absolutely fine, but having some snug ski socks can be a good way of keeping your feet warm without other socks bunching and rubbing. You also want to make sure your socks don’t make your boots too tight as you’re feet will get cold if your circulation is at all restricted.

Scarf and ear warmer like these Buff ones. I got one of these free at an expo for a running event that I did and it’s the best! It’s so versatile so you can use it as a scarf or headband to keep your ears warm. I had a headband on under my helmet and wore one of these around my neck as regular scarves are a bit bulky and you want to be able to move around. I found it so useful to be able to pull up over my nose and mouth too when it was snowing or just really cold.

Base layers – you’ll need to wear clothes under your ski jacket and trousers and I found that my running kit made good base layers. I wore some long-sleeved running leggings, a long-sleeved running top and a thin thermal fleece overlayer.

Inner gloves – these can be handy if you’re in really icy cold weather to give an extra layer of warmth as long as they don’t restrict your movement too much or cut circulation which would make you colder! This applies to your socks too.

Suncream – this sounds counterintuitive but even though it might be cold and snowy, if the sky is clear and the sun is out, you’re at risk of burning because you’re at altitude and the snow will reflect the sun’s rays as well – double whammy!

Buy? Hire? Borrow?

Skiing kit is expensive, but you can hire most things – even jackets, trousers and goggles. If it’s your first ski trip then you might prefer to see whether you enjoy it at all before putting a lot of money into buying anything. It’s worth seeing if anyone you know could lend you a jacket and trousers if they have them and are a similar size.

You might want to buy some basic gear, and what is worth investing in will completely depend on what you want and other activities you like to do. I love being outdoors and I also had a bit of Christmas money to put towards skiing gear, so I bought a jacket, trousers, and goggles. I had my own gloves too as i have quite small hands so wanted to make sure they would be a good fit – and warm gloves are always going to be useful and don’t break the bank.

Don’t fret too much about it though, ski resorts will most likely have shops, although they can be quite expensive, but you can at least pick up bits and bobs once you’re there if you want.

skiing_garmisch_town

Who should I go with?

If you’re going skiing then the chances are you know who you’re going with. It might be useful to find out who has been skiing before and whether there are other beginners that you could learn with. The group I went with was a mix of total beginners and more experienced skiers. I found that it worked really well because I could have lessons with other beginners, but I also could tag along with someone more experienced when I felt ready to tackle more challenging pistes.

Always try to ski with other people or at the very least make sure someone knows where you are. Don’t go down a piste you haven’t been down before on your own.

How fit do I need to be?

I was quite surprised by how much of a good workout skiing was! I am generally fairly fit, but I certainly had some aches and pains after a day of skiing. It’s worth making sure you have a certain level of cardio fitness for getting around the flatter areas where you have to really put your back in to it! I think building up strength in some key areas could help too, particularly calves, arms and back, glutes, and general core strength that will really help you to keep your balance and have good control over your skis.

If you’re not totally in shape though don’t worry – you’ll still be able to ski! I would recommend spending some time stretching in the evenings though – your muscles will thank you for it.

And then…

Once you get there you’ll be all set. If you have time the day before you start skiing, pick up your hired kit and ski passes so that you’re ready to go for the following day and don’t have to worry about queues. Remember to always think about your safety as skiing does carry some risk. Like I mentioned already, avoid going down a piste on your own if you haven’t been before. It’s good as a general rule to always make sure someone is with you or at the very least knows where you are and to carry a piste map so you don’t get lost. I like to have a small water bottle on me too and some snacks like sweets or energy bars.

If you’re planning your first ski trip then I hope this has been of some help. Skiing is so much fun and you’ll have such a great time! What could be better than being out in beautiful snowy mountains, getting an adrenaline fix and finishing it all off with some yummy warming grub and a hot chocolate – don’t forget to add Baileys!

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2 thoughts on “A complete guide to surviving your first skiing trip

  1. I’d suggest a couple of sessions in a ‘snow dome’ in UK before you go. It gives you a little experience of putting boots on and walking in them as well as an intro into the basics you’ll be covering when you get there. If you’re only going for a couple of day this enables you to ‘hit the grown running’ if not quite skiing

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