Updated November 12th, 2023
If you’re thinking about learning to ski, you’ve come to the right place! This beginner’s ski guide will teach you everything you need to know before hitting the slopes. We’ll cover everything from choosing the right place to learn to ski, where to get equipment, and introduce basic skiing techniques. Read on for all the info you need to have a great and successful skiing experience.
- Beginner's guide to skiing
- How to learn to ski
- Where to learn to ski
- Getting a season pass vs using day passes
- Where to get ski equipment (renting vs buying ski equipment)
- What to wear skiing
- How much does it cost to learn to ski
- How long does it take to learn to ski
- How to wear ski boots
- How to ski
- What do the ski trail markings mean?
- How to ride lifts
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Beginner’s guide to skiing
The goal of this guide is to familiarize you with what you will need to know to go skiing the first time. We want you to know what to expect on your first ski day so you can be successful at learning to ski. We aren’t trying to teach you how to ski because that should be left to a professional instructor.
How to learn to ski
So you’re thinking about learning to ski. Great! Skiing is a ton of fun and a great way to get some exercise. But before you hit the slopes, you need to learn how to ski. Here are three ways you can learn how to ski.
1 – Take lessons from a professional ski instructor
This is by far the best way to learn how to ski. This is how we recommend everyone learn how to ski. Ski instructors are trained professionals who know exactly how to teach beginners proper techniques. They will be able to recognize your mistakes and help you avoid developing bad habits. Not to mention, they’ll make sure you’re having fun while you’re doing it!
Visit the PSIA to learn more about professional ski instructors.
2 – Get a friend to teach you
If you have a friend or loved one who is an experienced skier, they may be able to teach you the basics. Just be warned that this can sometimes put a strain on your relationship! Just because someone can ski well doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be a good teacher. It may have been a long time since they were a beginner. They may not know the latest methods for teaching beginner skiers.
I taught my wife to ski a few years ago. It can be done. I don’t recommend it. If you do decide to learn from a friend or spouse be very patient. Be ready to spend a lot of time practicing. There will be days of frustration.
3 – Teach yourself
We recommend against this option! While it is possible to learn how to ski by watching videos or reading articles online, the chances of success are low. You have a better chance of winning the lottery than successfully teaching yourself to ski. You have an excellent chance of getting hurt or hurting someone else trying to do it. Do yourself and everyone else on the hill a favor and take lessons from a professional.
Please do not be that person that just goes to the hill, takes the chair to the top, and shoves themselves off without knowing what they are doing. The most likely thing to come from this is you stopping somewhere on the slope because you hit something or hit someone.
Where to learn to ski
Before you hit the slopes, you need to decide where you’re going to learn. There are a few different options available, each with its own set of pros and cons. Let’s explore those options so that you can make an informed decision about where to learn to ski.
1 – Local mountain
The most convenient option because it’s close. You won’t have to worry about traveling far or dealing with the hassle of packing all of your gear. Since it’s so close, you can go more often than if you had to travel to a larger resort. The more often you go, the better you’ll get at skiing! There is no substitute when learning for spending more time skiing.
A small local ski area can be much cheaper than large ski resorts. Lift tickets and rentals will be less expensive at a small local mountain than at a large ski resort. Many ski resorts have an introductory program that includes a ski lesson, ski rental, and lift ticket for one low price to try and get you hooked.
The only downsides are that the instructors may not be as good at a small hill. There are some local mountains with very good instructors. The runs may be short so you spend more time sitting on the chair than skiing.
2 – Ski holiday to a large resort
If you live near a large resort and it’s your local hill that is wonderful. For most of us, the big resorts out east and west are a long drive or plane flight away. Going on a ski holiday to a large resort makes a great way to learn to ski and a great vacation. You’ll be able to take several days of lessons in a row. This will help you learn faster than if you only took one lesson here and there. You’ll have access to first rate instructors, equipment and high speed lifts.
See our guide to your first time skiing out west to learn more about taking ski trips.
At most resorts, you’ll be able to take multi-day lessons with the same instructors. This will help you feel more comfortable with them and help them get to know your skiing abilities better. Additionally, being able to take multiple days of lessons will help you progress more quickly.
It can be expensive but it’s worth the cost if you are serious about learning to ski. However, if you’re serious about learning how to ski, it may be worth the investment to go on a ski vacation where you can take multiple days of lessons.
See our guide How Much Does a Ski Trip Cost? to learn more about ski trip expenses.
Getting a season pass vs using day passes
You might be wondering whether you should get a season pass or just buy day tickets. Both have their pros and cons. Ultimately, the best option for you depends on how often you think you’ll go skiing and how much money you’re willing to spend.
1 – Season Passes
If you’re considering getting a season pass, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First, season passes are generally cheaper if you plan on skiing a lot. How much cheaper depends on the mountain, but as a general rule of thumb, you’ll start to break even after 5-10 days of skiing.
Second, there are different types of season passes. Some are specific to one mountain, while others (usually called multi-resort passes) are good at several mountains. If you’re planning on skiing at multiple resorts, make sure you get the right pass.
Third, you usually have to buy season passes well before ski season begins to get the best deal. The sooner you buy, the more you’ll save.
Fourth, season passes are a good option if you know for sure that you’ll be able to go skiing a lot during the winter. If your schedule is flexible and you can take advantage of midweek and night skiing deals, then a season pass will probably save you money in the long run.
2 – Day Passes
On the other hand, there are also some advantages to buying day tickets instead of a season pass. First, day tickets or multi-day tickets are cheaper if you are only going to ski for a few days. If you only think you might go skiing once or twice during the winter, it’s probably not worth it to get a season pass.
Second, with a day ticket you can go to any mountain regardless of what pass they’re on. If your friends all have passes for one mountain but you want to try out another mountain for the day, no problem! Just buy a day ticket when you get there.
Third, unlike season passes, day tickets can be bought at any time. If you suddenly decide that you want to go skiing on a given day, it’s no problem to just buy your ticket when you get there. Many resorts offer a discount on day tickets if you buy them online ahead of time.
Where to get ski equipment (renting vs buying ski equipment)
Before you hit the slopes, you’ll need to make sure you have the proper equipment. Here are the pros and cons of renting vs buying ski equipment.
1 – Renting Equipment
Renting ski equipment is a great option when you first start out. It lets you try skiing with a minimum investment. Standard rental equipment is usually geared towards beginner to intermediate level skiers. And if you don’t like skiing or decided it’s not for you, no big deal – you’re only out a few bucks.
On the other hand, renting gets expensive if you like to ski a lot. The costs can quickly add up to more than a set of beginner skis cost either new or second hand.
2 – Buying Equipment
Buying your own equipment has its advantages too. It’s usually cheaper in the long run if you go skiing a lot. You can also get equipment that is just right for you and your current ability level. If you find a pair of skis that you really like, you can keep using them for years to come as your skills improve.
Of course, buying also has its disadvantages. For one thing, it requires a bigger upfront investment than renting does. You also have to transport your skis with you to the mountain and store them when they’re not in use. This can be a pain if you don’t have a lot of storage space or a vehicle big enough to fit skis inside.
See our guide to buying vs renting skis to learn more.
3 – What size skis to get
Another important factor to consider when choosing ski equipment is what size skis should you get? The general rule of thumb is that beginner skis should come up to about your chin. Shorter skis are easier to turn and stop but they’re not as stable at higher speeds. Shorter skis are ideal for beginner skiers. If you buy skis as a beginner, you will need to buy another set after you learn to parallel turn and learn advanced skills.
See our guide to long skis vs short skis to learn more about ski length.
What to wear skiing
if you’re new to the sport, it can be tough to know what to wear. Here is a run-down of the essential clothing you need to stay comfortable and safe on the slopes.
See our guide to what to wear skiing to learn more about how to dress for the slopes.
1 – Dress in layers
One of the most important things to remember when dressing for skiing is to dress in layers. This will help you stay comfortable and dry throughout the day, no matter what the conditions are like. When choosing your layers, look for items that are moisture-wicking and breathable at the base, insulated in the middle, and waterproof on the out.
- Base layers that are breathable and moisture wicking
- An insulating mid layer
- A fleece or sweater on top. Fleece pants on the bottom.
- Water proof ski pants and ski jacket.
2 – Ski socks
The key to making ski boots comfortable is the correct socks. You want warm socks that aren’t overly thick. You do not want to wear a mega thick set of wool socks. Socks designed for skiing are the best choice. They are the correct thickness and length to go to the top of your calves.
Nothing should go inside your ski boot except your socks. Any other seams such as the bottom of your base layers can cause pressure points and cut off circulation.
3 – Waterproof pants, gloves, and jacket
You will fall while learning to ski. It’s inevitable. And when you fall, you’ll likely end up covered in snow. To prevent yourself from getting soaked (and cold), make sure you’re wearing waterproof pants, gloves, and a jacket.
Expert tip: don’t wear jeans while skiing. They might be comfortable when dry, but they’ll quickly become frozen and uncomfortable once they get wet. Once you develop some skills and you want to go ski in jeans for the coolness factor, have at it.
4 – Helmet
Always wear a helmet while skiing! This will protect your head in case of a fall and also from other skiers who might be out of control on the slopes. They also are warm and can help keep your goggles from fogging up.
Ski helmets are designed to work without hats underneath. If you find your head getting cold, get a thin hat designed to be worn under helmets. You don’t need much thickness. It is for blocking the air drafts that come through the helmet seams.
See our Ski Helmet Gear Guide to see our best ski helmet picks.
5 – Goggles
Goggles aren’t just for looks. They actually serve an important purpose on the slopes. First, they make it easier to see in bright sunlight or flat light conditions. They protect your eyes from harmful UV rays and help keep your face warm. The sun reflects off of the snow surface and can cause eye damage on bright days.
Foggy ski goggles are a common problem for beginner skiers. See our guide “How to keep your ski goggles from fogging” to learn how to keep them fog free.
See our guide to the best ski goggles to learn more.
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How much does it cost to learn to ski
Before you hit the slopes, you need to know how much it will cost you to learn. Let’s take a look at the cost of ski lessons, lift tickets, and ski rentals. We’ll also provide some tips on how to save money when learning to ski.
1 – Lessons
Introductory 1st time ski lesson can run from $20 to $200 depending on the mountain (may or may not include lift ticket or rentals). Lessons after that run from $50-$200/day
2 – Lift tickets
Lift tickets cost $50-$200 depending on the mountain. Some mountains have free or discounted beginner area only tickets. A season pass can run from $200 to $2000 depending on the mountain.
3 – Equipment Rentals
Ski equipment rentals cost $25-$100/day depending on the mountain. Expect to spend somewhere around $100-$150/day for each day of ski lessons including lift tickets and rentals
Costs vary a lot from mountain to mountain. It pays to do some research to find a good place to learn to ski that is affordable. It will cost way more to learn to ski at Aspen Colorado or Deer Valley Utah than it will at Caberfae Peaks Michigan. You can spend hundreds learning to ski or you can spend thousands. You’ll end up with the same skills either way.
4 – Money saving tips
- Small local hills are usually much cheaper than large mega resorts.
- You can find discounts getting season passes or seasonal rentals.
- Season passes are cheaper to buy during the off season.
- Day tickets are cheaper to purchase online ahead of time.
- 3-5 day group lessons at larger resorts can also be much cheaper than daily lessons
- Ski swaps which occur in the fall are great places to get cheap used ski gear that is still good. Take an experienced skier with you to shop.
See our guide to how much it costs to ski or snowboard to learn more about the costs of downhill skiing.
How long does it take to learn to ski
Many people want to know how long it will take them to learn to ski. The answer, of course, depends on the person and their goals. Some people just want to get the basics so they can safely make their way down the mountain and ride the lift. Others want to be able to ski intermediate and expert runs. Let’s break down how long it usually takes to achieve these different milestones.
1 Day to Get the Basics
Most people can pick up the basics of skiing in just one day. The goal of introductory lessons is to get you to the point where you can safely make your way down a gentle easy beginner slope and ride a lift. You will learn how to do wedge turn and wedge stops. Once you have these basics down, you’ll be able to ski green beginner runs.
10 to 20 Days to Learn to Parallel Turn
The next step is learning how to parallel turn and stop. This usually takes 10 to 20 days. Once you’ve mastered this skill, you’ll be able to ski intermediate and expert runs. You will be able to ski most of the groomed terrain at any ski resort.
How to wear ski boots
Ski boots may look a little intimidating, but we promise they’re not as scary as they seem! Let’s talk about how to put on ski boots and do basic stuff like walk around in them and go up and down stairs.
1 – How to put on ski boots
Ski boots are different than other kinds of footwear because they have a hard plastic shell with several buckles. When you’re putting on your ski boots, make sure to hold the tongue while you’re pushing your foot in. Once your foot is all the way in, buckle the buckles from the toe up. Make sure that all of the buckles are fastened before you start skiing! They should be tight so that your heel is held firmly in place.
Most people don’t buckle ski boots tight enough. If your foot moves around inside a loose boot, it will bang your toes and shins and not feel good.
2 – How to walk in ski boots
Walking in ski boots can be awkward at first because you can’t move your ankle much. The best way to walk in ski boots is heel-to-toe. This might feel weird at first, but it’s actually the most effective way to walk in ski boots. The more that you walk in ski boots, the less awkward they’ll become. Eventually, you’ll get used to walking in them and it won’t be an issue!
Be extra careful walking on ice with ski boots. They don’t have a lot of traction in the toe and heel. Ice can be very slippery. If you need to cross an icy patch, take your time. Shuffle your feet instead of taking large steps.
3 – How to go up and down stairs with ski boots
The most difficult part about wearing ski boots is walking down stairs. When you’re walking down stairs, take your time and use handrails if possible. Step one foot down and then the other foot down on the same step. Be extra cautious on metal, concrete, or other slippery surfaces. Once you get good at it you can take alternating stairs like you normally do. Don’t try to at first.
Going up stairs is much easier than going down stairs, so don’t worry about that! Follow the same technique. Lift one foot up to a step and then the other. Once you get good at walking with ski boots you can walk up stairs the same as you would in normal boots.
How to ski
Here are a few things that you will learn on your first day of skiing. We aren’t trying to teach you to ski here. You should get an instructor for that. This will give you a good idea of the things that will be taught.
1 – How to lock ski boots into skis
Locking your ski boots into your skis is important for safety reasons. You don’t want your ski boot coming out of the binding while you are skiing. To lock your ski boots into your skis, follow these steps:
- Put your skis perpendicular to the slope
- Clear any snow out of the ski bindings and the bottom of your boot
- Put the ski boot toe into the binding first
- Push down on your heel to lock the boot into the binding
2 – Walking with skis
Now that you know how to lock your ski boots into your skis, let’s talk about how to walk with skis. Walking with skis is awkward if you have never done it before. The key is to take small steps and be careful not to slide backward. Here are some tips for walking with skis:
- Walk by sliding one foot forward first, then slide the other foot forward
- If you need to go up a hill, turn sideways to the hill and side step up the hill
- If you are sliding backwards while trying to walk forward, open your ski tips up so your skis form a V shape. This will help your edges engage the snow and keep you from sliding backward.
3 – Wedge turns and stops
Learning how to ski can be a daunting task, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be flying down the slopes in no time! The first technique you will learn at most places is called wedging or snowplowing. Some places call it Pizza (wedging) and French Fries (parallel).
This section is just meant to give you some idea of what to expect when you learn these techniques. We aren’t trying to teach them to you.
a) Wedge stance
To execute a proper wedge, start by spreading your feet apart wide and holding your ski tips together, making a V-shape. It’s important to stay in an athletic stance with knees bent and leaning forward. Your shins should be pressed against the top of your ski boots. Never lean backward, as this will almost instantly make you fall. Now that you’re in the proper position, let’s move on to learning how to stop.
b) Wedge stopping
To stop using the wedge method, push out on both feet and try to make your V-shape or wedge wider. The more pressure you apply and the wider you make your wedge, the faster you will slow down and come to a complete stop. To speed up again, take pressure off both feet and allow your wedge to close up a bit. Now that we’ve covered how to stop, let’s move on to learning how to turn.
See our guide for how to stop on skis to learn more.
c) Wedge turning
To turn while wedged, push out and apply pressure on only one foot at a time. If you want to turn right, push on your left ski. If you want to turn left, push on your right ski. If you want to keep your speed down while turning, it’s best to do complete 180 degree turns going from one direction across the hill to the other.
You will only pick up speed when your ski tips point down hill. You won’t accelerate when your ski tips point across the hill. The more downhill you point the more speed you will pick up.
d) Parallel turns
As a new skier, your goal is to learn to parallel turn, and stop. This means turning while keeping your skis together. This opens up skiing faster and skiing steeper slopes than can be done while wedging. This will take you several days of practice and instruction to learn after learning your basic wedge techniques.
What do the ski trail markings mean?
If you’re new to skiing, the ski trail markings can seem like a foreign language. Green circle? Blue square? Black diamond? What do they all mean? Never fear, we’re here to help you crack the code.
1 – Green circle
These are beginner trails that have a gentle slope and are well groomed. If you’re just starting out, you’ll want to stick to green circle trails.
2 – Blue Square
Blue square trails are for intermediate skiers. They tend to be steeper than green circle trails. The majority of blue runs are groomed. These are sometimes called “cruising runs” because they’re good for relaxed skiing. Once you’ve mastered parallel turns and hockey stops on green and blue trails, you’ll be ready to move on to black diamond trails.
3 – Black Diamond
Black diamond runs are reserved for expert skiers who can confidently parallel turn. They can be either groomed or ungroomed (on-piste or off-piste for Europeans). Some resorts will have multiple levels of black diamond trails, marked as double or triple black diamonds.
See our guide to what ski slope ratings mean to learn more.
How to ride lifts
If you’re new to skiing, you might be wondering how to ride the ski lifts. Here are some tips for beginner skiers.
1 – Magic carpets
One type of ski lift that you’ll find only in beginner areas is the magic carpet. This is a moving conveyor belt that runs along the side of a slope. To ride a magic carpet, simply stand on it and let it take you up the hill. When you reach the unloading zone at the top of the hill, move away from the belt so that other riders can get off behind you.
2 – Surface lifts (rope tow, poma lift, T-Bar)
There are several different types of surface lifts, including rope tows, poma lifts, and T-bars. These lifts work by dragging skiers up the hill.
- Rope tows are exactly what they sound like. A rope that skiers grab onto and let pull them up the hill.
- Poma lifts are similar, except that they consist of a disc that skiers straddle as it drags them up the hill.
- T-bars are T-shaped bars that can accommodate two skiers at once. T-Bars are the most difficult ski lift to use.
When riding any of these surface lifts, it’s important not to try and sit down. If you do, you’ll instantly fall off. T-bars are easiest to ride with someone of similar size and shape.
When loading a surface lift, hold your poles tips forward. That way you don’t stab the liftie when they help you get on the lift.
3 – Chair lifts
Chair lifts are a chair that is suspended from a cable that lifts you up into the air and carries you up the hill. They are the most widespread and common ski lifts. A typical chair lift chair can hold between 2 and 8 people. How do you ride a chair lift? It’s actually pretty simple. Just follow these steps.
- Move up to the ready line and wait for the next chair to pass.
- When the chair comes, move quickly behind it and move up to the loading line.
- The lift attendant or ‘liftie’ will hold the chair to slow it down while you sit down.
- Once you’re seated, the chair will pick you up and take you into the air.
- If the chair has a safety bar, lower it once you’re settled.
- Remember to warn other skiers and snowboarders on the chair that you’re lowering the bar before doing so! No one likes getting hit in the head by a safety bar.
- When the chair reaches the top, stand up from the seat to unload.
- Push yourself away from the chair down the unloading ramp.
- Finally, ski away from the unloading area so it’s clear for the next group.
4 – Gondola
A gondola is a cabin suspended from a cable. You take your skis off and sit inside the cabin to ride it. A gondola cabin can hold between 4 and 28 people. 8 and 10 person gondolas are the most common.
The first thing you’ll need to do is take your skis off and get in the lift line. Once you’re in line, the lift attendant will tell you which cabin to get in. Go quickly to that cabin and place your skis in the racks on the side of the cabin. Some gondolas don’t have racks, so you’ll need to carry your skis inside with you. Sit down inside the gondola and enjoy the ride!
When the doors open at the top, quickly grab your skis and carry them away from the unloading area. Watch out for other skiers who are focused on trying to grab their skis out of the gondola rack and not looking out for other skiers and snowboarders.
You might also like:
- The Best Ski Goggles Gear Guide – Reviews, Ratings, and More
- How to Ski on Ice – 10 Tips For Safely Skiing Icy Slopes
- What To Wear Skiing? Complete Winter Layering Guide
Co-Founder & Chief Editor
I grew up back east in Pennsylvania and learned to ski on a family trip to Killington, Vermont when I was 6. I immediately fell in love with the mountains and outdoors and have been skiing across the US and Canada ever since. I went to school for Mechanical Engineering, and have a Master’s Degree in Material Science and Reliability.
I am a total gear nerd and love learning how things work and thinking about how they could be improved. Nothing excites me more than trying out new gear. I’d rather spend 3 hours taking my bike apart and learning how to change something than go to a bike shop. These days I reside in Michigan by the Great Lakes and go skiing, biking, and boating as much as possible.