Discover Skiing & Boarding

Introduction to Alpine Skiing

There are few experiences that can match the joys of Alpine Skiing (aka "Downhill Skiing").   You ski down a snow-covered mountain, with the wind in your face.   You're enjoying a winter playground with your friends, your family.   You control your speed and direction with subtle body movements. You reach the bottom of the hill feeling energized and invigorated.

But skiing also can be intimidating for first-timers or those who are re-entering the sport after a long absence.   Beginners can be confused by what seems like complex equipment choices and confusing terminology.  This article is designed to give you some basic information that will help get you started the right way.

Gear Up

Before renting or purchasing equipment, ask yourself a few questions: How often will you ski? Will you ski only on a vacation or also near where you live? Determining your projected commitment level will help you decide whether to rent, lease or buy equipment.

Equipment Options

Renting equipment at a local ski shop or at the ski resort. You can rent equipment by the day or week. This is often recommended for first-time skiers. (Note: Some ski shops will apply the price of rentals toward purchasing new equipment.)

Leasing equipment for an entire season. Some ski shops offer this service and it can partcularly make sense for children who tend to out-grow gear quickly.

Buying used equipment at a local ski shop or ski swap. If you are new to skiing, stay away from garage sales and be careful at ski swaps because you may wind up with gear that is outdated and inappropriate. Ski shops often sell their rental equipment after a couple of years. Though these skis may look pretty banged up, shop personnel have checked them to be sure they meet safety standards.

Buying new equipment. You might want to consider a package deal that offers a discount when you buy skis, boots, bindings and poles together. Ultimately, owning your equipment allows you continuity as you progress through skiing's learning stages and can also save you time and money in the long run.

In general, alpine skis are made of a wooden core wrapped in fiberglass and coated in a fiberglass or plastic cap with metal edges. All skis do not perform the same; a number of things influence the performance of a ski, including combination of materials, stiffness, length, weight and sidecut, which refers to the narrowness of the waist, or middle part of the ski, in relation to the wider tip and tail.

  • Shaped skis, also known as super-sidecut and hourglass skis, have narrow waists and wide tips and tails. These skis are designed for use in shorter lengths than traditional models and make it easier to carve turns and stop.
  • Fat skis are designed for skiing powder and chopped-up snow. They tend to be wider and have less sidecut than shaped skis.
  • There are a number of different styles of boots, but the most important thing is that the boots are comfortable and fit your feet.
  • Bindings hold your boots to the skis and are designed to release when you need them to during a fall. Many bindings also have vibration-reducing features that allow you to ski more smoothly. Your ability and weight will determine the binding you choose.
  • Poles are used to help you with your balance and rhythm while skiing. Poles can be made from fiberglass, aluminum, graphite or some combination of these materials.
  • Don't forget the helmet!  A proper fitting helmet can reduce the risk and seriousness of a head injury.

Measure up

Skis are measured in centimeters (cm). Your ski length will depend on your ability, height and weight. A shop employee will help you decide on the appropriate length.

Ski boots come in traditional American sizes and also "mondo point," which is simply the length of the boot in centimeters.

  • When trying on boots, wear one pair of medium-weight or light-weight ski socks.
  • The fit should be snug and your heel should remain in place when you flex your knee and ankle forward into the boot.
  • Your toes should barely touch the inside of the boot and then, when you bend your knee forward, your toes should slide back slightly.
  • Make sure there aren't any pressure points or spots that pinch your feet and legs.
  • Remember, the boots will stiffen in the cold.
  • Avoid buying equipment that is too big.  Don't use the rationale that the child will "grow into it." Kids are happier and more confident when they are skiing with the right skis and proper-fitting boots.
  • Ask your ski shop about leasing programs for young skiers.

The retention setting on bindings are measured in "DIN" (Deutsche Industrie Norm).  In general, the higher your weight and skiing ability, the higher the DIN setting. Have a ski shop technician determine and set your DIN for you.

Get Going

First-time skiers should always take a lesson from a qualified ski instructor. Don't trust a friend to teach you to ski, and don't jeopardize your relationship by allowing your significant other to serve as instructor.

  • Contact your local ski area or ski resort to find out about beginner lessons and any special deals that might be available.
  • Make the ski school your first stop. Take a group or private lesson. Ask about classes or groups organized by age or gender.
  • Once you have mastered the basics, consider taking lessons from time to time to help you improve your skills and handle different types of terrain.


Remember: Be safe and have fun!

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