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Know Before You Go: Planning Your First Ski Trip

Everyone was a beginner once, but these tips for first-time skiers will make your first ski vacation run smoothly.

Skiers in Japan enjoy the views on a bluebird day.
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Kate Morgan is a journalist in rural Pennsylvania whose work on science, adventure, food, and culture has appeared in the New York Times, National Geographic, The Washington Post, BBC, and many other publications.

There are close to 6,000 developed ski areas in 68 countries around the world, and millions of people hit those slopes every year. If it's your first time skiing, there’s no time like the present: learning to ski will open a whole world of travel destinations, and show you stunning places from new heights. If you’re planning your first ski trip this winter, follow these tips to make sure it all goes downhill—in a good way.

How do I start planning a ski trip?

A skier looks out on the French Alps.
A skier looks out on the French Alps after a day on the slopes.Photo Credit: Song_about_summer / Shutterstock

The first step to planning a ski trip, of course, is deciding where to go.

First, pick a region: the most famous and popular ski resorts are in Europe, Asia, and North America. In the Alps, there are resorts in France, Italy, and Switzerland.

Japan’s Hokkaido region has big peaks, and the mountains in the Nagano prefecture were made famous by the 1998 Winter Olympics. In North America, there are hugely popular mountain resorts in British Columbia, and throughout the US Rocky Mountains, especially in Wyoming and Colorado. The east coast, too, is known for its skiing experience. In other words, spin the globe and pick a spot.

Which ski resort do I choose?

Navigating the chairlifts is a universal experience, no matter your level.
Snowboarders enjoying a reprieve on Snowshoe Mountain’s chairlifts in West Virginia.Photo Credit: Andriy Blokhin / Shutterstock

Don't head to the hardest slopes on your first time out.

If you’re new to the sport, make sure your mountain of choice has terrain for all skill levels, and enough beginner and intermediate slopes to keep the whole family entertained as you improve. If you want big downhills without battling crowds, smaller resorts can be hidden gems. At West Virginia’s Snowshoe and Timberline Mountains, for example, you’ll get snow totals that rival Breckenridge and Vail, without the long lift lines or the hefty price tag.

Related: The Best Ski Destinations in the US

What ski gear should I take on a ski trip?

The right ski gear matters (a sunny day skiing).
The right ski gear matters.Photo Credit: NATALIIA MAKAROVA / Shutterstock

The phrase "all the gear and no idea" is a truism for a reason.

Ski gear isn’t cheap, but the good news is you don’t necessarily have to buy it all: most mountains rent out skis, snowboards, poles, and more. As a beginner, it can be smart to rent skis your first few times out. The pros in the rental shop will set you up with skis that are just the right length and width for the snow conditions and your body type and skill level.

If you are going to invest in some gear though, make it a pair of ski boots. A good pair that fits your feet well—and keeps them comfortable all day—will drastically improve your experience. And not all resorts rent out helmets and ski goggles; if you want to wear one—and you should—you may need to bring your own.

What should I pack for a ski trip?

Cozy ski gear laid out on a table.
Sweaters, hats, gloves, and goggles are all essential packing needs for a ski trip.Photo Credit: Africa Studio / Shutterstock

Think: natural fibers and layers.

Temperatures in the mountains can fluctuate throughout the day, so when it comes to clothing, base layers, ski jackets, and ski pants are your friends. Make sure the one closest to your skin is made of natural fiber, like wool; even if you get sweaty while skiing, it’ll keep you warm while you ride the chairlift back up.

The cold can kill batteries fast, too. If you plan to take lots of photos and videos and call and text your friends and family while on the mountain, it’s a good idea to bring a portable charging pack.

Should I take ski lessons?

Children head to ski school on a snowy day.
Ski schools are great ideas for first timers and cater to both kids and adults.Photo Credit: vivairina1 / Shutterstock

A lesson or two can get you up on your feet faster and prevent injuries.

For kids and adults alike, it’s wise to take ski lessons before climbing on the lift. You certainly don’t want to get to the top and realize you can’t get yourself safely down. Reserve your ski school spot in advance; many ski resorts offer packages of lessons, lift tickets, and gear rentals.

Ski lessons are also a great way to occupy the kids for a few hours, especially if it's not your first time skiing. They’ll learn the basics while you get to tackle the more advanced runs. Plan the lessons for the morning so you can ski together in the afternoon, even if it’s just on the beginner slopes.

When is the best time to go skiing?

Morning skiing means less crowded slopes.
Chairs are ready for skiiers in Courchevel, France.Photo Credit: Piotr Figlarz / Unsplash

Expect some early starts on your ski trip.

The “first chair,” or the first lift ride up the mountain, tends to be the most coveted for experienced skiers—it allows enthusiasts to enjoy the best possible conditions on the slopes before it gets crowded and affected by weather changes throughout the day. If you want to avoid long lift lines, that means getting there bright and early.

At more popular resorts, parking lots can be busy, and you might have a long trek to the lodge. To effectively plan your ski day, keep in mind that it’ll take time to get geared up, especially if you need to get kids into boots, hats, and gloves.

Related: 10 of Canada’s Best Après-ski Resorts

Should I plan on skiing every day?

Early morning cross country skiiers enjoy the peace and quiet.
Break up your ski trip by trying other activities such as cross country skiing.Photo Credit: gorillaimages / Shutterstock

There's nothing wrong with taking a break or two.

Skiing is deceptively tough on your body, especially if it's your first time skiing. It may be a ski trip, but plan to spend roughly half your time, well … not skiing. If you’re visiting an especially high-altitude mountain resort, it’s a good idea to skip the slopes on the first day while your body acclimates, and adding an off day between long days on the lift will leave you refreshed and ready to get back in your boots.

The good news is, ski resorts tend to be located in beautiful, exciting places with plenty to do. Check out another winter sport, such as sledding or snowshoeing; enjoy the local culinary scene; or pay a visit to a local spa to work out those sore muscles. Once you’ve fallen in love with your first mountain town, you’ll be scouting destinations for your ski journey for tons of winters to come.

Frequently asked questions

Friends gather around an outdoor table after skiing all day.
A post-ski or snowboarding drink is one of the best things about ski culture.Photo Credit: View Apart / Shutterstock

Everything you need to know about planning your first ski trip.

  • What is après-ski? Après-ski is a significant part of the ski culture and provides an opportunity for skiers and snowboarders to relax, unwind, and socialize with fellow enthusiasts. Après-ski activities can vary from one ski resort to another, and the specific offerings depend on the location, size of the resort, and the preferences of the visitors. It's a time to unwind, celebrate a day of skiing, and embrace the social aspect of the mountain community.
  • How can I save money on my ski trip? Look for package deals, consider mid-week stays, and explore discounts on lift tickets and equipment rentals. Planning in advance can often result in cost savings.
  • How do I prepare for the altitude? If you are skiing in a high-altitude location, be aware of the potential effects of altitude sickness. Stay hydrated, take it easy the first day, and be mindful of any symptoms.
  • What should I know about mountain safety? Learn and abide by the skier's responsibility code. Understand trail difficulty ratings, and always ski within your ability. Carry a trail map, be aware of weather conditions, and know how to use any safety equipment.
  • How do I maximize my ski day? Take plenty of breaks during the day for snacks will help you fueled and energized. Skiing burns a ton of calories, so give in to all your vacation cravings and plan for a big après-ski meal.

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