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Winter is here! For a tropical girl like me, it means it’s time to bundle up in layers, stay warm in my centrally heated apartment and wait for the first signs of snow. It’s also the season for winter sports – skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and the works! I put on my first ever skis two years ago, and had such a wonderful time! Hence, through this article, I will be sharing some tips and tricks on how to learn to ski as an adult.
Many of us who grew up in warm places didn’t get to experience snow till much later. By then, we’re older and developed a certain kind of caution to try new things, for fear of falling, getting hurt… and, I don’t know, shy to be the grown-ass adult who’s learning to ski for the first time. Never fear for it’s never too late to try new things.
Can you learn to ski as an adult?
Of course, you can! While children pick up new skills better than adults, learning is a lifelong journey. As an adult, you now understand and value a good experience, plus you get to tell all your friends and followers on social media that you’ve lived life with no regrets!
My husband, Azfar, picked up skiing 5 years ago, one year shy of being 30 and now he’s conquering all the Black slopes (more details about the trail colours below!). I went on my first ski trip when I was 29 too, and am super excited about going back to the slopes once the COVID restrictions loosen up.
What do I need to know about learning to ski as an adult?
1. Pack and wear appropriate clothing
You’ll be spending a lot of time outside in the cold, therefore you’ll need to invest in proper ski attire. This includes a helmet, ski goggles, gloves, jacket, pants and thick socks. Normal winter jackets and jeans are a no-no because you’ll be spending a good part of the day sliding across the ice on your bum. Some ski resorts provide ski attire, but I personally prefer my own because it’s more sanitary.
Without ski goggles, skiing on a snowy or windy day is going to be painful and annoying. They protect your eyes from the elements, and also give you a better vision without having to squint past the vast whiteness of the snow. Proper ski goggles don’t fog up too, and block harmful UV rays when you’re high up in the mountain, closer to the sun.
Thick socks not only shield your feet from the cold, they are also comfortable in worn, rental ski boots. Sometimes I wear an extra sock underneath the thick sock to prevent blisters from forming when the ski boots dig into my skin.
2. You’re going to ache
If you don’t engage in many fitness activities during your free time, skiing definitely makes all your muscles work overtime and they’ll be screaming for respite by the end of the day. Doing some light exercises to build your strength and stamina before your ski trip might help. But if you’re lazy, like me, ensure that you stretch in the morning before heading for the slopes.
Make sure that your ski gears, especially your boots fit you comfortably. As first time skiers, you’ll first need to feel comfortable in your gear and then go out there to conquer the world. The ski shop will provide rentals for boots, skis and even helmets. So make sure they’re all the right sizes.
3. You’re going to be terrified
I swear, I think that we were braver as kids. We weren’t afraid to fall and skin our knees. We’d just get up and continue to run and play. Learning to ski as adults, we are more cautious about falling and dying. Well, I did feel that way several times on the mountain, but as long as you do as you’re taught and trust the people around you, you’ll do just fine.
On the last day of our ski trip, I agreed for my husband to take me three ski lifts up to take on a Blue slope. He promised that he’d have my back all the way. When we reached the top, the weather took a turn for the worst. The wind was howling, and the ski lifts halted operations, which means the only way down was to ski. At one point I was clinging onto a post, with strong winds threatening to blow me away. He was a few metres away, waiting for me to get my crap together and ski down with him. He insisted that I won’t get blown off.
It took a lot of convincing and yowling (on my end) for me to let go of that post and ski down. The wind actually gave me an advantage for it was blowing against me, slowing me down. Now, we have a good laugh about it, but at that time it was scary AF.
Choosing your mountains
There are many, many different ski destinations to choose from globally. Be it in the States, Europe and even Asia, there is always something for everyone. Every ski resort has a piste map, signifying all the available slopes and their level of difficulty. On the map, they are generally coloured in Green, Blue, Red or Black.
Green and Blue are beginner-friendly slopes with an incline of not more than 25%. These slopes are generally groomed, which means it’s wide and easy to ski down Red are for the more intermediate skiers with a maximum incline of 40%. These courses can be wide, and also narrow at some point on the trail. Black is for the expert skiers. Slopes are above 40% incline, and some aren’t groomed, making it impossible and absolutely scary for beginners to conquer.
Different ski areas have varying markers. In Japan, where I learnt to ski, the beginner slopes were marked Green. On the second day of my very first ski experience, I went down a blue slope with the help of my husband and a good friend who is a seasoned skier. The red and black slopes were just dreams that one day a beginner skier like me would eventually have the courage to ski down.
The proximity from your accommodation to the ski slopes is important too, to maximise the time you spend on the slopes. We stayed at Lotte Arai Ski Resort, an all-inclusive ski resort with hotels, cafés, restaurants and a spa. While the food can be quite pricey, we never had to leave the resort to do anything. Except for one time I took the free shuttle into town for an emergency paracetamol run. I managed to converse with the driver in my halting Japanese to get to the pharmacy, and back without having to wait for the next shuttle. Excellent, excellent service.
If your accommodation is away from the ski slopes in the nearby villages, look out for the location of the easy slopes and ski lifts, and ensure that you park your car near to them for easy access.
Can I learn how to ski on my own?
There is truly nothing you cannot learn from the Internet, even how to learn to ski as an adult. However, you can watch all the YouTube videos and read all the blogs about how to ski for the first time, nothing can actually prepare you for the first time on the snow.
You can of course accept a free ski introductory lesson from your experienced skier friend. However, you won’t get very far. Learning from a professional ski instructor equips you with the basic must know. They’ll teach you the right techniques and how to ski safely. For me, learning the basics from a professional is an absolute must. Friends who are willing to teach me to come in later, to supplement what I learn and get better from it.
Ski Lessons: Private vs. Group
Most ski resorts offer ski school for beginners to learn to ski as an adult and refresher courses for people like me who’ve learnt the basics but haven’t skied for a while. You can consider booking a ski lesson for the first 2-3 days you’re there. If you’re pressed for time like I was, you can opt for a full-day or even half-day (3 hours) of introductory ski lessons.
You’ll have the choice of signing up for group lessons or a one-on-one coaching session. Both lessons have their advantages and disadvantages. Here’s the reality: they aren’t cheap. But it’s definitely a worthy investment. Private lessons are optimal for beginners who want to learn the basics of skiing quickly. You basically have the instructor to yourself for the day or a few hours and your learning will be accelerated.
Group ski lessons are cheaper, and if you get along well with the other beginners, you might even make a few friends too! Oh unsurprisingly, I encountered more adults learning to ski with instructors more than children.
Speaking of friends, you’ll definitely miss them while they’re happily whizzing down the slopes and you’re learning how to get through an incline. But you’ll get to see them again during breaks and at the end of the day. Plus, once you’ve “graduated” from your session as a first-time skier, what better way to show off your new skills to supportive friends!
How long does it take for me to learn to ski as an adult?
It truly depends on you. Some people learn fast, and others take a little while. Azfar, my then-boyfriend gifted me a 3-hour ski lesson on the first day. By the end of our three-day skiing trip, I was an “expert” at the bunny slopes and even went down the blue slope with my friends without tripping and falling.
Practice makes perfect. On my first day after the lessons, I spent the day on my own practising what has been taught. I went up the ski lifts and down the slopes many, many times till the ski lift operator recognised me and waved hi when we passed each other down the corridor. Always be with someone when encountering a steeper slope for the first time. Again, safety first. Once you get the hang of the slope, you can start skiing. Even if you fall, and have no friends around you, someone will definitely come and ask if you need some help.
Once again, I cannot emphasize the importance of safety first when attempting a winter sport. This is especially for those who have never skied in their entire lives.
Azfar and I were enjoying a meal and a hot beverage on Zugspitze where we noticed two girls trudging past dressed in a non-waterproof winter jacket and jeans with skis in their hands. We observed as they tried to unsuccessfully get into their skis, and I nudged my husband to ask if they needed help.
It turns out that the girls were from Singapore too, and on their first holiday after 1.5 years of being stuck in the tropics due to COVID. Azfar just helped the fellow Singaporean girls get into their skis, and went back to enjoy his pasta. It was quite obvious that they have little to no ski experience, and I was terrified for them. They didn’t even have helmets on.
It’s all cool to post Insta-worthy stories and posts to show off to friends and family who are still stuck at home. But it’s dangerous to be skiing down a slope without the proper training, much less without the appropriate attire. I guess the girls went down without an incident, but remember people: SAFETY FIRST.
To sum it up
Wear proper ski attire, and make sure the gears are a snug fit. Safety first, learn from the professionals and have tons of fun! You can learn to ski as an adult or at any age, and I hope that you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.