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  • Writer's pictureHenry

Learning to Ski ...

It all seems a little daunting doesn't it? The mountains are suddenly very tall and very steep, there are hundreds of people whizzing about confidently, and the cold has hit home for the very first time.

Or maybe, its a crisp autumnal day, and you are outside at a dry slope centre or about to head into a snowdome here in the UK.

Either way, if you've never skied before or or you are just starting out, skiing can seem very alien. This, therefore, is a dive into what you can expect from your first few days on the mountain, and how you turn yourself from zero to hero.

This is not a step-by-step guide to teaching you how to ski, but it is more a familiarisation tool to help ease your first couple of days with instructors, perhaps explaining why this is happening on what you can expect to be doing.


Step 1: Get the Kit

I am so sorry this is happening to you. If you are in resort you'll be herded into a rental shop and proffered a pair of boots to try on and skis to carry away.

The boots will be the most uncomfortable things you've ever tried. This is mostly because they are made of hard plastic which, unlike soft trainers or shoes, do not respond as your foot expands when weight is applied.

To get them on, pull the tongue forward and to the outside of the boot. Standing up, point your foot down like a ballerina and slide your foot in straight; I cannot stress this enough, the foot must be straight, otherwise it makes a hard job even tougher. When in the boot, do up the buckles so they are the loosest they can be whilst still staying shut. Then, push forward at the knees and ankle as if you are about to fall to your knees in prayer. Good boots should hold well at the ankle, and you should feel your toes pull away from the end. If this second part doesn't happen, consider jumping up half a size.

There is much less drama with the skis - the is a really useful rule of thumb that means the right length skis should reach between your chin and your nose when stood next to them. The technician will ask for your age, height and weight, as well as any ski experience you've had before - they're not prying, they need this to set the DIN settings on your skis' bindings, an important safety feature that must be calibrated to your weight, age and ability. It's often a good idea to have these noted down in centimetres and kilogrammes if skiing on the continent!


Step 2: Assume the Position

So now you've got the kit and you've made your way to the slopes. The first step of actually skiing is to become familiar with the body position you'll need to be in during much of your time on skis. This is one of those fundamentals that appears all the time in skiing; it doesn't matter whether you are just starting out or you a multi-time World Cup winner, you should roughly be adhering to this fundamental at all times.

Start with your feet somewhere between hip and shoulder width apart. Then bend your ankles and knees slightly - the angle of your ski boots means this should already be in place. Next, you will need to bend your torso forward so your nose is just in front of your toes. If you have ever roller bladed or ice skated before, it is the same kinda position. At this stage you don't need to be too far over, but tall people will need to work hard to bring their stomach in and their chest down - this is something I have always struggled with, which has caused me issues as I stand a 6'2"; as soon as it was pointed out and rectified by a coach (only last autumn), my skiing improved considerably.

Assuming the position for a chairlift dance!

Finally, bring your hands in front of your body and slightly angle

d out, as if holding the controls of a jet pack. et voilá! You have assumed the skiing position! The benefits of this is that it keeps your weight down and forward, ensuring you keep pressure with the toe edges of your skis - this is where you drive your skis from, so, like a good pair of tyres on a car, it is important to ensure you have good, consistent contact with the snow. With knees, ankles and hip bent as they are, they act as shock absorbers, allowing your body to react to any bumps along the way. It is also an ideal position to pivot your legs beneath your body, something that may not seem important now but will become so as your skiing develops.

The best bit is you can practice this at home before you. You may look a bit silly at first, but you'll get the feel for where your weight falls and how strenous it can be to fight to maintain this position.


Step 3: Sliiiide

Take a look at the bottom of your skis. You will see it is almost entirely black, framed by a silver metal bit. The black bit is the slidey bit; the silver is the grippy bit. Your instructor should spend a little while taking you to the top of a short bit of gentle slope, pointing you down the hill and just letting you slide down. This will really help you get a feel for how skis move under you. Try really hard to keep the slidey black bits of the ski in contact with the snow; this will mean you ensure a nice, smooth slide down the mountain.


Step 4: Stop

Next, you'll move up the slope a bit further, and carry a bit more speed. Skiing is like riding a bike; paradoxically the faster you go, the easier it is to control ... until you go too fast that is ...

You'll be taught to stop next, which is both useful for, you know, stopping, and

Avoid stopping face first into a snow bank!

also for turning (which will be Step 5).

To stop on skis, keeping your toes in their current position, push your ankles out so your skis now form a V shape, with your toes towards the pointy end of the V. This is known as a Snowplough, although some instructors may call it the Pizza shape. It is important that when you push your ankles out, you angle your skis in on the horizontal plane, so the grippy silver bit of the skis are now contacting the snow.

This is the first test of your position from Step 2 - the physics of this manoeuvre will automatically force you into the back seat. It is vital you fight to stay in your skiing position.


Step 5: Turn

Cool, we're officially skiing!

The next step is to learn how to turn. Again, this is important for a couple of reasons; one, because turning stops us skiing into trees and off cliffs (oh, that's how they do it?!), and two because we more often using turning to control our speed rather than the snowplough technique above.

The easiest way to turn is to simply do half a snowplough - push out and angle only one ski. This won't quite be enough, however. You will need to transfer your weight to this ski to allow the grippy bits of the ski to do their job and bring your round the other side.

Keeping in your skiing position as best you can, begin to gently lean over to the ski in question. You can also pull your weight up from your other foot, although at this point don't pull the ski away from the snow. You should feel the ski begin to grip and pull round, turning you across the hill.


And really, skiing is as simple as that. Straighten out your skis and off you go again - reassume the position (if lost), and turn your other ski to come back the other way.

For those just setting out in skiing, your instructor will quickly build you up to move away from these type of turns, as the pedagogy of ski instruction has moved on from teaching snowplough turns as an end in and of itself (looking at you ESF). For more advance skiers who are perhaps feeling a bit lost with their technique development, one of the best things about my instructor training was almost going back to the start and rebuilding your technique from the ground up; remember where you started from, remind yourself of the fundamentals - which, remember, never change no matter how far you go - and ... sliiide!


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