15 Common Beginner Skier Mistakes [& How to Avoid Them]

by Simon Knott | Updated On: March 14th, 2022
practice ski

Photo by Simon Hannaford Andromedae licensed under CC BY 2.0. We may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page.

Skiing is a complicated sport that involves numerous skills, which are used in a harsh environment. Some people devote their whole lives to skiing and even in their later years, they are still learning. But what are some of the mistakes beginners make?

Preparation is key with a skiing trip. Ensuring you get fit and have appropriate clothes is vital. If you are complete beginner ski lessons will help you develop a good style much quicker than learning on your own. There are a lot of simple and straightforward techniques and rules, which will keep you safe and improve your ability.

For the beginner, it can be overwhelming at first as so many things are out of the ordinary. Wearing different clothes, using unfamiliar equipment, spending your day in unusual weather, and often all in a foreign country.

However, by taking your time and listening to the people around you will be surprised how quickly you pick up the language and art of skiing. The mistakes that beginners tend to make fall into two main areas, firstly, the planning for your trip and secondly, your skiing technique.

There are many examples for both areas, but these are some of the most common:

Planning Your Trip

1. Arriving Without Having Worked on Fitness

If you’ve never been skiing your only experience of it will probably be to have watched someone on TV. It looks straightforward and flowing and doesn’t appear to need much effort. However, skiing is an active sport, which uses lots of different muscle groups, in particular the legs, and plenty of aerobic exercises.

Consequently, it is only common sense that you should start a simple fitness program well before you leave for your trip. Little and often is the best way to get results, rather than a manic panic a few days before your vacation.

There are plenty of suitable programs you can find on the Internet and for most, you don’t even need access to a gym. Cycling, rowing, running, and even fast walking will all help to build up your cardiovascular strength, which will come in useful for carrying all your gear.

The exercises will help you build strength in your legs, arms, and core, which is vital for balance and turning. Starting a straightforward exercise program about 12 weeks before you leave will help you to enjoy your vacation much more and at the same time will considerably lessen your chances of injury.

2. Getting the Right Clothing and Equipment

skiing-in-red-jacket
Photo by Upsilon Andromedae licensed under CC BY 2.0

It’s often assumed that if you going to be skiing in sub-zero temperatures you must wear numerous layers to keep warm. However, you’ll find most skiers just use one or two thermal T-shirts underneath their ski jackets.

As you ski down a run you will be generating a lot of heat, mostly from your legs, as you make repeated turns. People tend to experience the cold in different ways so it’s only by trial and error that you’ll find out what works best for you.

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If you are hiring your skis, boots, and poles make sure you listen to the ski shop assistant to ensure you get the best fitting equipment. Most ski shop assistants are keen to share their knowledge, so always ask if there is something you don’t understand.

Getting the right fit for your ski boots is vital. You’re going to be wearing them for the whole day so make sure they feel right to avoid a return trip to the shop to change them. There are plenty of videos demonstrating the best way to buckle up a ski boot, so it correctly holds your foot and ankle.

Most hire shops offer a free change service, where if after the first day if there is a problem with your boots, you can go back to the shop for replacements.

3. Be Aware Of The Sun

When you go skiing, clothed from head to foot, along with a scarf, goggles, helmet, and gloves it is easy to forget about the dangers of the sun. However, the remaining areas of your face and nose, left exposed, can be badly burned, even after a short time.

When skiing in the mountains the sunlight reflects off the snow surface and combines with the direct sunlight to make powerful rays. In addition, at altitude, the sun’s rays are more powerful because they have a thinner layer of atmosphere to travel through.

These combined effects mean it is well worth investing in a good high-protection UVA and UVB sunscreen to protect your exposed areas.

At the same time is vital to protect your eyes from the same rays. Permanent damage can occur if you don’t use or use the wrong sort of sunglasses.

4. Avoiding Ski Lessons

Most people wouldn’t dream of jumping in a car and driving it without some form of tuition.

The same goes for skiing; there are a lot of techniques and abilities you must master before you can make progress with your style.

Admittedly there are plenty of videos, and websites, which aim to demonstrate how to learn the skills. However, a big part of learning skiing is being corrected by a teacher, who can quickly identify your personal mistakes and teach you how to avoid them.

Ski lessons are expensive, so if you do need them research resorts closest to you to find the cheapest and join a group class, they will be much cheaper than individual tuition.

5. Not Making The Best Use Of Your Ski Instruction

Having spent your hard-earned cash on ski lessons you would be surprised to hear how many beginners don’t take the opportunity to learn. There are many distractions, however, which make it difficult to concentrate on the information you are being offered.

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Spirits are usually high when you’re with a group of friends and when you combine this with nerves, excitement, and probably a hangover then concentration falls to the bottom of the pile.

This is unfortunate because your instructor will be passing on useful nuggets of information, which will really benefit your skiing ability and enjoyment.

So, make the effort to concentrate on what’s being said and practice the advice. If there’s anything you don’t understand ask lots of questions. That’s what you’re paying them for.

6. Make Good Use Of The Trail Map

When you’re on vacation it’s tempting to let others take on the responsibilities, because you’ve earned it, right? Well possibly but imagine the situation of getting separated from your group later in the afternoon without a trail map and suddenly the importance of the map becomes clearer.

Buddy with someone who understands the trail map and you will soon begin to understand not only the layout of the resort but also how all the runs connect with the lifts. For each ski lift, the time of the last ascent is usually advertised when you’re queueing, so make a mental note of it.

Skiing Technique

7. Leaning Too Far Back

Leaning too far back and having a rigid stance are two of the most common mistakes that beginners make. They are both a product of fear, which usually comes from a fear of falling over or going out of control by going too fast.

Leaning too far back is a natural way of compensating, almost pulling the reins in, to try to slow down. Unfortunately, leaning back doesn’t affect your speed at all, but it does affect your ability to control your skis.

If you lean back when you’re skiing the weight will be taken off the front of the skis and only the back half of the ski will have proper contact with the snow. This means your ability to control the skis will be severely limited, as corners are always initiated by the front part of the ski.

Without someone observing from the outside, it’s difficult to know if you are skiing leaning too far back. So, a useful technique is to push your shins forward in your ski boots until they press against the interior of the front of the boot. When your legs are in this position you can be sure you have the right posture. When you are standing in this position your weight is evenly distributed across the skis, so you can easily initiate corners, steer and slow down effectively.

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8. Not Going Fast Enough

During your first days in the snow, you are bound to feel anxious. Am I doing it right? Is everyone watching me? Am I going to fall over? Am I going to go out of control? These are all-natural feelings you will experience because you don’t yet have good control of your skis.

Your first exercise on the snow will usually be to make some wedge (snowplough) turns on an easy slope. By nature, these turns are very controlled, so you can pick up speed in your own time when you feel comfortable with it. If things start to go out of control you can easily tighten the wedge is slow your progress.

However, there comes a point when you can be skiing so slowly that the mechanics of a wedge turn don’t work. This is the time to take a bit of a gamble and increase your speed, where you will notice the wedge turns suddenly become much easier.

If you find you are anxious about falling over, then stage an accident at a very slow speed and just fall to one side. You won’t get hurt and you’ll realize that in the early days of skiing falling over is routine and not be feared.

9. Skis Too Far Apart or Not Wide Enough

Ski-Lesson
Photo by Simon Hannaford Andromedae licensed under CC BY 2.0

As ski technology has advanced and most skiers now ski with carving skis so the distance between the skis has widened. There are advantages and disadvantages to having a wide and narrow gap. When starting out it is best to aim for hip-width between your skis. This will give you much more stability and control, and it will enable you to put the skis onto the edges to go around corners.

Some skiers prefer to ski with a very narrow gap between the skis, sometimes even none, as this enables the skier to go faster and easily get the skis on their edges. The only downside is the lack of stability.

If you catch an edge or hit an obstacle when skiing with your skis together you will have very little time to take corrective action, whereas if your skis are apart your weight is more evenly spread and you have a better chance to save yourself from a fall.

When you’re on an easy slope try skiing with different widths between your skis. You will notice the restricted feel when the skis are together and more stability when they are further apart.

10. Turn Your Upper Body To Follow The Fall Line, Not Your Skis

A natural reaction for beginners is to tense up as they ski. You will notice skiers behaving in this way, skiing as if they’ve been frozen solid. There is no movement or flexibility in the legs or body. As you gradually gain confidence though, the fluidity comes back to your movements.

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As a leftover of this anxiety skiers often follow the direction of the skis rather than the natural gravity or fall line of the slope. The fall line is an imaginary line downhill, which a tennis ball would follow if you released it at the top of the hill.

When traversing a slope, even though your skis will be going across the slope, your upper body should be facing downhill down the fall line. When you reach the end of the traverse and turn round your body will be once more pointing down the fall line.

Beginners who concentrate on the front of their skis won’t be able to turn their upper body down the fall line and they won’t be able to see any obstacles or people in their path.

11. Your Upper Body Isn’t Flexible Enough

Having a relaxed, flexible body makes skiing so much easier. Unfortunately, that’s a lot easier said than done, and consequently, you can frequently see beginners that have very little flexibility in their upper bodies.

The effect of this is to create muscle soreness and cramp, which subsequently leads to fatigue and possibly, more accidents. To be an effective skier involves a relaxed but alert stance, where you are ready for any eventuality. This means muscles are only used when required and movements are smooth and controlled.

To practice this fluidity ski down a simple slope and, as you come to the beginning of a turn notice your upper body is facing down the fall line. As you turn through the corner you will lean into the curve as you move onto the next traverse.

12. Not Putting Your Weight On The Lower Ski

Beginners often don’t realize that making a turn with skis is initiated by putting weight onto the lower ski at the front and making the ski edge dig into the snow. It is quite a subtle process unless you are cornering hard, so often there is not very much to observe.

Carving skis, such as those that you normally rent from a ski shop have a wider tip and tail and a slimmer waist. This makes them a lot easier to push into corners, as the natural tendency of the ski is to go in an arc.

However, you can’t rely on your skis to make the corners for you. It’s necessary to apply a small amount of pressure to the front of the lower ski to initiate a turn. You’ll find nearly all your weight is transferred to the lower ski, often so much so that you can lift the upper ski off the snow.

If you practice this on easy slopes you will start to develop your own natural style of cornering. It should be fluid and controlled with no stress exerted on your body.

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13. Turning The Hips

Usually, because of anxiety beginners approach a corner, move their upper body to initiate a turn by applying weight to the outside ski, but then their hips move in the opposite direction. This counteracts the weight of the upper body, which effectively means no weight is exerted on the outside ski. Consequently, cornering isn’t very effective.

To rectify this the skier must actively ensure that the upper body and hips move forward to exert force on the outside ski. With practice this maneuver becomes second nature, creating a fluid cornering technique.

14. Not Holding And Controlling Your Poles In The Right Position

This is another anxiety-related problem that beginners tend to suffer from. When you are starting out on skis there are so many things to think about you can only juggle so many in your mind at one time. Ski poles don’t seem to be that important in the mix at the beginning and so they often get ignored.

When you don’t think about what your poles are doing, they usually end up held down by your side, stuck to your side, pointing to the front, or even just waved in the air! In the early days, this isn’t too much of the problem but soon as you start to learn to corner you will need to start using your poles to pole plant.

To hold your poles correctly hold your arms out in front of you about 10 inches (25 cm), with your elbows bent to a near 90° angle. This should mean the poles point backward and downwards diagonally and should be close to the snow surface but shouldn’t touch it.

15. Put Your Hand Through The Pole Strap Correctly

It is an unfortunate quirk of the design of all pole straps that if you attach them to your hand incorrectly you can suffer a bad injury to your thumb or index finger if you fall.

Luckily putting them on the correct way is easy with a bit of practice. If you put your hand through the pole strap and let the pole dangle from your hand. Then grab the ski pole handle, with your thumb outside of the strap, making sure the strap goes between your thumb and index finger.

This ensures that if you have a bad fall the ski pole strap will either come off your hand completely or stay where it is but doesn’t cause injury.

On Piste Etiquette

There is a list of more than 10 safety rules that all skiers should follow on and off-piste.

Most seem obvious when you first read them, but you will be surprised how many you hadn’t thought of. These three rules when not adhered to cause the most accidents:

  • Skiers who are in front of you have priority
  • When joining a new run, re-joining a run you were on or climbing up a run check up and down the hill for other skiers before you pull out
  • Exercise caution where runs intersect all runs intersect with drag lifts
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