Snow may seem like the enemy when you're shoveling your walk or commuting through it to get to work, but for the skier, a heavy snowfall is a ticket to heaven. Few moments in life are as exhilarating as gliding down a mountain, carving smooth curves in fresh snow. Last week we brought you a roundup of the best ski deals, from ski lodges to discounted ski lift passes, so what better time to take up skiing? Here are some pointers to get you prepared for your first trip down the slopes.
Types of Skis
Skis come in a variety of styles, each designed for a specific purpose. Some are appropriate for eastern icy slopes, some for the deep powder of western mountains. Some emphasize speed, others control. Some are meant to allow the kind of tricks a skateboarder might appreciate, so which skis are right for you?
To evaluate the ski, start by turning it runner-side up and look at the overall shape. Most skis today are parabolic: they are thinner at the waist than at the front tip or rear tail. The greater the taper, the easier it is to carve turns. The way to compare skis for the ease of turn is by looking at the ski's turning radius. A turning radius of 12 to 16 meters is a fast, hard turn, 16 to 22 meters is a wider, easier turn.
A good style for beginners is all-mountain style and moderately parabolic, along the lines of 114-70-110 — which is the width of the ski in millimeters at the tip, midpoint, and tail. The pictured Elan Men's e/Flex 4 Skis ($299.93 with free shipping, $150 off) are a standard set. Thinner skis are good for groomed trails, while fatter ones will float better over powder or in bad conditions.
The length of the ski is also an important consideration. Longer skis are faster, and faster is not necessarily a property you want to pursue if you're a novice and in danger of reaching velocities you don't know how to handle. Slower, easier to controls skis are a wiser choice. To pick the right length of ski, start with one that, when stood on end, reaches the bottom of your chin. If you are heavier or lighter than the average skier, you may need a longer or shorter ski.
You'll also notice that skis, when laid on the floor, aren't completely flat on the bottom; they rise in the middle, and only flatten out when you step on them. This flex is different from one ski to the next, and changes the way the skis work on the snow. Racers like stiffer skis, while beginners are better off with skis with softer flex.
There are other types of specialty skis used by more experienced skiers: long racing skis or very fat skis meant to suspend the skier in deep powder. Those who love to perform tricks on snow, especially those adept at skateboarding, are drawn to shorter skis with curled tips on both ends. The longer of these trick skis are called twin-tips, the shorter (as short as 75 cm, roughly the length of your inseam), skiboards. These are usually used without poles, and can use traditional ski bindings (which release if the skier falls) or a fixed and locked boot binding found on snowboards, like these Burton Men's Mission Bindings ($109.99 with free shipping, a low by $9). These Cosmic Way 2030 Skiboards ($129.99 with free shipping, $50 off), pictured, are an excellent discounted pair for beginners.
Bindings are the necessary clamps that hold ski boots onto the ski. They are designed to allow your skis to fall free of your feet in a crash, saving you from knee injury. Most skis and bindings for beginners are bundled together, alleviating the need to select a separate set of bindings. But be sure to check that bindings are included before you buy your first set of skis.
Choosing the right boot can be overwhelming. It is of the utmost importance to find a boot that fits more snugly than street shoes; your toes should feel the end of the toe box when standing upright. Since you ski in a crouched position your feet are pushed towards the back of the boot, so a snug fit is necessary to maximize control of your skis. The Nordica Cruise Men's 70 Ski Boots ($119.83 with free shipping, a low by $40) are a best bet.
To choose poles, turn them upside down and put your hand on top of the basket. Your forearm should be parallel to the ground. A basic set, like the aluminum Roissignol Experience Ski Poles ($26.95 with free shipping, a low by $9) will get you movin'.
We also recommend you invest in good headgear. Your brain is a foolish thing to risk on the slopes, especially as a beginner — and packed snow hurts. Find a helmet that is snug and padded to help keep your head warm. Check out the B360 Men's 2012 Snow Helmet ($59.99 with free shipping, $10 off). The winter sun's glare is doubly intense on the slopes, so be sure to protect your eyeballs with a pair of shaded goggles. There are several options to choose from at this Altrec sale, where styles — like the pictured Spy Optics Targa II Goggles (from $31.95 with free shipping, a low by $3) — are marked up to 60% off.
Before you hit the black diamond runs, brush up on how to fall, get up, check your speed, and navigate chair lifts without any spills. Before long, you'll be cruising down the mountain side in the crisp winter air, carving powder, and bouncing though a mogul field like you were born to ski.