How to Prepare for a Day on the Mountain: Tips for Beginner Skiers and Snowboarders

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There are only a few days left in the Colorado ski season so whether you plan on visiting the mountain this season for warm spring skiing or are planning a trip for next winter, you need to know how to be prepared.

The best way to ruin your ski vacation is to find yourself completely miserable at the top of the mountain. Your hands are cold, your legs are aching, and for some reason, you can’t catch your breath. You look at everyone else having a great time and wonder, “what the heck am I doing wrong?”

I hate to break it to you, but it’s typically a lack of planning that contributes to a bad day on the slopes. I live in a ski town and I’m out there every week, and I have seen it all. Here are my do’s and dont’s when it comes to preparing for a ski trip.

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Do prepare for the altitude and dry air!

The first thing you need to check is the elevation of your destination. If you’re visiting Colorado from sea level, you may have some issues. Check out this article from the Denver Post. Apparently, 25% to 30% of visitors experience altitude sickness and it could ruin your entire trip! My advice: stay hydrated, keep away from alcohol, and practice some deep breathing exercises. If you need to stay in Denver for a night to help with acclimation, then do it! There are also cans of oxygen you can buy from local stores. Here’s a link to Boost oxygen cans.

The elevation and low humidity also bring sunburn and very dry skin. It doesn’t take long to realize how vulnerable your skin is out here. I have made the mistake of forgetting sunblock on my face and ending the day with a red forehead and nose. My skin is also constantly cracked and dry throughout the day. My favorite sunscreen is Supergoop, just apply to all exposed areas and you’ll be set. My favorite hand cream is Working Hands.

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Don’t ski in jeans!

Next, check the weather 10 days out, and continue to check the weather until the day you leave. The weather in Colorado is incredibly unpredictable. Just because the sun is shining in the morning, doesn’t mean there won’t be a blizzard in the afternoon and vice versa. And you need to prepare by bringing the right clothes. There is an ongoing joke out here in Colorado about how Texans ski in jeans, and this is the first season I have seen multiple people do it. If that’s your prerogative then go for it, but there are better options out there to be comfortable and warm.

Here are my wardrobe necessities:

Base layer: Wool or synthetic base layers will keep you warm. My family loves the Hot Chillys brand. I suggest a lighter base layer for spring skiing/riding or you may find yourself overheating.

Snow pants: This is the easiest item to find. I purchased Roxy snow pants from a thrift store and they’re great. My husband purchased his pants off the clearance rack at Eddie Bauer and loves them.  The most important thing is to find pants that are comfortable, insulated and waterproof.

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The black shirt I’m wearing is my favorite baselayer. 

Jacket and sweaters: In the winter, I have a heavier snow jacket that fits a bit longer than my waist. Most jackets for the snow will also have a heat index (look up reviews online prior to purchasing to see if it can withstand cold temps). Under this winter jacket, I will have my base layer, a long sleeve shirt, and a polyester pullover sweater or hoodie. In the spring, I typically go with a base layer, a polyester sweater or hoodie, and a waterproof windbreaker. Click on the links to see examples.

Gloves: I recommend buying gloves that come with liners. Gloves for skiing/snowboarding will often have a heat index to let you know what temps it can withstand. My family prefers mittens with liners because mittens will keep your fingers closer and will produce more heat. If you’re unsure, check out this article by REI on how to choose the right glove or mitten.

Don’t forget to throw in some hand warmers before tightening your gloves on those extra chilly days.

Socks: My feet tend to get cold and achy even on warm days, so I have tested several types of socks. I’ve found that socks that are specifically for skiing or snowboarding tend to do the best. An employee at a ski shop told me that people tend to think thicker socks are the best, but that’s not the case. I’ve found the ski/snowboard socks tend to have the perfect amount of fabric so you’re not bunching up in your boot.

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Always wear a helmet!

Balaclava: My Balaclava or ski mask has protected my face from harsh winds on the mountain. I think bringing one is an absolute necessity! If it gets too warm, they are usually small enough to fold and put it in your pocket.

Helmet: I don’t need to explain this one. Even the best skiers and snowboarders can have bad falls. Protect your brain and wear a helmet.

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Clayton prefers his beard over a balaclava!

Do stretch before hitting the slopes!

Skiing and snowboarding require a ton of movement, flexibility, and use of different muscles. If I skimp on my stretches, I find myself more exhausted and sore the next day. Even if you’re here for vacation, you’re still participating in a sport and you need to warm up your body. It’s good to get into the habit of stretching pre and post skiing or riding.

I typically look up “yoga for snowboarding” on YouTube and I have guided yoga downloaded on Audible so I always have some help with me on my phone. Find something that works for you. I guarantee you’ll feel a significant difference in your flexibility and you’ll decrease leg cramps and fatigue on the mountain.

Don’t skip breakfast!

This may be obvious, but if you skip breakfast you’ll likely find yourself binge eating fries and greasy pizza in the middle of the day. Not only will it make you feel sluggish, but you’ll also regret paying $10 for a basket of fries. I like to have a filling breakfast then carry snacks in my pocket. Keep a granola bar or fruit snack handy and save the Apres for Apres! I prefer drinks and a big meal when I’m done for the day, but if you still want an alcoholic beverage in the middle of the day, don’t forget that alcohol goes a long way at higher altitudes. At the bar in Keystone at the top of Dercum Mountain, they have signs warning people, “one beer here equals 3 beers at sea level”. So take it easy!

 

Slopeside bar in Vail. Cheers!

Do look at the Resort map!

The day before you head out, take a look at the resort map to see what runs you want to do and keep the map in your pocket the day of. This is important if you’re heading out with a group and don’t want to stand around before each run trying to figure out where everyone should go. Another reason is safety! You don’t want to find yourself on a run that is too difficult for you. This can be dangerous for yourself and others.

A couple of months ago, I encountered a man who was very unprepared. It was his first time skiing, he was red in the face and out of breath, and he couldn’t stay up on his skis so he had difficulty coming down a green run. He took off his skis and started walking uphill. He looked like he was about to pass out so I stopped and asked if he needed help. He said no, then asked me how to get back to the gondola. I told him it would be a difficult walk back up the mountain, so the only way out would be to ski down.

He was incredibly defeated and asked, “is this really the easiest run?” I said, “yes, you’re on a green run, but there are beginner areas, like a bunny hill.” I then asked if he wanted me to call for help. I told him I could call ski patrol to help him down or I could ride down to the Mountain Safety people around the corner. To my surprise, he firmly refused.

You can’t help a person who doesn’t want help, so I yelled “good luck” and went on my way. That brings me to my next point: if you think you need help, DON’T refuse it. The resorts would prefer you to make safety a priority and utilize their ski patrol than die on the mountain.

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Lastly, a couple quick things to remember: Don’t block the runs when you need a break! Utilize the rest areas or move to the side. If you need to stop, make sure you are visible to people coming downhill. Do take lessons,  if you are new to this and don’t have someone experienced to help you. You’ll have a much better time if you get the hang of it within the first couple days.

And most importantly, have fun! If you get tired, take a break. Pop into a cafe for a warm drink or treat yourself to a cinnamon roll. If you get too cold, sit inside for a while or just call it a day. You don’t have to be out there until the lifts close. Ultimately, you’re there to have a great time. So be prepared and play it safe. Before you know it, you’ll have a new hobby that you’re addicted to!

 

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Before you know it, you’ll be at swimsuit day on the mountain! See you out there!
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18 comments on “How to Prepare for a Day on the Mountain: Tips for Beginner Skiers and Snowboarders”

  1. These are excellent tips. I love how you covered everything from start to finish. Some people make guides assuming you know anything about skiing. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. haha thanks Ben! I encounter so many people here during ski season who have no idea what they are doing, so I can definitely empathize. I just hope this is helpful!

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  2. This is awesome because I’m a total rookie when it comes to snow. I’m so afraid that my snow gear wouldn’t be enough and I’d be frozen whilst on the mountains.

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  3. I have to admit, I have no clue about skiing or snow boarding! I appreciate the tips, should I ever muster up the courage to go!

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  4. Wow! Such an incredible and fun family activity this is. I love everything when it comes to snow, it’s my kind of stuff. Thank you for sharing this amazing experience of yours and advice is so great.

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