Welcome to winter. When the first blast of cold weather hits each year, many quickly turn to shivering, some turn to warmer clothes, and more than a few seem to do both. With the ups and downs of our winters in the Midwest, you really have two choices: embrace winter or hide from it. Having worked in the ski industry for more than a decade, it surprises many people to know just how much I dislike being cold. With a little preparation, going outside in the winter, and enjoying it, becomes much easier. There is no better way to embrace winter than by taking up skiing or snowboarding at one of the many accessible ski areas in Wisconsin.
Having worked at ski areas in many capacities including instruction and rental equipment, I have witnessed firsthand the importance of dressing properly. Almost everyone knows someone who has extra coats and snow pants, but if you don’t, the most important thing is to have sturdy, waterproof, outerwear that fits comfortably. A good thermal base layer/thermal underwear and a waterproof outer layer are important steps. Jeans and sweatpants will quickly get caked in snow and make you cold. A warm pair of gloves can be purchased at many convenience and hardware stores. Multiple pairs of “stretchy gloves” layered over each other will not be warm and could actually make you colder. One pair of Thinsulate-type work gloves can often be purchased for less than 15 dollars at the hardware store – a purchase you certainly won’t regret. A warm hat and a single pair of socks (ski and snowboard boots are designed for winter use, after all) are the only other things you need.
After warm clothes, the only thing left to do is to learn to ski or snowboard. While some people are certainly athletic and can just “pick up” a new sport like skiing, lessons are truly the way to go. A willing student with a good teacher will generally learn more and progress faster than those who choose not to take a lesson. A good lesson will start you with fundamentals on turning and stopping which reduce the chance of falling. You’ll also learn how best to fall to increase the chances of doing so safely. Lessons will set you on a path to being able to enjoyably participate for a lifetime.
Lessons come in a number of different varieties ranging from getting “pointers” from someone who has skied or snowboarded before a couple of times, to a private professional lesson. While any help is better than none, I strongly encourage taking a professional private lesson or at least a professional group lesson. A private lesson is generally more expensive but the one on one attention versus a number of people sharing an instructor’s time in a group lesson is well worth it. Most resorts will allow additional students such as a friend or family member for an additional fee, such as Granite Peak's program where the first student pays the private rate, but additional students are the same as the group rate. Additional lessons are also a good idea. They help to show you the next steps and correct any errors quickly before they become bad habits. To serve this purpose, some resorts offer multi-lesson packages or special programs that include a block of weekly lessons, rentals, and additional lift tickets after the lesson periods are over. Cascade Mountain, for example, has a “Learn a Lifetime Sport” package that includes 3 days of lessons, tickets, and equipment, and an additional day of rentals and lift ticket to enjoy what you have learned.
For some people, there is still a certain amount of uncertainty about committing to a multi-lesson package or investing on a private lesson. Many resorts offer some sort of broad group lesson package at a special rate at some point during the week. Tyrol Basin, for example, has its “12 Dollar Tuesday” packages where a lift ticket is $12, rentals are $12, and a lesson is $12 for a total of $36, less than the cost of a full day ticket at some areas. Additional lessons are always easy to get once you find that you enjoy it.
Proper clothing, a lesson or two, and a little patience and willingness to keep trying after a few falls are the only things between you and the sports that I love. Go out. Enjoy it. Learn with friends.
I’ll see you out on the slopes.
Tony Ziehmke is a ski industry professional with more than ten years experience in rental shops, instruction and mountain operations. He has a degree in Ski Area Business Management and currently services and sells snowmaking equipment. Tony tries to make it out onto the slopes at least three times a week.