Category:New to the Snow

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Overview

DON'T PANIC. EVERYBODY WAS A BEGINNER ONCE.

If they can work it out, so can you.

It's lots of fun, and the industry is geared toward attracting new people, so there are plenty of resources to assist you with your first trip.

Preparation

What can I expect?

Why We Ski
For the first couple of days you will wonder what on earth possessed you to spend a fortune to feel like a gumby, but after a couple of days and some lessons (from a professional instructor - NOT your mate who started last year) you will begin to see what is so wonderful about a sport that you can enjoy for a lifetime. It is, incidentally, a sport you can enjoy with your children and grandchildren. There are not many of those around.

A bit of persistence is worthwhile. There is a theory around that the people who get addicted are those who committed for a week on their first trip. After four days you begin to get a feeling of what it is all about. After two days most people do not achieve that epiphany.

Skiing and boarding occur in cold environments (Well duh). It is often windy. The combination means that appropriate clothing must be worn. To help keep the expense down for first timers, most items of outerwear can be hired, with the exception of gloves, beanies (toques) and goggles. Hiring of outerwear is not as common in the USA compared to Australia, although some places do hire. You may have to call a few hire places.

Experiencing unusual road conditions would be the first thing that you would be likely to encounter when travelling to a ski resort for the first time, although the roads to the Victorian resorts are much more 'interesting' than those to NSW resorts. The resorts are interested in increasing the number of vistors they receive, so generally work hard to minimise any risk or danger. Take your time, be careful, and follow all signs and directions by the Police, National Parks or Resort Management. Perisher Blue is the only resort in Australia where visitors can park well below snowline, and catch the 'SkiTube' up to the resort. This is a good option for first-timers or when the weather is bad. Once you arrive at a ski resort, you should be allocated to two different type of carparks, one for day trippers and one for the overnight stayers who have accommodation on the mountain.

Once you are on the mountain and planning to ski or snowboard, you should do the first thing first, get some lift and ski school tickets! Most ski resorts allow the customer to purchase lift tickets that are bundled with ski school admissions to reduce the hassle of handling multiple tickets for different purposes.

Beginning in 1923

Should I take a lesson?

YES!!! A lesson or 77 will get you to a point where you start to enjoy the activity, instead of wondering why you have paid a fortune to feel wet, cold and miserable.

You don't have to, but it is wise to have a lesson at least on your first day, and daily for your first week or three of skiing or boarding. Having a lesson is fun and an enjoyable experience while you learn all the important safety skills like snowplow and keeping control of your speed while on the slope in order to reduce a chance of injury. It is best to check with the resort you are visiting to find out about their ski school timetables and prices.

Much of skiing is counter intuitive (like leaning DOWN the hill). Most instructors say that 80% of their time is spent getting people out of bad habits and not developing good ones. Regular lessons when you are improving mean that you willl acquire good habits. Good habits mean control, and greater enjoyment. Many people with decades of experience still take the occasional refresher lesson to polish their technique. All World Cup racers have coaches. If the creme de la creme of skiers use instructors there is a reason for it.

Most resorts have good value lift/lesson packages for beginners. Some have restricted lift passes for use on the beginner areas, which are cheaper than full passes (and they can be upgraded if your skills outstrip the available terrain.)

Is skiing dangerous?

Skiing can be dangerous if you are unprepared. You are travelling at high speed near solid objects and other slope users with little protection. If you fall and slide you may go downhill on ice at a very high speed with minimal control. Colliding with solid objects can be fatal, and people do die.

There are many things you can do to reduce the danger to relatively small proportions. Most of these are embodied in the Alpine Responsibility Code This code is pretty much universal across all countries. Skiing or boarding on slopes that are not too far beyond your ability, and sliding in control will also reduce the likelihood of injury.

Have lessons. At ski school you will be taught how to slide safely, and be alerted to potential dangers of which you may not be aware.

If you are a skier, make sure your bindings are properly adjusted and tested. Bindings should allow your skis to separate from your boots in a fall, reducing the chance of injury. If you are hiring, the adjustment should be done by the hire shop. If you are borrowing gear, it is vital that the bindings be adjusted by someone who knows what they are doing. Your mate who went last year almost certainly does not. Most ski shops will adjust bindings for a price. Be honest about your weight and ability. It is your bones and ligaments that are being protected.

You can also wear a helmet to reduce the potential for head injuries.

Cross country skiing has the potential to be dangerous, in particular hypothermia or getting injured in a remote area.

For more snow safety tips visit the Australian Snowsafe website.

Good Resorts For Beginners

It is wise to go to small ski resort like Mt Baw Baw in Victoria and Selwyn Snowfields in NSW due to the small resort size and low lift ticket fee. It is unlikely that a beginner would need a huge variety of runs to choose from on the first day and making most of the lift/run ticket cost. On the other hand, all the large resorts have beginner areas and they tend to have more facilities than the small resorts.

Major Budget Items

The major items you must allow for in your budget for a snow holiday are:

  • Travel to the snow and shuttles to and from the resorts if you are staying below the snowline
  • Accommodation
  • Food, if not bundled with accommodation and you will always have to allow for lunches
  • Drinks and partying
  • Hire of ski or board gear
  • Hire of outer clothes
  • Purchase of small items including beanies, gloves and eye protection (if you cannot borrow them)
  • Lift tickets
  • Lessons (often bundled with lifts for beginners)
  • Chain Hire if you don't have a 4 wheel drive
  • National Park or Alpine Resort entry each day

When you assess the cost of package deals, make sure which of these items are included, or factor them in when you compare. You should also remember that food, drinks and partying may be more expensive in the snow than in the major cities.

Before You Go

Consider a Package

An easy way to arrange your first trip is through a package deal. These usually include transport, accommodation, lift tickets and gear hire. Packages can be found through bus companies, the resorts themselves and specialist snow travel agents. Be careful when comparing prices, as sometimes these are offered at off peak times only. Off peak snow can often be considerably inferior to peak snow, and the discounted prices are there for a reason.

When can you go?

The Australian ski season is generally limited to the months of June to September. However the 'season opening' and 'season closing' weekends are generally not the best time for a beginner to go. Snow fall is unpredictable and you don't want to spend your first (and possibly last) week at a ski resort without any snow. Give yourself every chance of a top class snow experience the first time, and you can afford to be more picky the next time.

Overseas ski resorts are possibly open all the year round, including longer southern hemisphere seasons in South America and possibly New Zealand, while the northern hemisphere resorts of Europe, Japan and North America not only allow for Christmas ski holidays, but even from November through to April.

Accomodation

Accommodation standards cover the range from luxury full service hotels, self catering apartments, communal lodges (with catering from full board to completely self-catered), hostels and (off mountain) motels, tents and caravans. To a large extent, you get what you pay for.

Organise your accommodation in advance - most accommodation is booked well beforehand for 'peak' times such as school holidays and August. You can book online or just see where to stay by visiting ski.com.au. Many places have weekday packages that allow you to stay Monday to Friday, but do not include weekends. These deals are cheaper by the night than weekend accommodation.

In many places you can stay "on mountain", within the resort, or "off mountain" which requires daily transport to and from the lifts. Off mountain is cheaper. The journey is usually at least 30 minutes and can be a lot longer, even in good conditions. In bad conditions commuting can take a lot longer. If you are staying 'off mountain' investigate transport options to and from the snow fields. Your accommodation should be able to help you plan your transport.

If you are staying on mountain some accommodation is "ski (or board) in, ski (or board) out". This means that you can ski from your accommodation to a lift, and ski from the runs to the door of your accommodation. This is a real advantage, particularly if you have kids. If you cannot ski to and from the door most resort villages have shuttle buses, or you can walk.

If staying in the village on the mountain, check with your accommodation regarding access - many resort have access restrictions and you may not be able to drive to your lodge. In these cases you may need to take oversnow transport with all your baggage. If necessary, check the hours of operation for oversnow, make bookings and plan your travel as required. Remember not to pack too much excess baggage as this will result in extra fees on the oversnow transport. Either that or speak to your travel agent about luggage delivery services.


Accommodation pricing is usually divided into low, shoulder and peak seasons. These divisions reflect the popularity of those periods which is, in turn, driven by quality and quantity of snow. Low season is cheaper but less reliable. Much of most resorts' beginner terrain is covered by snowmaking, so quality and quantity is not so important for beginners. However, if you do progress beyond the bunny hills your experience will be better if there is good snow around.

Dressing for the Weather

To stay warm, you need windproof and waterproof outer garments. Wind chill can dramatically reduce the temperature that you feel. If you get wet, your temperature will also drop quickly. You need clothes underneath those garments as well.

The snow is a cold environment, but you are exercising and getting hot. What to do? The best thing to do is dress in layers that you can add or remove to control your temperature. You may have a base layer of thermal underwear, a second layer of light fleece and a waterproof outer layer. A vest, either as an extra layer over a sweater or by itself provides warmth for the body but leaves the arms free. Cotton is not a very efficient insulator, and is even less effective when it is damp or wet. The outer layer may be padded and insulated, or just a shell. Many people prefer a shell as they believe that this offers the greatest flexibility. You can buy parkas with zip out padding. Some parkas have "pit zips" - zips under the armpits that can be opened or closed to regulate ventilation. How many layers you need, and what they are made of, depends on your metabolism and tolerance for cold. What you need can only be discovered by experiment. Most people start with a layer of thermal underwear, a light sweater and a padded parka. In Australia this is probably a tad too much warmth, but you will not die of hypothermia. In colder climes you may need a little more than this.

The only things that should go into your ski boots are your feet and some thin socks. Do not tuck pants (or even long johns) inside your boots. There is a good chance that they will wrinkle and cause pain and discomfort. It will also stop the boots fitting correctly.

One way to control temperature is with a hat (Beanie) and neck gaiter. You lose something like a third of body heat through your head and neck. If you are hot, take your beanie off or open your helmet vents.

Good, waterproof Gloves or Mittens are vital - cold hands make you miserable. If you are going to a really cold resort, or you know that your hands always get cold, buy a thin inner pair of polypropylene gloves to wear underneath your bulky outer ones. This way you can take your outer gloves off (to take a photo, or use your phone), while still keeping your hands warm.

If you are a beginner you will fall often. Snow can be wet, and a waterproof and windproof outer layer is vital. Jeans or trackie daks and footy jumpers will get wet and misery will soon set in not to speak of hypothermia. Wet cotton provides no insulation and you will get dangerously cold very quickly, particularly if it is windy.

You will also need eye protection. Goggles give wind and sun protection, and can generally be used in all conditions. Sunglasses do not give as good wind protection, and many make it hard to see in foggy or cloudy conditions because they do not help definition. Sunglasses are also prone to fogging up, when moisture condenses on the lens making it hard to see.

If you are driving up from below the snowline throw everything in the car. The weather in Jindabyne, for example, is often very different to the weather in Perisher or Thredbo, or Salt Lake City for the Wasatch resorts, and the weather can change dramatically during a day. If you have it in the car you can decide what you need when you have a better idea of the actual conditions in the resort. It is a long drive back if you guess wrong. If you are travelling by bus check with the driver if it is OK to leave stuff on the bus. There are also lockers available for hire in most resorts, for not much money, where you can put items of gear you are not using. One boot locker is usually enough for a couple of people if you are not actually storing boots in it. Local radio stations also have snow and weather reports, so you should listen to these before you leave your accommodation. They fib a bit about snow conditions, but not usually about the weather.

When you are assessing what you wear remember windchill. A bit of wind can dramatically reduce the temperature you feel Wind Chill Calculator

Should I Ski or Snowboard?

You will get a million polarised opinions. The only thing that matters is what you enjoy.

The conventional wisdom appears to be that snowboarding will get you to basic competence faster, but skiing rewards patience by eventually getting you to a higher degree of competence. In other words, the intermediate plateau of boarding is reached quickly but is harder to leave. Reaching the plateau takes a bit longer for skiing, but you spend less time there.

If you already surf, wakeboard or ride a skateboard you may find it is easier to learn to snowboard.

Other Gear

Main Article: Equipment

The sporting equipment required will vary greatly depending on which activity you plan to pursue. Check out the Equipment pages for more information.

You will need, at the minimum:

  • Skis or snowboard
  • Ski or boarding boots
  • Poles for skiing

This gear will be included in a standard hire package.

  • Water and windproof outerwear - parka and pants

This gear can be hired.

  • Warm layers under outerwear - thermal underwear and wool or fleece sweaters
  • Waterproof gloves
  • Socks
  • Goggles or other eye protection
  • Warm gear for your head - beanie (toque) or helmet.

This gear cannot be hired.

After skiing, called apres ski, clothing is usually casual. Jeans are generally fine. For resorts above the snowline sturdy footwear is vital. Runners are barely adequate. Don't forget to pack swimwear - many lodges and hotels have spas and some have pools.


Most gear can be hired. The only things that cannot be hired in Australia are goggles, waterproof gloves and small warming things like beanies, neck gaiters and all clothes underneath the outer layer. In the US hiring of outer wear is less common than in Australia. Much of the rest of what you need is probably in your wardrobe. Wool, thermal underwear and fleece is the way to go here, as Cotton will not keep you warm when it is damp. Outdoor shops like Kathmandu in their perpetual sale sell relatively cheap (around $20/piece) thermal underwear. You only need one or two sets as it dries quickly after an evening rinse.

Rental Equipment Tips

Most rental shops you can trust, but it is wise to shop around and compare prices in other rental shops around the area. Visit a range of shops and ask the staff questions about your needs. Ask your close friends who ski where they get their gear from, this may help you find a suitable shop that rents gear that suits your needs.

You can usually trust the ski shop with giving you the correct length of skis. When you are having boots fitted do not be tempted to go with what feels loose and comfortable. The boots should be quite firm around your feet, albeit not uncomfortably so. One thing you will find surprising is that a bootfitter may give you a boot in which your toe brushes the front of the boot liner. This is perfectly normal, and a sign that the bootfitter is doing his or her job. If the boots cause you pain when you ski, take them back and change them. If the pain is on the front of your shin try tightening your boot buckles. The pain is often caused by the shin rubbing the boot. Cut your toenails, particularly on your big toes, before you go and keep them short. If your toenails are too long they can bang into the front of the boot causing you a great deal of discomfort. The only things that should go into your ski boots are your feet and some thin socks. Do not tuck pants (or even long johns) inside your boots. There is a good chance that they will wrinkle and cause pain and discomfort. It will also stop the boots fitting correctly.

Just a hint - sometimes it is better to hire on or close to the mountain so that if you have any problems with the gear (eg. skis or boots) you can exchange them easily. Not so good if outlet is in Sydney or Melbourne. A draw back is that the price system can be higher on the mountain than in big smoke (the city).

Driving?

Driving in Alpine regions requires some additional preparation and care; you will need to check you vehicle is mechanically sound and consider such things as alpine diesel, antifreeze and chains... for more information check out the Chains and Alpine Driving sections of the wiki.

The concept of chain rental has not penetrated the US and you will have to buy chains for areas where carrying chains is compulsory.


Check Conditions

You can check conditions before you go on ski.com.au snow cams and ski.com.au snow reports


Local radio stations usually have regular snow and weather reports, although, as these are provided by the reorts, you have to learn to translate them into normal language. "Wind polished" means "icy" as an example.

Get in Shape

It's strenuous exercise. It is more enjoyable if you are fit and strong. General strength and fitness helps, but a focus on the legs, particularly the quads, abductors and adductors, and core strength will help a lot. Bicycling and in line skating are good dry land training.

Young Kids

Preparation is the key with young kids. Kids will get wet and will get cold very quickly so being prepared is an absolute must. Consider taking them for snowplay a year or two before introducing them to ski school. If they have already been to the snow and seen it all then they are usually super keen to get to ski school but if it is all new in the one trip it can be rather daunting. Here is a long list of hints for kids at ski school.

Some kids are ready for lessons at 3 (the youngest most ski schools will take kids). Others aren't. You will know your child best. If you have an adventurous bundle of manic energy there is a good chance they are ready. If they have been to creche at ski resorts, or have demonstrated a love of snowplay in earlier trips, it is worth the experiment. Some kids take an extra few years. Forcing the kids is a bad plan. If they decide not to like it that decision may have impact for many years. You, and the rest of your family, are the ones who will suffer. Ski school is definitely the way to go. The kids' instructors are trained to convey weird concepts to children in intelligible, memorable ways. You aren't, so leave it to the experts.

Many people think that the fact that their children are growing means that money should not be spent on good gear. Wet, cold children are miserable, which means misery for parents. Buy them good gear, either new or second hand. There is a good market in second hand kids' gear, and the apparent front end expense will be ameliorated if you buy and sell on classified markets, the best of which is ski.com.au classifieds

This contributor's theory is that for boots you buy new, and recoup part of the cost by selling later. This way your child has properly fitted boots, and is likely to be much happier.

One thing that can (emphasis on can) help young kids early on are Edgie Wedgies. They are rubber links that clamp onto the shovel of skis. It stops the tips crossing while kids are dealing with learning the wedge (snowplough) turn. Most kids will only need them for a couple of days, but they take one variable out of learning initial skills.

Clothes for Snowplay

Main Article: Snowplay

Not everyone in your party will want to ski or board, but they will all want to play in the snow. Some suggestions on what to wear follow.

Make sure you dress warmly in layers. Any jacket will work unless you plan to roll in the snow when nylon or similar is advisable for snow shedding. Cloth can get wet, depending on snow temperature.

Good, waterproof boots are also a very good idea. The higher the better. Snow will fall into low shoes, melt and you will have wet cold feet.

Snow shedding nylon type overpants are a good idea. They are available in many places for not much money, or you can go to a specialist outdoor shop for Goretex or other waterproof breathable fabrics.

Gloves are vital. Your hands will get cold. Wool or pile gloves are OK, but, again, waterproof snow shedding gloves are a good idea. Your ears will get cold, so a warm hat is a good idea.

Footwear

You have three main problems with walking boots for the snow.

The first is staying warm, particularly if you are spending a lot of time standing or walking in snow. If you are going to spend a while in the snow your boots should have some insulation.

The second problem is staying dry - snow melts and eventually soaks through footwear. You need waterproofing, either a membrane like Goretex or a waterproof treatment of the boot. Nikwax is one of many.

The third is snow falling into the shoe and melting. You should have a boot at least above your ankles to avoid this.

If you are going to spend a lot of time in the snow there are many specialised boots available. Have a look here, for examples.

If you are only going to the snow for a short time a waterproof hiking boot will be adequate.

On Snow

Code of Behaviour

To help everyone understand the basic expected behaviours, a set of guidelines has been drawn up by various ski bodies around the world. These are called the Alpine Responsibility Code, and all resorts require customers to adhere to these guidelines as a condition of their lift ticket. There are local variations, but the main message is the same for all.

This exists for everyone's safety.

Read it, understand it, remember it and obey it.

Regardless of how you enjoy your snow sport, always show courtesy to others and be aware that THERE ARE INHERENT RISKS in all snow recreational activities that common sense and personal awareness can reduce. These risks include rapid changes in weather and surface conditions, collisions with other people as well as natural and artificial hazards such as rocks, trees, stumps, bare spots, lift towers and snowmaking equipment.

Know and Observe the Code below - It's YOUR responsibility

  • Know your ability and always stay in control and be able to stop and avoid other people or objects. It is your responsibility to stay in control on the ground and in the air.
  • Take lessons from qualified professional instructors to learn and progress.
  • As you proceed downhill or overtake another person, you must avoid the people below and beside you.
  • Do not stop where you obstruct a trail or run, or are not visible from above.
  • When entering a trail or run or starting downhill, look uphill and give way to others.
  • Always use chairlift restraining devices and always use proper devices to prevent runaway equipment. Ensure your equipment is in good condition.
  • Observe and obey all signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails or runs and out of closed areas.
  • Before using any lift you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.
  • Do not ski, snowboard, ride a lift or undertake any other alpine activity if your ability is impaired by drugs or alcohol.
  • If you are involved in, or witness an accident, alert Ski Patrol, remain at the scene and identify yourself to the Ski Patrol.

Failure to observe the Alpine Responsibility Code may result in CANCELLATION of your ticket by the Ski Patrol or other authorised personnel.

Run Gradings

Resorts rate their runs according to their difficulty. The gradings are denoted by colors and shapes on trail maps and signs on the mountain. The easiest runs are designated by a green circle. Intermediate runs are marked by a blue square. In North America and Australia the next level is a black diamond. In some European resorts the beginner level is blue (no green) and there is a red level before black. Examples

Double ratings - double blue or double black are intended to convey a level harder than the single rating.

Ratings are deceptive. There is no standard internationally, or even within resorts in the same company. There is a magic mix - usually something like 20% expert, 60% intermediate and 20% beginner that suits the marketers' desired mix. Ratings are manipulated to suit this mix, regardless of objective criteria. In really extreme cases, ratings can vary within individual resorts.

The fact that you can ride all blue runs in one resort does not mean you can ride blue runs in another resort. If you are skiing or boarding in a new place spend a bit of time feeling the place out so you know the standard.

Slope Steepness

There are two ways of measuring slope steepness. The first is a measurement using degrees, which measures the angle of the slope in degrees from the horizontal. The second is a percentage. This is calculated using the formula 100*rise/run. Rise is the vertical change and run is the horizontal distance. A 100% slope is angled at 45 degrees.

10% is equivalent to 5.71º

20% is equivalent to 11.31º

30% is equivalent to 16.7º

40% is equivalent to 21.8º

50% is equivalent to 25.67º

75% is equivalent to 36.8º

100% is equivalent to 45º

A beginner slope is typically between 6% and 25%. Intermediate hills range from 25% to 40%, and expert is 40% plus. As you can see, hills are not as steep as you think they are.


Beginner's guide to ski jargon

Carve piste, off piste,Snowplow, snow terminology, Fall line, Types of lifts, Kick turn etc

Turns - What It's All About

If you stand on your skis or board with the tip or tips pointed straight downhill you will accelerate until you reach terminal velocity or hit something unyielding. Downhill racers travel at over 130 km/hr and the world speed record on skis is over 250 km/hr, so terminal velocity can be pretty quick. Unyielding objects are always unyielding. If your skis or board are across the fall line you will go nowhere. Controlling your speed is finding a happy balance between the two states. This is achieved by doing a constant series of turns across the slope. As you turn downhill you accelerate. As you complete the turn so your skis are across the hill you slow down. This is why all riders, apart from those generally out of control or hooning on bunny hills, perform a series of linked turns as they proceed downhill. It is also why, if you are heading straight downhill in a racing snowplough with windmilling arms and legs akimbo, you will be the only person who thinks you are a good skier.

Turns have different radii, and riders will complete more or less of a turn before initiating the next turn. They may perform more or fewer turns for a given distance. How turns are performed depends on slope steepness, a particular sliders preferred style of riding, pose factors, the snow conditions and a rider's particular comfort zone.

Skiers use different types of turn, depending on experience and situation. The most basic is the snowplow. As skiers develop more skill they proceed through stem christies (although these are not taught much in modern teaching technique) to parallel turns. The parallel is so called because the skis remain parallel throughout the turn. Once a basic parallel is learnt, which can take as short a time as a few days for some people, the process is continuing refinement and development of the parallel turn to carving, and refinements of carving.

Turns also help you dodge obstacles.

Lessons are pretty much a process of refining turns, performing different types of turn in various conditions.

Health and Safety

Sun Protection

Although it is cold you are at high altitude and there is less atmosphere to absorb radiation. Snow is also highly reflective. The combination means that sunburn can be a real problem, even on overcast days. Make sure you apply sunscreen regularly. Don't forget the underside of your chin and nose - the reflected light can burn these areas. Your lips will also burn. You should use lip balm for protection from sun and wind.

For the same reason it is important to wear eye protection - either sunglasses or goggles. Snow blindness does happen, and is apparently very uncomfortable.

Your skin will dry out. Moisturiser, liberally applied, in the evening is a good idea. The cold dry conditions can also cause skin to crack. Again, hand cream or moisturiser is a good idea.

Dehydration

Snow sports are exercise, and you will perspire. The alpine air tends to be dry. These factors mean that it is possible to get dehydrated, and as you are not hot you may not realise that this is happening. You should ensure that you remain hydrated. You can do this by taking regular drink breaks, carrying a water bottle or using a hydration pack such as a Camelbak. A hydration pack allows you to take frequent sips of water while you are on the move through a tube and mouthpiece. Make sure your mouthpiece does not freeze. Alcohol tends to dehydrate you (you don't buy beer - you rent it). If you must drink alcohol on the slopes you should be aware of this.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia is a condition in which an organism's temperature drops below that required for normal metabolism and bodily functions. It occurs when you have inadequate protection from the cold. The danger of hypothermia increases with wind, and increases dramatically if clothes are damp or wet.

Initial symptoms are mild to strong shivering,inability to perform complex tasks with the hands, and numb hands. There will be some degree of mental confusion. Blood vessels in the outer extremities constrict, lessening heat loss to the outside air. Breathing becomes quick and shallow. Goose bumps will form, raising body hair on end in an attempt to create an insulating layer of air around the body (which is of limited use in humans due to lack of sufficient hair, but useful in other species).

In the next stage shivering becomes more violent. Muscle mis-coordination becomes apparent. Movements are slow and labored, accompanied by a stumbling pace and mild confusion, although the victim may appear alert. Surface blood vessels contract further as the body focuses its remaining resources on keeping the vital organs warm. The victim becomes pale. Lips, ears, fingers and toes may become blue.

There is a final stage, which is usually very final.

The mental confusion aspect of hypothermia means that often the victim is not aware that it is happening. In adverse conditions you should be aware of the possibility of hypothermia in your companions.

In ski resorts, it is relatively easy to find shelter and to warm up. Treatment for hypothermia consists of drying, sheltering, and gradually warming (making sure to not rub the patient's body, to warm with blankets and, if possible, to transfer your own body heat). While blankets help a person retain body heat, they are not sufficient to treat hypothermia. It is vital that you warm the core of the body first or the cold blood will be forced towards the heart and may cause death. In the field, a mildly hypothermic person can be effectively rewarmed through close body contact from a companion and by drinking warm, sweet liquids NOT alcohol, which dilates surface blood vessels and accelerates heat loss..

Moderate and severe cases of hypothermia require immediate evacuation and treatment in a hospital. In hospital, warming is accomplished by external techniques such as heated blankets for mild hypothermia and by more invasive techniques such as warm fluids injected in the veins or even lavage (washing) of the bladder, stomach, chest and abdominal cavities with warmed fluids for severely hypothermic patients. These patients are at high risk for arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), and care must be taken to minimize jostling and other disturbances until they have been sufficiently warmed, as these arrhythmias are very difficult to treat while the victim is still cold.

An important tenet of treatment is that a person is not dead until they are warm and dead. Remarkable accounts of recovery after prolonged cardiac arrest have been reported in patients with hypothermia. This is presumably because the low temperature prevents some of the cellular damage that occurs when blood flow and oxygen are lost for an extended period of time.

Wikipedia Hypothermia Article, from which this information was taken.

Frostbite

It is highly unlikely to be a problem in Australia, but in countries that have higher and colder resorts frostbite is a potential problem. When temperatures get below -20 degrees celsius or so there is a real danger of frostbite. Wind chill, including wind from fast riding, makes things dangerous at higher temperatures. When things get this cold you should ensure that there is no bare skin exposed to the outside air. If you are skiing or boarding in a group you should keep an eye on each other. In many resorts the lifties will also be checking, but you should not rely on this. Look for whitish or discoloured patches on the skin. If you detect frostbite, or anything you vaguely suspect might be frostbite, check with ski patrol or the medical centre.

Wind Chill Calculator including exposure times for frostbite.

Other Safety & Courtesy Tips

Warning to stay clear
  • If someone crashes and burns nearby ask if they are OK. In 99.99999% of cases they will be, but if they need the Ski Patrol, they need the patrol. If you need the patrol for yourself or someone else some resorts have a phone number on their trail map or lift ticket. Use your mobile. Otherwise, make sure you can describe where the accident is and send someone, or go yourself, to the top or bottom of the nearest lift. The lift operator will drop everything and call the patrol. If you see a patroller tell them. They all carry radios, and can call help in. When describing location think about using things like the trail name, above or below a trail intersection and the number of the nearest lift tower. The members of the Ski Patrol all have advanced first aid training. Some have para-medic skills, and if you are really lucky there are sometimes doctors on the Volunteer Patrol.
  • With skis, the conventional sign of an accident is crossed skis above the accident site. If you see this, keep well clear. If you are early at the accident site stick the crossed skis in the snow. It will warn other riders of the accident, and help the patrol find the accident.
  • If you are skiing or boarding in a group or class, always join the stationary part of the group by stopping BELOW everyone else. Particularly if you are a beginner, you cannot be sure that you will stop precisely where you think you will. If you stop below everyone else any imprecision will not result in your acting like a bowling ball and everyone else being involuntary pins.
  • This one is so bloody obvious that it should not rate a mention, but bitter experience says otherwise. If you are in a congested or crowded area, slow down and ensure that you are in TOTAL control. That means being able to stop or turn instantly. You may think you are cool if you ride fast in crowded areas, but I can promise you that everyone else who sees you thinks you are an intellectually challenged littledick. Some areas are marked with large 'SLOW' signs - ski patrol will often enforce these areas.
  • It seems obvious, but not everyone can work this one out. If you are approaching a lift line slow down or stop well uphill of the line. Approach the line slowly and in control. If you lose it near a lift line your targets cannot escape.
  • If any "expert" friends come up with the smart idea of taking you to an expert area before you are ready for it to "boost" your "confidence", tell them to expletive off. More people have been put off snowsports by this dumb theory than any other. You will be scared different expletiveless.
  • Be conscious of your ability, and do not ride on slopes too far beyond that ability. If you are completely out of your depth and struggling down a slope well beyond your skills you may be a danger to yourself and other riders. Plus it is no fun.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Sight and hearing are important senses for working out what is around you. Be vigilant. An iPod at full volume denies you important information about what is happening in your immediate vicinity.
  • The rules for sailing races contain an overriding rule that it is every competitors' obligation to keep clear. That concept is not expressed in the Alpine Responsibility Code, but it is a damn fine approach to life. There is not much point being in hospital when you are in the right when you could be still sliding after making allowances for someone who was in the wrong. It is a bit like defensive driving. Assume that everyone around you is a microsecond away from doing the dumbest thing imaginable.
  • When you are overtaking a boarder, be aware that their visibility is very limited on their heel side. Either give them a wide berth, or overtake on their toe side where they can see you. It is always the responsibility of the uphill person to avoid people downhill. Yell what side you are on.
  • If you are overtaking someone who is turning erratically and unpredictably, wait until they have committed to a turn, and overtake them on the outside of the turn. It is pretty tough for a beginner (it will probably be a beginner) to flick back and get in your way. Of course, the Alpine Responsibility Code puts the onus on you to keep clear, however erratically the downhill skier or boarder is behaving.
  • Skis and boards do not have a reverse gear. Pass behind other riders, not in front.
  • Most uphill riders will (reasonably) assume that you will continue on roughly the same line when planning their route. If you do intend to radically change your line it is a good idea to make sure that you will not get into someone's path when you do. This is not a substitute for the overriding responsibility for the uphill rider to stay clear - it is just courtesy and a sensible plan to avoid injury.
  • On cat tracks and other narrow areas it is courteous to warn people that you are overtaking. This is usually done by saying "On your right (or left)" to indicate the side on which you intend to pass. Many skiers click their poles together behind their back as a warning that they are approaching someone.
  • Lift lines generally start with a few separate lines that merge to a final line close to the lift, with merge points along the way. At these merge points it is polite to alternate, with one group from each line zipping in behind someone from the other line.
  • Lifts work most efficiently if every chair or T-bar is full. If you are alone, shout "Single!" so that you can hook up with a group that does not have a full complement. If you are part of one of those groups invite a single along. Some resorts have dedicated singles lines that feed in to a late stage of the line process.
  • If you fall while riding a surface lift get off the lift track IMMEDIATELY. It is a lot of fun to lie around giggling, but everyone else on the lift is still coming, and the lift will not stop. If you are still on the track the people behind you have very few options. One of those options is to slide over the top of you.
  • You should get away from the unload point at the top of a lift IMMEDIATELY. Other people are still coming, and if you are in the unload area you may cause a collision or be hit by an uncontrolled T-bar.
  • If you are skiing or boarding in a pack think about where you stop so that you do not impede other skiers or boarders. 10 people standing or sitting on a narrow cat track, lift exit, trail merge or choke point is thoughtless and dangerous for you and those around you. Move on a bit, and wait in a more open area.
  • It is a good idea to take your pole straps off you wrist if skiing trees. If the basket hooks up on a stray branch only your pole will be left behind, not your arm.
  • If you are feeling nervous on a slope DO NOT remove your skis. Your boots are slippery, have no edges and give you no control. On skis you are able to traverse or sideslip to an area where you feel more comfortable. There is no shame in doing long traverses with a kick turn at the edges of a run. If you find yourself in uncompacted snow skis will keep you on the surface. Without skis you will sink into the snow, making movement very tiring. You will soon become wet, cold and exhausted.
  • If you do not know what a kick turn is, find out. It, and the snowplow, are the two basic survival turns on skis. With those two turns, traversing and sideslipping skills you can survive anywhere. A kick turn is a rock solid, super stable means of reversing direction on almost any slope, and on any slope you will encounter in a resort.
  • If you fall and start sliding try to twist your body so your feet are below your body. This makes it easier to dig skis or feet into the snow so you can stop or slow down. It also means that if you do hit something your feet will be hurt, not your head.
  • If you have fallen on ice, and are accelerating downhill and you can keep your presence of mind, slip your hands out of your pole straps, grasp the pole with both hands just above the basket and ram the tip into the snow. This will slow you down or stop you. This works on icy snow, and you are unlikely to be sliding in soft snow.
  • If you are in whiteout conditions visibility improves dramatically if you ski near a row of trees or other solid objects. Trees give contrast so you are able to assess the terrain properly. A whiteout happens when fog reduces contrast to the extent that you cannot tell where the snow ends and the air begins. In bad whiteout you sometimes cannot tell if you are moving or stationary. It is disconcerting, and can be dangerous if you cannot tell how steep the slope is. This contributor has skied off the edge of a 3 metre cornice in a white out. The first inkling of its existence was the rapid descent.
  • If you eject from your bindings in deep snow so that the ski is under the surface and not immediately visible your ski will almost certainly be just above or near the top of the impact crater. Use a pole or ski to chop downwards into the snow. Eventually you will hit the missing ski, which can then be dug out.
  • If you are unfamiliar with the way a lift works let the lift operator know. They will offer advice, and will be able to slow the lift down to make getting on and off less stressful. Lift operators will also slow the lift for children and for really small children will help them on and off the lift.
  • If you are jumping, scope your landing. Ideally you will have a spotter telling you whether your landing zone is clear. If you don't have a spotter you should make sure that, at some point in the exercise before you are airborne and at a time when you can still abort, you can see the whole of your proposed landing and outrun. IF YOU CAN'T SEE, DON'T JUMP. You can't change direction in the air. People, and particularly kids, stop in the darndest places. Often jumps are to the side of a run, and the sides of runs are where people stop.
  • The corollary of the previous tip is that when you stop at the side of a run have a quick look uphill for signs of jumping. A lip with tracks leading off it and/or with an area below it packed more than the surrounding snow is a pretty good indicator of a jump. As are random acts of carnage in the landing zone. If you see this leave the vicinity. Airborne madfolk may arrive at any time. In any event, you should not stop where there is not clear visibility from above. This means under lips, cat tracks or drop offs in terrain. Look uphill. If you cannot see the slope for a reasonable distance above you anyone coming down that slope cannot see you. If they can't see you they can't avoid you.
  • And, whatever you do, don't stop downhill from a jump in a terrain park. God put those things there for a reason and people WILL insist on jumping off them.
  • Try to make sure that the landing of your jump is on a slope. A sloping landing means that the terrain helps you absorb the impact of the landing gently as there is no sudden impact. Landing on the flat means that all the impact has to be absorbed in your legs. With a jump from any sort of decent height there is potential for serious injury here. Look at the landing hills for freestyle aerials and ski-jumping.
  • If you lose both skis in a fall, click into the downhill ski first. If you only lose one ski, turn around so the ski you are clicking back into is the uphill ski. In soft snow, standing on an uphill ski will mean that snow falls onto the downhill ski making it hard to click back in. Another trick is to drive the tails of your skiis into the snow at a slight angle so the binding is just above the snow level. You can then click into the binding without snow getting in the way.
  • When your skis do not release in a fall, and after you stop sliding, it is much easier to get back up if your skis are below your body and across the fall line. If your head is downhill do a sort of sideways forward roll to get your skis downhill. If your legs and skis are crossed in a some weird way, the easiest way to untangle is to lie on your back with your head uphill and lift your legs and skis into the air where you can easily untangle them.
  • Snow on the base of a boot means that bindings will not work properly. This usually means that your boot does not click in properly, and the ski will soon fall off again. Clean the base of the boot by whacking the sole with a pole, or scraping it across the binding.
  • If you fall in deep snow and your poles sink into the snow when you push to get back upright, try laying your poles flat on the snow in a cross. Push from the intersection of the poles. This may give you something solid enough to push against.
  • If someone has a garage sale fall, scattering gear all over the hill, pick up their gear and ski or board down to them with it. It is something that you hope will be done for you in equivalent circumstances. And she or he might be cute.
  • A lot of people are precious about preserving their top sheets (the top surface of skis or boards). In lift lines, try to avoid sliding skis or boards over the top of other people's skis or boards. It does not get you to the front of the line any faster, and will preserve peace in the line.
  • At the end of a great day, when your legs are feeling a little weary, it is tempting to have 'one last run'. This can be dangerous. You are far more likely to crash when the legs feel like jelly. If you are feeling tired, stop. You will get that well deserved beer a few minutes early and you will be around for first tracks the next day.
  • Skiers, your poles are lethal weapons. In lift lines and walking around make sure they are not sticking into anything but the snow. If you are carrying skis over your shoulder remember that you have a metre or so of ski projecting behind you. Do not swing around and whack innocent bystanders behind you.
  • If all else fails, and you are heading for an obstacle or person with no realistic chance of turning or stopping, fall over. You will do far less damage to yourself and others in a controlled fall.

Other Winter Sport Activities

There are so many activities to undertake in the winter, especially in the Alps. Such as white water rafting; horse riding; helicopter rides (Falls Creek and Mt Hotham have a reciprocal arrangement on their lift passes so you can ride from one to the other ski all day and fly back). You can visit www.ski.com.au/activities and see what activities are available.

Been before but always looking for new ideas

  • Boot bags serve a purpose Sure, they hold your boots. And your helmet. And your goggles. And sunscreen. And beanies and gloves and gaiters and balaclavas. Keep all the little things that will only go anywhere when you are off to the snow in one place . A boot bag is as good as anything.
  • Cold Feet & Fingers go for THINNER socks - preferably ski socks - and make sure your bottom 2 buckles over the arch of your foot and toe are so loose they almost come off. These are only there to ensure the boot holds its basic shape and are easier (possible) to get on. If you tighten them you will restrict blood flow to your toes and this results in cold feet and possibly cramps. If your feet and fingers get cold try putting on a beanie. You lose a lot of heat through your head and neck. Your body protects itself from the heat loss by cutting of blood flow to the periphery of your body, being fingers and feet. If you reduce heat loss through your head blood returns to your fingers and feet, and they warm up.
  • If you are feeling cold put on a hat Your body loses about a third of its heat through your head and neck. If you are feeling cold (or hot) you can regulate heat very effectively by putting on or removing hats and neck gaiters, or opening and closing your helmet vents.
  • Sore Shins One, apparently counter-intuitive, tip is that if your shins hurt try tightening your top two buckles. Often sore shins are caused by boots rubbing against the shin. If the buckles are tight, there is less rubbing.
  • Toenails Keep them short so they do not bump against the end of your boot causing discomfort, blackness and eventual separation from the toe.
  • Simple Security Thieves are active in the snowfields and gear is stolen. A simple way to make things harder for thieves is to separate your skis. If you are skiing with a mate you keep one of his skis and one of your skis, while he wanders off a few metres with the other half of each pair. Provided the thief is not watching the exercise, the skis are less likely to be stolen if they are not a complete set. Even if you are on hire skis this is a good idea. Most hire contracts provide for replacement of lost skis. It is surprising how many people pick up the wrong pair of identical hire skis. Obviously this does not work for boarders, but locks are available for boards and skis.
  • Skiing Video To enjoy the skiing rush while at home, bring a small video camera with you and video your friends bombing down the slopes or hucking off cliffs. If you get good at it, you can make a ski movie or sell skiing stock footage to other producers.

Other Resources

Books

Smith, Warren "Go Ski (with Live action DVD coaching)" Dorling Kindersley; Great Britain; 2006 ISBN-10: 1405316179

Elling, Mark R. "The All Mountain Skier" Ragged Mountain Press; Camden, Maine; 1998 ISBN 007021864

LeMaster, Ron "The Skier's Edge" Human Kinetics; Champaign, IL; 1999 ISBN 0880119829

Tejada Flores, Lito "Breakthrough on the New Skis" Ski Magazine 2006. ISBN-10: 0967674727

Web Sites

Free Ride Skier

Harb Requires tithes.

Mechanics of Skiing

Your Ski Coach Online instruction articles

Videos & DVDs

Your Ski Coach

Pages in category "New to the Snow"

The following 9 pages are in this category, out of 9 total.