8 Introduction to Skiing and Basic Skills

Getting Started

1. Separate Your Skis

Your skis might be locked together, bottom-to-bottom, by the clip-like “snow brakes” extending from the bindings the flat sides. Their purpose is to keep the skis from sliding away when they pop off your boots during a fall, which protects your knees from twisting. They also make your skis easier to carry.

Find a flat area in the snow. Set the pair of skis upright on their back end, hold down the one with its brake “inside”, and gently shake and wiggle off the one with its brake “outside”.

2. Step Into Your Skis

Set the skis pointing in the same direction about a foot apart. Most skis will work on either foot but check to see if your skis have any “L” or “R” markings on them and, if so, put them on the correct side. Stick your poles in the snow on each side of the skis, a few inches to the side and next to the front edge of the binding. Hold onto the poles and, one foot at a time, tuck the flange at the boot’s toe into the front binding and then push the flange at the boot’s heel into the rear binding, which should close with an audible click. Slide each foot back and forth a little to check that the ski has attached. If it hasn’t, try again.

Note: If there is too much snow on the bottom of your boot, it may not click into the ski properly. Kick the boot with snow against your other boot to get the snow off and try again.

3. Taking Skis Off

To take off a ski, or to reset its latch to retry a failed mounting (or if it fails to reset itself after detaching from your boot during a fall), push down the lever behind the boot so that it is parallel to the ski. This is most easily pushed with a pole by putting the spike into the indentation.


Body Positioning

1. Stance

Maintaining a proper athletic ski stance keeps you balanced and puts you in a better position to control your skis. For a proper body positioning you will want to:

  • Stand relatively tall with your feet about shoulder-width apart
  • Flex your ankles and tilt your shins forward into the front of the boots
  • Keep your shoulders slightly in front of your hips with weight centered over both feet
  • Keep your arms slightly out in front and off to the side. Hold your poles with the tips pointed back, behind your feet
  • Look toward where you’re going, not down at your skis

2. Balance

Developing a sense of balance while moving on skis will allow you to have success and be able to learn more advanced skills. Keeping weight centered over your feet and shins pressed forward into the boot will allow you to have better balance. It is important to be comfortable with balance on easier terrain before progressing to more challenging terrain.

3. Stability and Body Separation

Having stability and remaining in a steady position enhances balance and your ability to turn. Engaging core muscles is essential for overall stability and for achieving body separation. In having body separation, your upper body should be relaxed and relatively still while your lower body is constantly engaged and moving. Skiing requires strength and control of the lower body as turns are initiated by twisting of the hips with the torso and shoulders pointing down the slope. Gluteal strength is particularly important to achieving coordination of movements that involve the upper and lower body.

4. Weight Distribution and Turning

Learning to properly distribute your weight on the skis will not only help with balance, but also be able to turn better. A beginner skier will learn gliding and skiing a wedge, after which they will learn how to do a wedge turn. For a wedge turn, turn both ankles in the direction you want to go, putting most weight on the inner side of the ski. After this is mastered, you will learn how to turn with skis parallel and eventually into linking multiple turns together. For parallel skiing, the amount of weight that is moved to the inside and outside edges of the skis will determine how broad or tight of a turn you will make. When you place weight on the inner ski, you are creating more traction on the ski which will help you make a tighter turn.


Basic Ski Skills

1. Moving Around In Skis

One of the first things you should learn is how to move around in skis. You will end up walking in skis when you are getting to a lift and in other instances. One of the most common ways to move yourself over flat terrain is to keep the skis parallel and push yourself forward with your poles. With both arms simultaneously, stab the poles into the snow beside you, pull yourself forward, and repeat. Pull one side more than the other to turn. When first starting to ski, expect to use more muscle than when you are more skilled.


2. Control and Stopping When Skiing

Once you start moving on skis, you’ll learn how to control your speed and stop by forming a wedge with your skis. This stopping technique is also known as the “pizza”, “wedge”, or “snowplow”. You’ll use the wedge to control your speed, stop, and make turns. The wider you spread your skis, the slower you go. Keep in mind that this method works best for slopes that are less steep and never overlap the tips of your skis as you will easily lose control.

  • On flat terrain, practice making a wedge with your ski tips fairly close together and tails farther apart. Your skis should remain relatively flat on the snow.
  • On a short gentle slope with a flat run out, practice holding the wedge stance as you glide down and come to a natural stop.
  • Next, walk up a small hill, make a triangle at the top and go down. Control your speed by changing the triangle size: as you’re wedge gets wider, you will go slower.
  • Make your wedge wide enough to come to a stop.
  • To start downhill again, make your wedge narrower and push off with your poles.
  • Practice maintaining a consistent speed, slowing down, and then stopping.

Tip: Keep your knees relaxed and open. Avoid squeezing your knees together; this will put your skis on an edge and make it harder to move.


3. Side Stepping Up a Hill

There are two approaches to walking uphill: Most beginners may find it easier to side-step.

How to side-step uphill:

  • With skis parallel to each other, face across the slope perpendicular to the fall line so you don’t slide down. (The fall line refers to the most direct route down a slope, or the line of gravity).
  • Roll your skis slightly on their sides or edges toward the slope.
  • Push off of the bottom (or downhill ski) and step with the uphill ski sideways up the hill. Then bring the other ski parallel to it.
  • Take small steps and lean your lower legs (rather than your butt or shoulders) into the slope.

How to herringbone uphill:

  • Position your skis into a V shape as you face the hill. (Your ski tips should be at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock with tails closer together but not touching or overlapping.)
  • Relax your knees to the inside so the skis are on a slight edge inward.
  • Take small steps up the hill, maintaining the V shape.
  • Your skis will leave a herringbone pattern in the snow.

Tip: Make wider V’s to get up steeper hills.


4. How to Fall

As a beginner it is inevitable that you will fall at least once. If you are about to crash into a tree or another person, and are a beginner, do not try to swerve as you will probably hit something else. Instead, just fall to your side. When possible, fall uphill as you are much less likely to get injured when you fall uphill (your distance to fall is shorter and your skis stay downhill from your body). Try to absorb a fall with your hip and shoulder. Avoid trying to catch yourself with your arms, as you are much more likely to injure your arms than you are to injure your hip or shoulder. Try to stay as relaxed as possible when you fall. When you tense up, your muscles become tight and you are much more likely to pull something.

5. Getting Up from a Fall on Less Steep Terrain

If you fall and have trouble righting yourself, take off the ski on your “ground side” (the side that is flat on the ground), right yourself with the other ski and poles, and then remount the removed ski.


6. Getting Up from a Fall on More Steep Terrain

Move so that your head is towards the top of the hill and your feet are at the bottom. Move your skis perpendicular to the slope, and dig the inside edge of the bottom ski into the snow. You can push up from the slope using the hand closest to the slope or by using your poles.


Riding the Magic Carpet

First time skiers start out learning how to move around on the flat area and then progress to sliding and stopping on a very gentle slope. This takes a bit of practice and repetition, which means you have to keep getting back up that gentle slope. Walking up is no problem as you do not have to go far. However, as you gain more skill and confidence and are comfortable sliding further, walking up a long way can become very tiring.

A magic carpet is essentially an escalator without stairs that will carry you up the beginner hill. The conveyor is typically made of rubber or grippy plastic, so when you ski onto it, your skis owill stick to the material and you will not fall backward. At the top of the hill, the belt gently pushes the passengers onto the snow and they slide away.

Before magic carpets, a more common beginner lift was a ski tow. This style of lift required skiers to hold onto a rope (usually metal) that would pull them up the slope. Due to the difficulty of riding a rope tow, many ski resorts have switched to magic carpets.

  1. Ski Onto the Lift

As you approach the base of the magic carpet, ensure that your skis are lined up with the magic carpet conveyor, and then ski onto the magic carpet.



You should leave enough space between you and the skier in front of you before you ski onto the magic carpet. The appropriate spacing distance is often marked with orange cones.


  1. Stay Balanced and Pay Attention

Once you are on the magic carpet, all you need to do is keep your balance and enjoy the ride. Because you will be standing with your skis on, you should ensure that you are standing up with good posture. It is usually relatively easy to stay balanced once you are on a magic carpet. It is like riding the escalator, but your feet can’t move too much. If you are having trouble staying balanced, you can widen your stance and bend your knees slightly.


  1. Be Ready to Ski Away From the Lift When You Reach the Top

When you reach the top of the lift, you need to be ready to ski away and clear the top of the magic carpet for other skiers riding the magic carpet behind you. The magic carpet will gently push you off after which you should move to the side.



Riding a Chair Lift

Chair lifts are the most common type of lift that you’ll likely use on your ski trip. It is a metal bench suspended in the air by cables that takes you from the bottom to the top of the slope. They are typically used for longer and steeper journeys and to carry you over the terrain at speed. Chair lifts can fit between two and eight people depending on the lift. The lifts generally slow down when approaching the beginning or end of the journey and are evenly spaced out so you have enough time to get into position.

Getting on a Chair Lift

  1. Pick a Slow Lift if You are a Beginner

It is good to know that not all lifts run at the same speed. Lifts that serve beginner terrain and the bunny hill will often run slower to make it easier for new skiers to load and unload.

  1. Prepare to Load

As you ski through the maze to reach the loading area, make sure to remove the straps of your ski poles from your wrists – if they get caught on the moving lift, you do not want to be attached to them. On a busier day, skiers may be coming in from several directions and etiquette usually dictates that you alternate whenever the queues merge, however there should be signage instructing you as to how to proceed. As you reach the front, you will form a line and you may find yourself standing shoulder to shoulder with up to five other skiers. It is important to keep your skis facing forward (no pizza wedge here) and not jostle each other. If you feel like you are going to slide forward, you can stick your poles into the snow in front of you to act as brakes.

  1. Load the Ski Lift

As soon as the group in front of you is on the chair, slowly ski forward to the marked loading line and stop there (it can be slippery here due to all the traffic, so use your poles as brakes again as needed). Hold your poles in one hand and look over your shoulder to see the chair coming in behind you. The chair will swing in behind you and gently hit you in the back of your knees, causing you to sit down. Once seated you should wiggle yourself back straight away.

  1. Pull the Safety Bar Down

As soon as you are seated, reach up and pull the safety bar down, communicating with other skiers that you are doing so – locals will often skip this important step but don’t let their overconfidence sway you. Skiers do fall from lifts and it can be deadly. Hold your poles firmly in your hand.



Enjoy the View on the Chair Lift

Now you can sit back and enjoy the mountain views.



Getting off a Chair Lift

  1. Prepare to Unload

When you get near the top, you will see signs on the lift poles telling you to prepare to unload. Hold your poles in one hand and check that none of the straps or loops on your ski jacket are caught on anything. When you see the sign telling you to raise the bar, lift it up and slide just a little forward in the chair. Reach your feet out in front of you and raise your ski tips up.

  1. Unload

If it seems like you are moving really fast, the lift will slow a little as you come in to land. As soon as your skis are fully touching the snow, lean forward and push down into your feet to stand up. The chair will push you forward so that you can ski out the way of the skiers coming off the next chair. Just like when you loaded the chair, you will want to keep your skis straight if you’re unloading with other skiers, and do not try to come to a stop here as blocking the path of the skiers behind you can cause a pile up.

If you are by yourself, you will simply ski in the direction of the run you want to take, however if you are unloading with others, it is best that you all simply go straight ahead until you are clear of the unloading area, then you can figure out if you need to go right or left.



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Skiing and Snowboarding Copyright © by Dr. Renee Harrington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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