Alpine Skiing 101: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

Taking the leap and learning to alpine ski can be exciting, but it can also be daunting. As a sport, Alpine skiing can be difficult to master, but in its simplest form, it’s just skiing downhill. Alpine skiing is what you would expect to do ski resorts and ranges from gliding down groomed courses to cruising through backcountry powder.

Alpine skiing has also been a Winter Olympic event since 1936 and includes five different races: slalom, giant slalom, super-G, downhill, and Alpine combined. If you’ve ever watched the Olympic skiing events on TV, chances are you’ve seen at least one of these. Slalom involves gates that are spaced close together and the skier has to zig-zag around them, while giant slalom requires skiers to zig-zag around gates spaced out across the mountain. Both of these are considered technical events. 

Super-G and downhill are both considered speed events. Super-G has more gates than downhill, requiring more turns and slowing down racers slightly, though Olympic downhill skiers can reach speeds of 90 mph or more. Lastly, Alpine combined is one downhill run and one slalom run. The skier’s times are added together and the fastest total time wins.

While most of us may not aspire to speed down the mountain at 90 mph, Alpine skiing is a fun winter activity that can get your adrenaline pumping no matter how fast (or slow) you go. Here is everything you need to know to get started.

Get Your Ski Gear

Before you even set foot on the mountain, make sure you have all the gear you need: skis and poles, bindings, boots, a helmet, goggles, waterproof ski jacket and pants, warm clothes layered underneath, and gloves or mittens. You may also want sunscreen and lip protection—the sun reflecting off the snow can be very bright.

Use a ski size chart to determine the right skis based on your height and weight. Skis should come in somewhere between your chin and the top of your head and beginners may want to go on the shorter side. The skis will be easier to control and turn. Also look for skis with a softer flex, narrower width, and composite, foam or soft wooden cores. Rocker skis are also good for beginners because the tail and the nose are turned up and you are less likely to catch the snow on a turn and fall.

Your boots and helmet should be snug but comfortable and your clothing should be moisture-wicking. Do not wear cotton for physical activity—it takes forever to dry once you get sweaty and will just make you cold. Wool or wool blends are your best bet for both clothing and socks.

The experts at your local ski and snowboard shop can help you find everything you’ll need and you may want to consider renting your equipment before buying. This will allow you to test out different brands and styles before investing hundreds of dollars.

How to Alpine Ski

It can be helpful to take a lesson or two when you are just getting started so that an instructor can guide you through getting your gear set up properly, teach you how to get on and off the ski lift, and teach you to make your way down the mountain. Just about every ski area offers daily lessons for a variety of ages and levels. (Some even offer special weekend workshops, so check ahead when planning your trip!)

In general, you’ll learn how to:

  • Stand up on your skis 
  • Distribute your weight and position your skis (the most common stance for beginners is called the wedge, snowplow, or pizza because you bring your skis closer together at your toes and farther away at your heels)
  • Slow yourself down and stop or fall safely
  • Turn
  • Use your poles
  • Get on and off the chairlift

As you improve, you’ll learn to link turns and leave the wedge stance behind to increase your speed. 

Stick to the Green Circles

Once you get on the mountain, you’ll notice that each run has a colored shape next to it. Green circles are for beginners and that’s where you’ll want to stay until you feel confident going down the mountain. These runs are typically wide with a gentle slope.

A blue triangle designates an intermediate run (a little steeper, more people), black diamonds are for experts (slopes exceed 40 percent), and double black diamonds are the most difficult (very steep and may include moguls, trees, and other obstacles). Some resorts also have an orange oval to represent the terrain park area.

Learning to Alpine ski may be challenging at first, but above all else, have fun! Take breaks when you get tired, stay hydrated throughout the day, and reward yourself with a mug of hot chocolate or a cold pint by the fire when you’re done. Learning to do something new is almost always tough, but stick with it and you’ll be flying down the mountain in no time.