The ultimate first-timer’s guide to the snow

So you’ve finally been talked into your first ski holiday. And you feel a little stressed about it, because ski holidays are not really your average holiday. You can’t throw some bikinis, shorts and comfortable walking sandals into a carry-on bag, along with a good book, and look forward to a relaxing time away.

You have to be relatively fit. You have to be well-prepared. You have to be warm – and either borrow, buy or hire all the things that are required to keep you warm. Which are a lot of things.

Because it’s your first time, it’s easy to make mistakes and end up looking like a complete punter on the slopes. Here’s our guide to making your first time as smooth as possible.

Hire away

If it’s your first time on the mountains, choose your poison – skiing or snowboarding – and hire the relevant beginner equipment to get you turning easily on the slopes. For skiers, you’ll need skis, boots and poles. For snowboarders, you’ll just need a snowboard and snowboard boots.

Beginner skis and snowboards are specially designed to be lightweight and easy to maneuver so that you can get comfortable on the mellow runs. Don’t worry if your rental skis or board look a little banged up on top (also known as ‘the top sheet’) – as long as the base of the ski or snowboard looks smooth and freshly waxed, you’ll be okay.

Don’t be too tempted into borrowing gear off your friends. If their boots don’t fit you properly, or if their skis are designed for advanced skiers, or if their poles are completely the wrong length for you, you’ll likely have a miserable time on the slopes trying to work it all out. I once borrowed a friend’s snowboard boots that were the same size as mine, but with insoles specially designed for her – and ended up walking down the run because they were so painful, which is a pretty embarrassing thing to do when you’re the last one on the mountain for the night and a Japanese ski patroller is following you down…

You don’t want this to be you.

Buy the right gear

You can hire or borrow a jacket and pants, or head to your local ski shop to find your own. Be sure not to buy them online unless you are a thousand per cent sure of your sizing, because ski jackets and pants can have very different fits depending on style and brand. If you’re trying things on in-store, be sure to remember that you’ll have to fit various layers under your jacket and pants. Skiing in Australia and New Zealand isn’t so bad, but in the USA, Canada and Japan, you might be wearing 4-5 layers under your jacket on a really cold day.

Speaking of layers – if you already have any compression gear (such as Skins/2XU), thermals or fleece layers, you’ll be able to use them on the slopes. If not, and you want to invest in some thermal layers, see if you can splurge out and get merino wool. They’ll come in handy for any other cold weather activities you end up doing (camping? hiking? being generally cold on the couch in winter?).

You’ll also need to either borrow or buy ski socks, a neckwarmer, gloves and goggles, as you can’t hire these. If you can borrow them, and they fit you properly, go for it. Otherwise, try to buy the best possible quality you can afford. Goggles with interchangeable lenses are always useful for changing weather conditions; gloves with as much leather on them as possible are always going to be your warmest options. And don’t turn away from mittens – a lot of people find them to be warmer than gloves. The Aldi ski sale is often a great spot to pick up decently priced snow gear, including their ski socks which are typically awesome quality.

You’ll absolutely want a helmet to complete your ski gear set-up. If you’re a little sketched out by rental helmets (their safety track record may not be super solid, and they have been touching other people’s heads…), you won’t regret buying one. It’s a pretty minor investment into something that can save your day, or even your life. Just make sure that your goggles fit your helmet well – if there’s a gap between the two, it’s a dead giveaway that you’re a first-timer.

Write up a checklist on your phone so that you can double-check you have all your gear when you leave for a day of skiing. With so many bits and pieces, it’s easy to leave something behind, and then you’ll either have a cold/wet/miserable/annoying day or have to re-purchase gear once on the mountain.

Getting to your mountain

Depending on where you’re going, you’ll need to do your research. Going along with well-seasoned friends is easy, as they’ll likely know the drill – where to stay, how to get to the mountain in the morning, where to park, where to get lunch so that you don’t have to take out a mortgage payment for a pack of hot chips… but if you’re heading with other beginners, it’s time to get Googling. Where’s best to stay in town? What’s the best way to get to the mountain? (Hint – it may not be driving – if you’re staying in Queenstown, it’s far easier to get the bus.) If you do drive, will you need chains? What will you have for dinner and do you need to book in advance, or can you bring your own food from home along with your ski gear to save cash? Is it cheaper to buy your lift tickets online, in advance? Start with the website of the ski resort you’ll be visiting and go from there.

On the slopes

Three words, just three words: get a lesson. This is always going to be the easiest and safest way to get the hang of your new favourite sport. Unless your friend has an instructor’s certificate of their own, don’t listen to any claims that they can get you down the hill – you’ll probably have a few laughs but also potentially a bunch of tears (and pick up their bad habits). Keep in mind that most ski resorts have beginner programs that are well-priced, so be sure to look out for them and sign up accordingly.

Do you have any tips for first timers heading to the snow?

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Natalia is an Australian writer, content creator and communications specialist who's spent the last few years in Canada and Japan. Equally obsessed with the sea and the snow, you can usually find her dreaming - and writing - about one of the two.


  1. Over the years I’ve spent in the mountains the three best tips I have heard for first timers are,
    1) Get some old boots,ski’s and poles ($10) from the Opp Shop and practice putting them on and taking them off. Just keep doing it in your back yard until you’re doing it quick and easy. If you’re not sure, just google how too. Walk around in your boots and then clip into the skis and walk around in them too!! (using the poles as well.) This tip will help you and your “first time” family heaps. Most beginners are totally exhausted by the time they’ve put their gear on and walked to the lift. PS. The boots should be a bit too big so they fit everyone, can google how to make them fit the skis, and don’t ski in them!! When you get to the hill, hire the right size stuff from the pros.
    2) Rollerblade (inline skate, ice skate) as much as possible before you go skiing. The key to skiing well is holding an edge on ONE FOOT. (Warning, you might have to skip one or two levels of your group lessons cause you’ll be so good, I’m not kidding!!)
    3) Never, ever, ever Snowboard……it’s the devils work!!

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