If you’re reading DCSki.com, chances are pretty good that you’re a passionate skier or snowboarder. And since the National Ski Areas Association estimates that there are approximately 8.3 million active skiing and snowboarding participants in the United States — out of a total population north of 340 million people — chances are also pretty good that you have some friends who have not tried their hand (or rather, legs) at the sport yet.
Of course, there are many benefits to spending a day (or evening) on the slopes. It’s an opportunity to get out in the fresh mountain air, get some exercise time in, and explore scenic — often majestic — new places. There are countless slopes to try at resorts all across North America and beyond, and seeing one’s skills improve can be very rewarding.
But you don’t realize some of these benefits until you’re standing at the top of a mountain on a bluebird day, looking at fresh powder unrolling in front of you. And to do that, a new skier or snowboarder has to get past reservations they might have about the sport.
In this story, we take a look at six barriers of entry for new skiers and snowboarders. If you’re trying to convince friends to try skiing, understanding — and being empathetic to — these reservations will go a long way towards easing their concerns.
There’s no doubt about it: skiing is an expensive sport, and seems to get more expensive every year.
Unless you’re lucky enough to live within walking distance of a ski resort, there is a transportation cost to get there. If you’re skiing locally in the Mid-Atlantic, that transportation cost might just be a tank of gas, but if you’re skiing out west (or even beyond this continent), airfare can be pricey.
And that just gets you to the airport closest to the resort. You might then need to rent a car or take a shuttle to the ski area itself. And the daily parking fee at many ski areas or resort hotels can be expensive.
You’ve already spent a lot of money before setting one ski on a slope.
If you’re staying at a “destination” resort (and not simply making a day trip to a local area), now you have to add in lodging costs, which can vary significantly depending on how close to the slopes you are. While captive in a ski town, you’ll likely find elevated food prices — at both restaurants and local grocery stores. If dining on the mountain, those prices jump even higher to eye-watering levels.
If you’re a first-timer, you probably don’t have your own ski gear, so you’ll need to rent that. (When it comes time to buy your own gear, well, that’s another big expense.) And, you’re not going to want to show up in jeans. Ski pants, gloves, shells, and other apparel are additional expenses.
And then there’s the lift tickets. In recent years, their prices have skyrocketed. The industry has tried to move skiers and boarders towards annual “mega passes” that serve as season passes at resorts across the nation, and those can be a great value if you plan on skiing at least a few days a season. But a new skier is unlikely to purchase one, instead favoring a one-day lift ticket. If you walk up to a ticket window at Vail Resort in Colorado, you can expect to shell out as much as $299 (!) for a ticket. Lift tickets at local resorts such as Whitetail are cheaper, but can still be in excess of $100 per day.
Those prices really add up, and are probably the most immediate impediment for a new skier or snowboarder who isn’t even sure they’re going to enjoy the experience. If you go see a movie at the theater and end up not liking it, you might be out around $10-$15. Meanwhile, a day of skiing could cost you a non-significant percentage of your monthly mortgage. It’s no wonder potential entrants to the sport aren’t willing to take the gamble that they’ll enjoy it.
Thankfully, there are ways to save money. Particularly for a first-time skier or boarder, finding a smaller, independently-owned resort could provide much better bang for the buck. For example, at Virginia’s Bryce Resort — frequently cited by DCSki readers as a great learning mountain — a package including lift ticket and rentals can be purchased for as low as $112. That’s still a significant cost, but more palatable than spending hundreds at a larger resort. Renting gear off-mountain can also lower costs. And if one decides to purchase their own equipment, more savings can be achieved by buying used gear at local ski swaps.
Many ski areas have now moved to dynamic lift ticket pricing, where prices vary based on demand when purchasing a lift ticket in advance. Prices will always be lower during off-peak times, such as non-holiday weekdays. And the lower crowds during those times also make it ideal for new skiers and boarders, although not everyone can get off work on a weekday.
Some resorts also offer discounts for certain groups on certain days. For example, West Virginia’s Canaan Valley Resort has College Days, which provide ski passes as low as $45 (or $65 with included rentals) on certain days of the week. On Food Bank Tuesdays at Canaan Valley Resort, skiers who bring and donate a non-perishable food item on non-holiday Tuesdays can get a $30 lift ticket.
There’s really no getting around it, though: skiing is an expensive sport, particularly for brand new skiers and boarders who do not want to commit (yet) to buying their own gear or annual pass.
The industry needs to do better here.
Years ago — back when Whitetail Resort was still owned by Snow Time — I asked the then-General Manager what his biggest concern was in the industry.
“How to attract new people to the sport,” he replied, without missing a beat. He explained that many of his staff meetings centered around that topic.
At the time, many local resorts offered introductory packages including rentals, a group lesson, and beginner lift ticket for a heavily discounted price — sometimes less than $50 during the early season.
Unfortunately, these kinds of packages are harder to find now as more resorts have fallen under corporate umbrellas, where there is less opportunity for individualized products. Although skier visits have risen over the past decade, resorts would do well to consider how current pricing strategies could prevent new blood from entering the sport in the long term.
And also be sensitive to the fact that skiing will be more expensive for a first-timer than you; if you already own gear and purchased an Ikon or Epic Pass, each trip to the slopes has a low cost. A new timer will have to rent gear and pay those elevated lift ticket prices, making a day at the slopes much more expensive for them.
Once new skiers get over the sticker shock of a lift ticket, they have to get over the literal shock of frigid temperatures.
A day on the slopes is not like a summer day at the beach: it’s cold. And many people aren’t particularly fond of the cold. Convincing a friend to willingly spend a day out in the cold can be a challenge.
And, admittedly, being cold is not the most enjoyable aspect of skiing, and even the most passionate skier or boarder will admit there have been (many) times they’ve been uncomfortably hot or cold — sometimes during the same run down a mountain.
But there are ways to be comfortable. The most successful way is through proper layering. And if you’re trying to encourage a friend to ski for the first time, the onus is on you to make sure they understand the proper type of clothing that will ensure a comfortable day on the mountain.
Cotton is a great material for jeans but neither cotton nor jeans should be anywhere near a ski slope. Cotton absorbs moisture and evaporates slowly, so it will make one feel colder (and eventually miserable) while skiing. Wool or synthetic fibers work much better.
Wool socks can keep the feet warm, but your friend should grab a pair of socks specifically designed for skiing so they fit properly in ski boots. A warm pair of gloves is a must too. Even on a warm day, gloves are critical, as they protect the hands.
The number of layers can be adjusted based on the temperature, but having a windproof outer shell will help lock in the heat. There’s no need to buy a jacket specifically designed for skiing at first, but ski pants are very helpful.
Know that your friend’s apparel will probably not be fine-tuned for skiing, so while you might be toasty warm with layers you’ve optimized over many days on the slopes, your friend might be uncomfortable. Taking frequent breaks to warm up in the lodge will help keep the cold from scaring them away.
A lot of would-be skiers and snowboarders are nervous that they’ll injure themselves. They may have seen YouTube videos of an Olympic skier flying down a mountain and wiping out, or know of a friend who threw out their knee on the slopes.
Skiing and snowboarding are sports with inherent risks of injury. Those injuries can come from colliding with another skier (or fixed object, such as a tree), falling and hitting the ground, or simply slipping on an icy sidewalk on the way to the lodge.
But the risk of death and severe injuries in skiing are actually quite a bit lower than other sports. Statistically speaking, cycling, swimming, and running all have much higher chances of significant injury or death than skiing or snowboarding.
Improvements in ski design in recent years have also decreased the chance of injury. And past innovations such as releasable bindings dramatically lowered certain types of injuries in skiers. It’s helpful to explain how today’s gear is designed for safety, while also pointing out that beginner terrain at ski resorts is relatively flat, making it difficult to lose control. Your friend may have only seen photos of videos of skiers on steep, advanced terrain, instead of the bunny slopes where they would start.
And snow is pretty soft. New skiers and boarders are likely to fall as part of the learning process, but falling on snow is pretty forgiving — certainly more forgiving than wiping out on an asphalt rodeway or concrete sidewalk.
While we all fear getting hit on a crowded slope by an out-of-control skier, there are many ways we can reduce the chance of injury. First and foremost, wear a helmet! Going during less crowded times, being careful not to ski or board beyond our ability level, and taking plenty of rest breaks are all effective ways of lowering the chance of injury. So lead by example and never peer pressure your friend into skiing or snowboarding beyond their comfort level. Suddenly feeling out of control can wipe out hours of confidence building and make one more prone to injury.
Also, let your friend know that it’s normal to feel a little (or even a lot) sore the day after skiing. Skiing and boarding use muscles that aren’t normally used in everyday activities, so flexing them for the first time is likely to result in a day or two of soreness. But it’s a good kind of soreness, and it will go away as one continues with winter sports.
For some would-be skiers, it’s not the thought of careening down a steep slope that causes fear; it’s the terror of riding an open-air chairlift high above the ground. For someone with a fear of heights, that can be a large barrier to entry.
But beginner skiers can ease their way towards these lifts. In the past, many ski resorts had rope-tow lifts servicing their beginner terrain. While these lifts were more “grounded” than a tower-served chairlift, they weren’t the easiest lifts to use. One had to grab tightly onto a rope and hope their skis didn’t start sliding off in an uncomfortable direction as they were — literally — dragged up the hill. And there was always a risk of losing grip on the rope and then sliding backwards, taking out other skiers like bowling pins.
Rope tows were, frankly, terrible.
The good news is that they’ve largely been replaced by much more beginner-friendly surface lifts, which are essentially conveyor belts that someone stands on.
Getting on and off conveyor lifts still requires a bit of balance and care, but they’re a significant improvement for new skiers and boarders. Sometimes they’re even covered, helping protect one from the elements.
Your hesitant non-skiing friends might not be familiar with these conveyor surface lifts, so be sure to explain the progression in lifts and how as a beginner, they might not even need to ride a traditional chairlift.
Many resorts also have “tamer” chairlifts installed in beginner areas, providing an easy transition from ground to air. For example, Pennsylvania’s Whitetail Resort has a quad and double chairlift dedicated to bunny slopes. Each runs slower than traditional lifts and is lower to the ground. Lift attendants servicing these lifts are also trained to be extra helpful to beginner skiers and boarders, for example slowing the lifts down for easier boarding.
Most chairlifts also have bars and leg rests that can be lowered during the ride. For someone scared of heights, riding a lift without the bar down can be a frightening experience (especially if the lift stops and starts to sway in the wind). Always take the lead in lowering the bar on a lift if no one else has. Beginner skiers might be too timid to ask for the bar to come down, so it’s better to just take the initiative and do it (once everyone is ready), instead of waiting for someone to speak up.
Going skiing or snowboarding requires a lot more gear than going for a jog around the neighborhood, and simply getting from the car to the slopes can be the least enjoyable aspect of skiing.
The good news is that first-time skiers and boarders will likely be renting equipment, and most resorts have rental facilities right near the beginner slopes. So while you might have to lug your gear across a slippery parking lot, your friend won’t have to.
If you’ve driven a friend to a resort, also consider dropping them off right at the lodge before you park your car. As a beginner, they’ll be exerting more energy than you on the slopes, so that will help them preserve their energy.
There is an uphill learning curve to skiing or snowboarding, and many would-be skiers are afraid that they would be the only novice on the slopes.
But while we all harbor feelings of being judged, there are always plenty of brand new skiers and snowboarders every day at every ski resort. And the beginner areas are separated from the advanced terrain, so beginners will be surrounded by other beginners. Those beginners will also include people of all ages.
If you’ve convinced a friend to give the sport a try, rather than volunteering to teach them yourself, encourage them to sign up for a lesson at the resort. Mid-Atlantic resorts all have exceptional ski schools with PSIA-certified instructors who are adept at teaching first-timers. You can always meet up with your friend after the lesson to share some runs on beginner slopes, offering them positive feedback as they practice their newfound skills.
And if your friend is afraid they’ll be the only adult in a class surrounded by kids, that’s not how it works. Ski areas have a separate Children’s School and don’t mix-and-match adults and small children in the same lessons.
Relay your own learning experience to your friend, explaining the fears you had when you first tried skiing and how you began to notice your skills improving. Describe the thrill of conquering slopes that at one point seemed inaccessible to you.
So there you have it: six barriers to entry for new skiers and snowboarders. These are real barriers, and each can be difficult to overcome. As seasoned skiers, we may have forgotten how intimidating these barriers can be. Being able to talk through them will go a long way towards convincing a friend to try out the sport.
Did we forget any barriers? Have you found ways around some of these barriers we neglected to mention? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.
Great article. Awesome illustrations. I think the AI gremlins were thinking of Bernie for the freezing pix. And the second one is the way I felt the first time I took the Peak To Peak gondola at Whistler.
Random Thought - the Ski Lift over Earth image reminded me of the opening of Heavy Metal Movie with the Corvette. Ha ha
There is an easier way - cross country. It compares favorably on each numbered point of this article. And, take a look at this;