What a Beginner Skier or Snowboarder Needs to Know: A Snowsports Glossary
By Kristen Lummis
When You Arrive
Ski Area/Ski Resort – What’s the difference? Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably although “resorts” tend to be a bit larger and sometimes are closely linked to a community or town.
Whether you call a venue an area or a resort or simply a mountain, you’re going to have fun!
Wondering where to get more information on the mountain you’ll be visiting? Start with the ski resort or ski area website.
Base Area – No, it’s not the first step toward climbing Mt Everest. This term refers to a collection of lodges, children’s centers, equipment rental shops, the ski and ride school, restaurants and chairlifts or magic carpets.
Larger resorts sometimes have more than one base area. Smaller resorts may simply have a lodge and a lift. Either way, the base area is usually where you’ll purchase lift tickets, get rental gear, join a lesson and have lunch.
Look for a base area map on the resort website. You also can pick up a hard copy at the venue when you arrive.
Parking – You have to get to the venue somehow before you can start skiing or snowboarding, you have to get to the mountain. It’s most likely that you will drive your car although some venues have public transportation.
If you are arriving by car, look for parking information and directions on the resort website. In most cases, parking is free but some larger resorts charge. Remote parking is usually free or costs less than close-in parking.
Check the website for pricing so that you’re not surprised when you arrive.
Some resorts and ski areas have unloading zones at the base area near the lifts. Pull up, place your skis, poles or snowboard on a rack and drop off your kids or friends. Park your car and either walk back or catch a shuttle, depending upon the resort.
Shuttles – Larger resorts often have shuttles to bring you from the parking lots to the base area. If this is the case where you’re going, follow signs to the parking lots and then proceed to a shuttle stop where you’ll catch a bus to the ski area base and the lifts. If you are a first-timer you won’t have to worry about carrying equipment as you will be renting. Check the website for parking and shuttle information.
Buses –Some ski towns, big and small, offer free or inexpensive bus service to nearby venues although this tends to be more the case out west or in New England. Taking a bus has many advantages: you don’t have to look for or pay for parking and the bus will usually drop you off close to the chairlifts.
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Ski and Ride School – Snowboarding is often referred to as riding, so the Ski and Ride School is where you will sign up for and take lessons to learn to ski or snowboard.
Friends or family may offer to teach you but the best and most cost-effective way to learn a new sport is to take a lesson from a pro. You wouldn’t take sky-diving lessons from a friend or family member, would you?
Look for group lessons and special clinics for beginners. At some resorts, these classes are discounted (especially during January,Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month). Some resorts will even reward you with a season pass upon completion of a series of beginner lessons.
Group lessons are usually limited in size, with a set number of students per instructor.
Clinics are more like “special event” lessons, offered on certain days, with a unique emphasis or for a specific age group. They are often a good deal, so look for them online. There are clinics for beginners but they typically apply at more advanced levels.
Private lessons are often one student per instructor, although it is possible for siblings, a parent and child, or several friends to book a private lesson together.
Lessons are taught by instructors, coaches or pros certified by an accreditation body like PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) or AASI (American Association of Snowboard Instructors). Tipping is not required, but a 10-20% gratuity can be considered as an appropriate way to thank your instructor.
Plan ahead and book your lesson before your arrive. Do this online or by calling the Ski and Ride School.
Children’s Center – At most resorts, the Children’s Center refers to a combination of ski and ride school and day care.
Regulations regarding minimum age (and potty training) vary by resort, so call ahead to make sure your child can be accommodated.
In general, younger, non-skiing children will participate in a licensed day care setting, while toddlers and young preschoolers will enjoy a combination of outdoor lessons and indoor playtime.
Older kids will spend the majority of their time in traditional lessons.
Many Children’s Centers have kids’ rental equipment on site, making it extra easy for parents to drop the kids off, bypassing the larger rental shop.
Rental Shop – First-timers rarely have own equipment so you’ll need to rent skis, boots and poles or a snowboard and boots.
At the rental shop, you’ll fill out a form, stating your weight, height and ability. As a beginner, your ability is “I” (the options are I, II or III). Some resorts may use a different
scale to divide students by ability. If in doubt, ask.
Once you’ve completed the form, you’ll pay and sign a liability waiver.
Then a technician will help you decide what size equipment you need.
Be sure to wear your ski/snowboard socks (just one pair for maximum warmth and comfort), as you’ll want your boots to fit.
Often, you can also rent helmets and ski clothes.
Liability Waiver – To participate in a lesson, rent equipment or purchase a season pass, you’ll need to sign a liability waiver (parents will sign them for their children).
Skiing and snowboarding are very safe sports, especially if you’re taking lessons and riding on slopes appropriate for your skills. Still, accidents can happen.
Lockers and Bins – The weather can change rapidly in the mountains, so it’s a good idea to have extra layers of clothing, disposable hand warmers and, if you’re with small children, extra socks (in case their socks get wet).
Look for lockers in the lodge where you can store extra items during the day.
Some resorts use a bin system where you pay and give your items to an attendant in exchange for a claim check.
Mountain Ambassadors – Many resorts have Ambassadors to help you find your way through the lodge and to the lift. Look for Mountain Ambassadors at information desks and outdoors on the snow.
At some resorts, Ambassadors also give free on-mountain tours to help orient guests.
Ticket Window or Office – To ride a chairlift, you’ll need a lift ticket. Tickets are generally sold at a series of outdoor windows. The ticket window is where you‘ll usually find a trail map to take with you.
Lift Ticket -- When you buy your ticket, you may be given a radio frequency (RF) card to put into your pocket, or a paper ticket that you attach to your jacket or pants with a zip tie or a metal fastener called a wicket.
If you get an RF card, be sure to put it in an empty pocket. They don’t work well next to phones, keys or wallets.
If you don’t know how to put the ticket on, ask at the window. The salesperson will be happy to help!
Season Pass – Season passes are usually purchased before the winter begins. They allow one person to ski or ride as many days as they wish during the ski season.
Many resorts now offer free or discounted days at “sister” resorts, making a season pass a good idea if you plan to ski a lot at one resort, or you hope to travel among several ski areas.
You can also find multi-mountain passes that offer a certain number of days at a group of resorts. Look for the Epic Pass from Vail Resorts, the Rocky Mountain Super Pass, the Powder Alliance pass, the M.A.X. Pass and the Mountain Collective pass. Each of these passes offers discounted skiing at resorts across North America.
If you’ve got elementary school age kids, check to see if they qualify for a 5th or 6th (and sometimes other grades) pass in your state. These passes offer free lift tickets and discounted or free lessons. There’s a list of participating states on the Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month website.
Discount Passes/Cards – If you plan to ski or ride three or more times this season, look for multi-day passes and discount cards. They are usually less expensive than purchasing individual tickets, but they don’t require a season-long commitment.
Trail Map – Resort maps come in three sizes: fold up maps for your pocket, medium size maps attached to the chairlift comfort bar and large maps found outdoors at the base area, at the top of chairlifts and at on-mountain intersections.
You’ll also find trail maps on every resort website. Study the map before you arrive. It’s always good to know where you’re going!
Let's hit the snow! Find out what's next on the mountain!
Chairlift – Chairlifts are a series of towers going up the mountain, with chairs attached to a cable.
The chairlift is what makes skiing and riding less work and more fun. Just imagine if you had to climb up the mountain each time you wanted to come down.
Chairlifts come in all sorts of configurations. Chairs that hold four people (rather like couches) are found at many larger resorts. Some resorts even have chairs holding six people. Two and three person chairlifts are also quite common. Many lifts have comfort bars that you can pull down in front of you after you’re safely seated.
Chairlifts are either attached, with a fixed grip on the cable or detachable and high-speed. High-speed chairlifts slow down to let skiers on and off. Fixed grip chairlifts maintain a constant speed.
Getting on and off a chairlift is easy, as long as you understand what you’re doing. If you’re in a lesson, your instructor will give you clear, simple instructions.
If you’re not in a lesson, and you have questions, watch the people in front of you and then ask a lift attendant for help. This is especially important if you’re getting on a lift with small children or other inexperienced skiers and riders. If necessary, ask the lifty to slow the chair.
In addition to chairlifts, you’ll find gondolas and trams at some resorts.
Gondolas hold 6-12 people, while trams are much larger. Take your skis off before loading and stow them in a rack on the exterior of the gondola or carry them into the tram. You sit down in a gondola and stand up in a tram.
Surface Tow/Poma/T-Bar/Rope Tow – Less common than they used to be, tow lifts pull skiers and snowboarders up the mountain with their skis or board on the snow.
Magic Carpet – Basically a conveyor belt, magic carpets are used for beginner lessons and on beginner slopes. Skiers and snowboarders stand on the belt with their equipment on and ride to the top. Lifties or instructors help everyone get on or off.
Maze – Before you get on the lift, you have to get in line. Look for a series of lanes marked off by rope. These lanes merge until they form a single line for boarding the lift.
Skiers and riders group themselves according to how many people will get on the chair. If it's a four-person chair, get into a group of four, and so on. The basic rule for going through the maze is for each lane to alternate, one group at a time, when merging.
Lifty – A lift attendant is the person who controls the chairlift and can help you get on or off. Lifties are there to help you. Ask if you have any questions and remember to always thank them – it makes their day!
Runs – A run is a designated route down the mountain. Runs usually have names and are marked with trail signs that show both the name and the difficulty of the run.
Beginners should look for runs marked with green circles.
Trail Signs – Trail signs are guideposts at the top of each run and at intersections that tell you where you are going. Match them up with the names on the map and you’ll never get lost.
In the United States, trails are marked with green circles (easiest), blue squares (intermediate) and black diamonds (advanced). Some resorts also use double black diamonds or EX (for extreme) to signify their most difficult terrain and trails.
Ski Patrol – Ski Patrol is a group of men and women who help ensure skier and rider safety on the mountain, as well as respond to emergencies, offer first aid and basic medical care and mark hazards (like rocks and stumps) on the runs.
Ski Patrollers usually wear red jackets with white crosses on them. You’ll see them on the mountain, doing things like setting fence around obstacles, controlling crowds in busy areas, helping skiers who are lost or unsure, and responding to accidents.
Ski Patrol has the ability to take lift tickets away from skiers and riders who are skiing or riding carelessly or endangering others on the mountain.
Patrollers work very hard to keep everyone safe and happy. They deserve your respect.
Patrol Gates/Fence/Signs/Poles – When skiing or riding, you may notice gates, fences, signs and poles in the snow. These are placed on ski runs by Ski Patrol to control traffic and signify hazards and closed terrain. Pay attention to them!
Warming Hut/On-Mountain Lodge – These are buildings on the mountain where you can warm up, get something to eat or drink and use the restroom. Lodges are more full-service than huts.
Ski Clothes – Since you’ll be outside most of the day, plan ahead to stay warm and dry.
Here is a basic list of what you’ll need: wool socks (just one pair), wool or synthetic long underwear (top and bottom, no cotton), sweater or fleece top, water resistant ski pants and jacket, water resistant gloves or mittens.
Don’t worry if you don’t have all of these items. Some resorts rent ski jackets and pants. You can also borrow from friends and family, or rent complete sets of clothing from companies like GetOutfitted.com and Mountain Threads.
Helmets – In the old days, most skiers wore wool beanies or caps. Not only were these hats itchy and uncomfortable, but they didn’t protect anyone’s head from bumps, scrapes or falls.
Today, the majority of skiers and snowboarders wear helmets. Helmets are lightweight, comfortable and warm. Many resorts require them for children in ski and ride school. Helmets are a great idea for everyone.
If you don’t have one, rent one (along with some goggles) from the resort rental shop.
Goggles – Goggles protect your eyes from wind, sun and glare. They make it easier for you to see where you’re going and what’s around you. They are a must!
Sunglasses – Some skiers and riders prefer sunglasses on the brightest days. Use polarized lenses to cut the glare reflecting off the snow.
Sunscreen – Snow reflects sunlight very effectively so it’s easy to sunburn when skiing and snowboarding. Wear sunscreen and reapply at lunch and in the afternoon on super sunny days.
Hydration – A thirsty skier is a tired skier. Our bodies need water to function properly. And while you may not feel thirsty or sweaty when you ski or snowboard, you still need to hydrate throughout the day.
Take breaks to drink water. Not only will you feel stronger on the snow, but you’ll also stay warmer.
Water breaks are especially important for little ones.
Snacks and Food – Like water, food is essential. Plan on stopping for lunch and also bring some snacks with you. Consider cheese sticks, nuts, dried fruit, M&Ms, or granola bars. Ideally, a good snack should include some protein and complex carbs.
For lunch, enjoy a warming meal in a restaurant or cafeteria, either at the base or on the mountain.
If you bring your lunch, look for a brown-bag, or picnic, area in the lodge. Ask a mountain ambassador if you can’t find it.
Don't assume that you can carry your lunch into a restaurant or cafeteria.
Hand warmers – An absolute must on cold days, inexpensive, disposable hand warmers are sold in resort shops, as well as at ski shops and sporting goods stores.
Hand warmers fit in gloves and mittens and add a lot of extra heat.
They usually last all day and then you throw them away
and keep going for more fun stuff!
Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month – January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month (LSSM). During January, resorts everywhere offer discounted lessons and other great deals for beginners.
You can find a list of participating resorts on the LSSM website, along with more tips for making skiing and snowboarding your favorite winter activity!
Go to learntoskiandsnowboard.org
This season, Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month is sponsoring the World’s Largest Ski and Snowboard Lesson on January 8, 2016. At 10:00 a.m. local time, take a lesson at your favorite ski area if you are a beginner and become a world record setter!
Go to largestskilesson.com or largestsnowboardlesson.com
LSSM also sponsors the Bring a Friend (BAF) Initiative. Introduce someone to snowboarding or skiing lessons, register for the Bring a Friend Challenge and you could win some great prizes. From Head/Tyrolia, Burton and The North Face.
Go to bringafriend.org for details and to enter.
Beginners who take lessons are urged to post on social media a photo of their experience using #firstdayfaces. We’ll give a prize for the “best” photo. The contest runs from December 1, 2015 to February 28, 2016.