Equipment for Beginners
At first glance, the list of clothing and equipment needed to get out skiing or snowboarding can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
Although you may hear experienced skiers and riders talking at length about the merits of this or that model of ski or board, the best jacket, the latest boot technology – when you’re just starting out it’s best to stick to the ski basics! This guide will give you an easy checklist before you head out to the mountains.
It’s usually easiest to hire your equipment when you’re learning. Local slopes in the UK have a range of rental equipment. For your first trips to the mountains, it makes sense to hire your equipment too, plus Ski Club members can make great savings on ski, board and boot hire.
You may have heard the quote “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes”. Having the right clothing can be crucial to enjoying your time on the slopes. It goes without saying that if you’re wet and cold to the core your enthusiasm may flag a little.
While some regular skiers and snowboarders will invest a lot of money in having the latest and greatest technical materials and the fashion-conscious may get a new outfit each season, when you’re starting out you just need to focus on having functional clothing and layering up correctly. For your first taste of skiing or snowboarding, it’s often best to borrow from friends or purchase some of the affordable packages available at high-street retailers. By the time you’ve notched up your first couple of snowsports holidays, you’ll have a pretty good idea of where your hard earned cash is best spent.
When you look at the display wall in a ski shop you may be baffled – how can there be so many types of ski? It all comes down to purpose and personal preference. For beginners, skis tend to be a little bit shorter, softer flexing, more forgiving and with enough sidecut to make it easier to make turns. The length of your ski will be determined by your weight and ability level – however, your local ski shop (if buying) or rental shop (if hiring) will be able to advise you. Skis are mounted with safety bindings, which ‘lock’ the ski boots in place, but are designed to release in the event of a fall. It’s important that your bindings are correctly set up and adjusted by rental shop or retail staff.
There’s a huge range of boards available, with subtle differences in size and shape to cater to many different riders and riding styles. As with skis, when you’re learning a slightly shorter board that is forgiving will be best. Snowboards are mounted with plastic strap-in bindings. It’s important that these bindings are set with an appropriate ‘stance’, as some boarders slide left foot first (regular stance) and others right foot first (goofy stance). Rental staff or local board shops will be able to help with this.
From novices to professionals, you’ll hear time and again skiers saying that boots are the most important piece of equipment. Ski boots consist of a hard plastic shell with a foam liner to cushion the foot. The fit is much more snug that a pair of trainers – having a secure and snug fit is essential if you’re going to be descending a snowy mountain at speed! While renting boots is fine when you’re learning, boots should generally be your first investment in owning your own gear. Everyone has differently shaped feet, so fit is crucial. While lots of kit can be bought second-hand, it’s well worth going to a ski shop with a professional boot fitter. Snowboard boots are generally soft and lace up, with thick cushioning to protect feet and ankles. Fit is still very important though – you don’t want to be slopping around in them like a pair of old slippers.
Jackets and Ski Clothing
Functionality and fit are the most important things when buying a ski jacket, plus a level of waterproofing that will keep you dry even in snowy conditions. You’ll be more comfortable if your shell is breathable too. A shell jacket will allow you to layer with warm mid-layers, depending on the conditions. Look for sensible pockets too, as you’ll likely be keeping wallets, phones, cameras and other bits and pieces in your jacket. Remember too, if you’re heading along to the local indoor slope you need to wear warm and waterproof clothing, even in summer. They don’t call it a ‘fridge’ for nothing!
As skiing and snowboarding are high-activity sports, it’s better to layer up rather than wear bulky clothing. Underneath your waterproof shell an insulating mid-layer will help you trap warm air. Technical fleeces, merino wool jumpers and even hoodies will do the trick. A mid-layer with a zipper will make it easier to adjust to temperature fluctuations.
A wicking, wool base layer will help keep you dry and comfortable, working together with your mid-layer to trap warm on the slopes.
Gloves (or alternatively mittens) keep your hands dry and comfortable. This is one piece of clothing that it pays to get straight away, as they generally are not available at rental shops. Don’t necessarily get the cheapest set, as they’ll quickly fall apart. Gloves need to be hard-wearing and waterproof. Even at dry slopes in the UK you’ll want to wear gloves, as they protect your hands from the artificial ski slope which can be unforgiving on equipment and on bodies!
A good pair of socks can help with comfort when wearing ski or snowboard boots. A good amount of thickness on the shin part of the sock is ideal to reduce impact when you are flexing forward in your boots. A classic tube sock can easily move in the boot, so it's worth looking for a sock that has a bit of shape for the foot area. The tighter fit on the sock the less likely you'll have it rumpled during your day on the slopes. A note on socks – wearing two pairs won’t make your feet warmer! It’s best to wear one pair of socks to avoid rubbing and blisters.
Helmets become more and more commonplace on the slopes every season, with an ever-increasing range that is stylish as well as functional. Helmets are generally included in a rental package along with skis and boots. Adults are ultimately able to decide for themselves with regards to helmets, however you should bear in mind that in some places, and in certain ski schools, it’s mandatory for children under a certain age to wear a helmet. This is one piece of equipment that's vitally important to try on before you buy, as it's only going to function effectively if the fit is correct.
Goggles protect your eyes from both the sun and the snow when you’re in the mountains and there are a wide range of styles and prices. Check that your goggles will fit well with your helmet.
Particularly if skiing with young children, a rucksack can be well worthwhile. Extra layers, spare gloves, snacks, water and sunscreen are all then close at hand when you need them. Be sparing though, as you don’t want too heavy a load swinging around on your back. Get a rucksack that fits and can be secured with a waist strap.
If you’re in the market for kit and equipment, look out for end-of-season sales, or use your Ski Club membership for discounts at a wide range of high-street retailers and online stores. Alternatively, you might find suitable stuff at your local charity shop or on eBay – just ensure that the quality is sufficient to keep you comfortable, warm and dry in the mountains.