What to expect for your first ski lesson

copper mountain ski lesson hill

I’d never put on a pair of skis before I moved to Denver at age 23, so learning to ski was both exciting and mildly terrifying. Skiing seemed really cool, but I was learning as an adult that was acutely aware of my own mortality, the cost of hospital bills, and obligations to work.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

One of my more charming qualities is that I am not good at accepting help (what I like to refer to as “unsolicited criticism”) from my husband. Since I wanted my relationship to survive this day on the mountain, I opted for a lesson so a professional could show me the ropes.

This guide to ski lessons is based on the two I’ve had at Copper Mountain in Colorado, which I highly recommend for anyone living in Denver. Copper is easy to get to and has an affordable (for skiing, not normal life) four-pack that I get each winter. I (tragically) have not been compensated by Copper to write this blog and all opinions are my own.

Don't worry, this isn't where you start out. I just wanted to use a scenic picture.
Don’t worry, this isn’t where you start out. I just wanted to use a scenic picture.

What To Bring

My guide to dressing for your first ski lesson is here. Beyond that, bring:

  • Hand warmers
  • Toe warmers
  • A comfy pair of shoes that you can walk from the parking lot to the rental desk in (this is of varying distance, but at Copper it’s about a five-minute walk). Because I’m a grown adult, I often wear my Uggs from college.
  • SUNBLOCK. Yes, in the winter! Don’t forget the bottom of your nose. Speaking from experience, it’s a place you NEVER want to get a sunburn in. Wear chapstick with SPF in it, too.
  • A good attitude. For reals, skiing is not easy to pick up. You’re going to fall. You’re going to struggle. Check your ego at the door and embrace looking like a fool for the day (or in my case, days).

What They Provide

Your lesson includes a lift ticket and rental equipment. This means a pair of skis, boots, and poles. A helmet is not included, but can be added on for less than $10, so it’s worth it to protect your noggin.

Water is also provided at the bottom of the bunny slope at Copper, and you’ve obviously got a resort full of food, albeit a little overpriced. But you’re participating in one of the most expensive sports possible so that shouldn’t be a surprise.

When To Book

Lessons are cheaper at each end of the season – think early December and late March/early April. The only drawback is that the super easy beginner section of the mountain (beyond where you learn to ski initially) usually isn’t open during either of those times. This is my one major complaint about Copper, but I’m sure it has to do with “weather” or “the limits of snow-making” or “science.”

I would recommend taking your first lesson in early December so you can get a taste at the beginning of the season. You can do a half day or full day (with a lunch break). That’s a personal choice, but I can only handle about half a day. I also have bad knees from riding horses (the other most expensive sport known to mankind) so you do you.

The Actual Lesson

If you have never skied before and live in Colorado, you will probably be the only non-tourist in your beginner group. Own it.

My first lesson, the group was small, only about four of us. The second lesson was a bigger group, about six or seven, which was not ideal. I didn’t like the instructor as much for the second lesson, but I also felt like I just didn’t get enough individual help. Yes, I know I signed up for a group lesson. But still.

At my first lesson, we started out learning the absolute basics – how to put on your skis, how to take off your skis, how to move around on your skis, how to carry your skis. Then, you trudge over to the bunny slope. This alone will get you sweating, but don’t worry they shuttle you back on snowmobiles.

Next, we went down a “hill” that barely qualified as a sloping surface, which was the perfect start. You can get a feel for the balance of skis, and you learn how to slow down and stop. You’ll also cover steering, and your instructor will make sure you’ve mastered these skills before moving onto a hill that actually does resemble something with an incline.

Don’t fret – it’s still a small hill, and the turns are very gentle. We went through a bunch of different exercises that got progressively more challenging, but everyone moved at their own pace and our instructor did an excellent job of adjusting to the very different skill levels.

You can practice as much as you want before learning how to get on the chairlift and taking on the main bunny hill. It does get pretty busy with all the other lessons, so this also helps you learn how to maneuver in traffic (although the instructors do a good job of managing this) and gives you a little taste of a slightly large hill. Still, nothing wild.

Once your lesson is over, you can use your lift ticket to go down the bunny hill as much as you want.

The Next Step

It’s really important to leave your first day feeling confident. My number one recommendation is not to over face yourself, even if you pick it up quickly. I tried going down a big green run after rocking my first lesson, and ended up crying and doing the walk of shame on foot down the mountain. Don’t be like me! Be patient. Just stick to the bunny slope for some extra practice after your lesson, eat some yummy cafeteria food, and head home feeling like you just shredded some gnar.

Once you’re ready to branch out, consult my beginner’s guide to Copper.

What you look like after a successful day of beginner skiing. There is no photographic evidence of the end of my first day...I was too busy crying.
What you look like after a successful day of beginner skiing. There is no photographic evidence of the end of my first day…I was too busy crying.

Published by Laura Cardon

Laura Cardon moved to Colorado as an adult and quickly realized how difficult it was to get started exploring the outdoors in a state full of experts. She founded Outdoor Beginner in 2014 to fill the gap in beginner-friendly content for camping, hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities. In addition to Outdoor Beginner, she coaches beginner trail runners and works at Runners Roost in Golden, Colorado, where she lives with her spouse and toddler.

4 thoughts on “What to expect for your first ski lesson

  1. I LOVE skiing! Although, my East coast blacks are probably your Colorado greens (as if I can actually accomplish a black diamond…). It is so great that you shared this experience with everybody! I have the basics down of skiing now, but I do feel like sometimes I still get a little panicky which can lead to me being out of control. I’ve found that after 4 hours of skiing, I am toast and need to get some hot chocolate. Otherwise, I definitely do the crying thing. 😉

    1. Yes, I have yet to figure out how people ski all day! I’m beat after half a day. Totally get the panicky feelings…it’s taken me a lot of practice to start getting over that. Glad you liked the blog!

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