Learning to Ski in New Zealand

So you've decided to try skiing for the first time and have chosen New Zealand as the place to learn - good choice! We'll give you a little introduction to what skiing is all about and what you need to know before hitting the slopes for the first time.

Lake Ohau ski field, New Zealand

What to consider when booking a ski holiday

Two things you should do before you start:

  • Obtain information on the ski areas, in Queenstown this would mean Coronet Peak and The Remarkables.
  • Decide on the type of ski area at which you want to learn to ski. You can learn by taking lessons at a local area on a daily basis or by combining learning to ski with a weekend or week-long vacation.

Take your first ski lesson at a ski area where rental equipment either is part of the package or is available at a ski rental shop right at the ski area. If there is any problem with the equipment or you need to change ski sizes as you learn, you want the rental shop right there, not back in the city. Once you get beyond the beginner stage, you can rent equipment at locations other than at a ski area. Both Coronet Peak and the Remarkables offer ski rental on the mountain itself.

Depending on the geographic region, it is a good idea to select a ski area with a good amount of snowmaking capability. It's your insurance policy that you'll have snow to ski on.

Call the ski area you are interested in and ask further questions about their learn to ski program or, check the ski area's web site. Then, make reservations if the area requires them. Be sure to find out what time you should be at the ski area, and where to sign up. If rental equipment is not part of the package, ask the ski area for the phone number of a ski rental shop at or near the area where you can rent equipment. Call and reserve the equipment.

If overnight lodging is involved, most resort ski areas have a central lodging reservation service that can make your lodging and other arrangements for you.

Rent equipment while you learn

While you are initially learning to ski, renting ski equipment (skis, boots, poles) is preferable to buying. As a beginning skier you'll most likely be skiing on progressively longer skis as your ability improves. The length and type of skis you learn on will most likely not be the skis you will decide to ski on.

Most ski areas and rental shops will rent you skis, boots and poles for a day or multiple days at a package price. More savings can be realized if you enroll at a ski area that combines lift ticket, lessons and rental equipment into one package.

In some situations, borrowing skis is also a possibility, but may not be the best idea from a safety or learning point of view. The skis may be unsuitable for you and may actually slow down your progress. Also, bindings which are set to a friend's specifications are probably not the setting you require. So if you do borrow skis, be sure to have the bindings adjusted to your weight and ability. Have the adjustment done by a trained technician, not your friend.

At the ski area

Every ski area, whether a day or resort area, has the same basic facilities:

  • A mountain with ski lifts to transport skiers to the top.
  • Trails of varying difficulty to ski back to the bottom.
  • A base lodge with food service, restrooms, ticket window, ski school.
  • Parking lot.
  • At the mountain or nearby are ski and rental shops, child care facilities and, if a resort area, lodging, restaurants, bars, shops and services.

Ski school: sign up for lessons

Each ski area has a location where you register for lessons. There you will meet friendly people who will instruct you on what to do, including where to obtain your rental equipment, what time your lesson is and where to meet.

At some ski areas you can take care of lifts, lessons and rental equipment in one transaction. At others, separate transactions may be necessary.

Renting your equipment

The Rental Shop is where you obtain your skis, boots and poles. Shop personnel will ask you for information about yourself, such as name, address, weight, height, shoe size and skiing ability. Be sure to tell them you are a beginner.

Some sort of deposit such as a credit card, driver's license or money will be requested as security for the rental equipment. This will be returned when the equipment is returned.

Based on the information you provide, the shop will select the proper length ski for you and adjust the bindings. Over the past 40 years bindings have come a long way to dissolve the myth that skiing is a risky business. When you rent, however, you should be accurate (that's HONEST) in telling the fitter your weight, height and ability. After all, no one wants the bindings to release correctly more than you do.

Ski boots: getting the right fit

  1. If possible, bring with you the sock you intend to wear when you ski. Use that when trying on ski boots. If you forget, most shops have a sock there for you to use.
  2. When trying on boots, nothing else (pant legs, gaiters, etc.) should go in the boot but your foot and sock. Make sure there are no wrinkles in the sock.
  3. Buckle the boots completely and stand up. The buckles go on the outside of each foot. Bend your knees and lean forward. Your heel will drop into the heel pocket of the boot. There should be limited heel lift and the front of your foot should be just about touching the toe of the boot. You should be able to wiggle your toes slightly.
  4. Rebuckle the boots tighter for a snug fit, or loosen if too tight. If your foot slides around too easily within the boot, try on a smaller size. If your toes or instep are cramped and you feel that your circulation is reduced, try a larger boot. Adjust the buckles until the boot fits snugly but comfortably. They should NOT hurt.
  5. Do not be concerned if your boot size does not match your street shoe size. Since many ski boots are manufactured in Europe, the sizing may not coincide with American shoe sizing.
  6. Keep your boots buckled securely when skiing. You can loosen the buckles when walking, not skiing, or riding the ski lift.

Attaching your lift ticket

If you are a beginner enrolled in your first lesson, you may not be required to have a lift ticket. If a ticket is required, there will be a wire wicket or other attachment device available where you obtain your ticket.

Always attach your lift ticket to a garment that you will be wearing all day, such as your pants or jacket. Do not attach it to your gloves or hat or any item of clothing that could be misplaced or broken.

Put the wire wicket or holder through a button hole, strong belt loop, or zipper pull. (If there is a chain on the zipper pull, do not attach the ticket to the chain as it may break).

Tickets are attached to the holder either by staples or by adhesive on the ticket itself. If staples are used, the ski area usually has someone there to staple the ticket on for you. If an adhesive ticket is used, then remove the backing from the adhesive and fold the ticket over the holder. Put the backing in a trash receptacle.

Most ski areas do not replace lost tickets, so be careful to attach your ticket properly and to an item that will not break. If it is on your jacket or parka, do not leave it unattended in the base lodge.

Your first lesson

Most ski areas have a beginner's area with a wide, gentle slope and a beginner's lift. At the bottom of the slope, your instructor will introduce himself and familiarize you with your equipment. During the first lesson you will learn how to walk, maneuver and control your skis by turning, slowing down and stopping. When you are ready, the instructor will show you how to ride the beginner's lift and will ski down the beginner's slope with you. After your lesson you can continue practicing what you've already learned.


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