If you’re reading this, you’ve probably never skied before or maybe you can count the number of times that you have on one hand. A beginner skier myself, I can count the number of times I’ve skied on not one, but two hands. Even considering my greenhorn skiing status, I have had the opportunity to ski at a number of beautiful resorts in the west, including Aspen’s Snowmass and Jackson Hole’s Mountain Resort.
Skiing means different things to different people: a sport, a means of transportation, or what it means to me, a recreational activity. To the beginner, though, skiing and everything that accompanies it can be quite intimidating— just wait until your skis are pointed downhill at the top of that first knoll.
My own initial feelings of apprehension gave me the idea of compiling some tips I wish I’d been given while taking baby steps towards the rental counter, swarming behind which were the prying eyes of ski professionals— very cute ski professionals.
Whether you plan to be a skiing professional or just want the ability to keep up with your friends when the snow falls, this crash course will help you navigate your first time skiing in Flagstaff, from visiting the rental store to shredding the slopes.
Rentals and Gear
Start out with some rentals. You don’t know if you’re going to love it or hate it, and the sport isn’t cheap. Most ski and snowboard shops around Flagstaff provide two options for rental gear, performance or demos. Performance skis are more specialized for all weather and for beginner skiers. Demos can also be good for a beginner but include more “state of the art” technology. Demos are usually new and include the products a store keeps on their shelves seasonally. Demos are for those who have more knowledge of skiing than beginners and are great for someone who is possibly looking to buy skis of their own.
First Chair Rentals on Humphreys has demo rentals for $45 a day and a cheap $23 for a performance ski package. Ski Haus and Peace Surplus provide the same amenities ranging from $37-$45. Jackets, snow pants, gloves, and other gear can also be rented at most locations for around $10-15 respectively.
Most everyone in the Flagstaff area is aware of Arizona Snowbowl, known as the “largest beginner terrain in the Southwest.” Snowbowl boasts an average of 260 inches in annual snowfall and is a quick ride from downtown Flagstaff. Not having a ride is no excuse. Flagstaff provides a vast and trustworthy bus system that links the campus to the city and the city to the mountain. Students can find free transportation to Snowbowl by way of the Mountain Express, a free shuttle service that leaves from the Fort Valley Parking area every half hour. You can find more info on shuttle times here. NAU students can also ride the route 10 bus which has stops throughout campus to connect with the mountain express.
A convenient way for students to learn to ski is through the FIT Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding course offered by NAU for credit. The course gives instruction to beginners through advanced riders and is taught by Snowbowl staff. It includes 14 half-day lift tickets, 11 lessons, and 3 days to ride or ski on your own. At the end of the class, students who have a passing grade receive a season pass for the remainder of the ski season. A link to more information on the class can be found here.
Another great opportunity is the “Learn in Five” program that Snowbowl offers. The program includes everything for a proper introduction to skiing or snowboarding. At a rate of $199 per person, the package allows participants to choose five days in the season to attend introductory lessons. When all five days have been completed, participants receive a free season pass for the remainder of the current season. The only rule is that participants can never have previously purchased a season pass or lift ticket at Arizona Snowbowl. This is a steal considering season passes at Snowbowl can get as pricey as $700 come midseason.
Snowbowl provides daily classes in the morning and the afternoon, no reservation needed, excluding some weekends and holidays. The going rates for these classes are $49 for a two-hour lesson and another $23 to extend that lesson an extra two hours. The size of lesson classes can vary due to the no reservation policy, though private lessons are available by reservation. Snowbowl also offers a free lesson with the purchase of one full-day ski pass, which can be redeemed online. More information on lessons can be found online at Snowbowl.
Navigating the Mountain
My first time skiing, my biggest fear was getting on a lift that took me up some mountain I couldn’t get down. And that happened. After skiing a few days in Jackson Hole, I wanted a step up from the green runs I had been skiing and misread the map. Once you’re up there, the only way to go is down. If this is how you learn best, be my guest, but if you don’t want to make the same mistake I made, get to know the run map and its colors.
Most mountains run on a color guide that includes green, blue, red, and black runs. The intensities of these vary, but essentially green is the easiest route down, blue is a level above that, red indicates intermediate, and black is advanced. It’s not uncommon to see a black diamond run--but we’ll leave that one to the experts.
Known for its beginner-friendly status, Snowbowl provides a variety of runs for beginner and more advanced skiers alike. Pay attention to the routes, and don’t be afraid to ask a ski patroller or liftie. Remember, getting overzealous can get you hurt, so take it easy and enjoy the ride. Snowbowl boasts a long season, with more than 100 days of riding. This season's closing date is April 28, 2019, and it is projected to open again November of 2020.