Powderhounds will tell you the best way to enjoy gloomy Pacific Northwest winters is to hit the slopes, but if you didn’t grow up skiing or snowboarding, the thought of learning to ski as an adult can feel intimidating.
With regular practice, concrete goals and a willingness to embrace the awkward moments, though, adults can absolutely master skiing.
The following tips from Seattle-area skiers who became proficient in the sport as adults provide encouragement for those seeking a life beyond pizza and french fries — excellent fuel after a day on the mountain, but not the ideal technique for moving quickly down the slopes. Read on for more.
Hit the slopes regularly
Doris Wang, of Lynnwood, took a ski lesson in Minnesota while visiting family as a child, but she would only go skiing once or twice a year after that at Bear Mountain Resort in Big Bear Lake, California, the mountain nearest where she was raised.
“It was always starting over when I went because I just never spent enough time skiing to get good,” she said. Finally, at the age of 31, she decided to focus on developing her skills.
For Wang, now 33, the toughest part of learning to ski as an adult has been unlearning the default habits of “pizza” and “french fry” positions taught to beginners.
Similarly, 29-year-old Amber Chang, of Seattle, skied sparingly with her family as a child, but having grown up in Texas, slopes weren’t prevalent. She decided to focus on skiing at the age of 24 to develop the skills to ski mountaineer.
“I was climbing often and was tired of trudging back down the mountain and would see skiers rip past me having the time of their lives,” Chang said.
She purchased a season pass to Alpental at The Summit at Snoqualmie and made it a goal to become completely proficient on every run at the resort.
“It didn’t have to be pretty, but I had to be comfortable getting to the bottom,” she said.
To achieve this goal, Chang skied four to five days per week, including two or three days of night skiing after work on weekdays.
That repetition was key to Chang’s development on the slopes.
Cal Smith, a mountaineering instructor with Washington nonprofit Climbers of Color, which provides training and mentorship to people of color learning to climb, echoed that sentiment. “Consecutive days were an integral part to learning,” he says of learning new outdoor skills. “If we were taught how to ride a bike one day a month as a child, it would take forever.”
He added that overall fitness and health play a crucial role in developing proficiency in a new physical skill, too.
You don’t need fancy gear
When you’re just getting started, there’s no need to go out and purchase shiny new gear. Take the time to figure out what you like and start out with used gear.
The pandemic has the used ski market stretched a bit thin, as people have sought out new ways to get outdoors over the past two years. There are plenty of gold mines out there, though, you just have to look frequently and have patience. Looking during the offseason will also yield more inventory.
You can also look close to home: Wang inherited her first set of skis from her mom’s friend. “I took the old skis, got them tuned and waxed, and they ski perfectly fine!” she said.
Bothell resident Kaelee Chang — no relation to Amber, though they are ski buddies — sends friends to the PNW Ski Classifieds Facebook group, where she found her first backcountry setup for $400, including skis and bindings.
Wang has a friend who finds skis at Goodwill, and she also recommends gear shops like Play it Again Sports or The Sports Connection in Mukilteo for used gear.
Another option is to inquire if your local ski shop rents skis for the entire season. Sometimes, the shops will even discount the gear if you decide to purchase it at the end of the season.
Find your community
Finding your place on the mountain as a beginner is not always easy, especially if you are a woman, or if you are from communities of color often underrepresented in the sport.
Smith, the mountaineering instructor, suggests identifying your “why” for being out there and learning. “Do your best to focus on your abilities by being yourself and the community will come,” he said. “In this process, know that you aren’t alone, even though you may feel lonely.”
Amber Chang had a similar suggestion; she discovered her community, including mentors, on social media. She also recommends local groups like Edge Outdoors and Climbers of Color, which offer scholarships and courses to help people of color get into winter sports, including backcountry skiing.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
If you’re new to the sport, you’re bound to have a lot of questions — and that can feel daunting, especially if you’re surrounded by people who have been skiing or snowboarding for years.
Amber Chang encourages newcomers to “ask all of your questions, no matter how dumb you might think it is. Skiing is a very confusing sport to get into and it’s hard when you don’t know anything about it!”
The gear and language surrounding skiing can be very technical, too, Chang noted, and she added that social media and outdoors groups like the ones above can be a great place to find community and ask questions in a safe space.
Take advantage of beginner deals
Bothell’s Kaelee Chang, 32, took advantage of a Snoqualmie Pass offer prior to the pandemic that included three lessons, rentals for the season and a limited season pass for $500.
Given that daily lift tickets regularly exceed $100 at Washington ski areas, the bundle saved Chang a bundle.
Ski resorts took a hit during the pandemic, so deals are tougher to come by these days, but there are still some to be found.
White Pass near Mount Rainier offers an EZ Ski/Ride 1-2-3 Program that includes three days of your choosing of rentals and group lessons on easier terrain — all for $189. Once you feel more comfortable on the snow, you can opt for the Cruiser Package, which includes three lessons and rentals with access to the entire mountain for $349.
Other alternatives for those looking to hone their skills include off-hour deals: Buying weekday and nighttime lift tickets can cut costs.
Affordable ski areas
If you can swing a week (or more) to work remotely, there are a few lesser-known ski areas outside Greater Seattle with affordable lift ticket prices. Echo Valley in Chelan offers $25 group lessons and $30 full-day lift tickets; rentals are $30. Near Walla Walla, at Bluewood, adult passes are $52 at midweek and $60 for weekends. An “easy rider” ticket is also available for $35 every day of the week.
49° North in Spokane also offers an EZ Ski/Ride 1-2-3 Program (like White Pass, its an Indy Pass member) for $199, which includes lessons, rentals and a Chair 3 lift ticket for the first two lessons, plus an all-mountain ticket on the third. Students are then eligible to purchase a season pass for the remainder of the season for $149.
Kaelee Chang says a big part of learning to ski as an adult is learning to laugh.
After posting a few humorous TikTok videos making fun of herself for falling, Chang fell victim to relentless harassment from ski bros telling her she didn’t belong on the mountain. She continues to post her struggles with learning to ski, and in turn has found a community of supportive women that outshines the negative comments.
“Ignore anyone who makes fun of you,” Chang said. “People that have done this sport their whole lives have forgotten what it is like to be a beginner and try something new. You are brave for going outside of your comfort zone, don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
Take it from the experts — Smith agrees that failure is all part of the fun.
“It is OK to fail,” he said. “Time and our lives are too short to not be doing something that is enjoyable and fun. The resort and backcountry are wonderful playgrounds and classrooms for life.”