Your Beginner Ski and Snowboard Gear Guide
In addition to being exceptionally friendly, FMS employees are diehard skiers and snowboarders. Head into any FMS location and chat up the shop folks about snow conditions, the best restaurant for après, and the greatest gear available.
By Paddy O'Connell
Updated November 2023
It’s the first day of your freshman year of high school. You nervously stand in the cafeteria, lunch tray in hand, thinking Where do I sit? Who do I talk to? Is everyone staring at me? Is it obvious that I’m scared and don’t know what I’m doing?
Now, replace that lunch tray with a pair of skis, and this could be your reaction to your first day on snow. But fret not, friend, we’ve built this guide with plenty of helpful gear tips and tricks to ensure your day is filled with grins. Skiing is all about fun—and if you’re smiling, you’re doing it right.
Skis and Snowboards
Just like that high school cafeteria filled with tables and people, gear shops have tons of skis and snowboards. So, how do you choose the right one? Your height will be a great tool to determine the best ski or board.
Shorter, smaller snowboards are typically best for riding the terrain parks. Longer, wider boards are best for deep snow. Something in-between will be a perfect choice for groomed trails. (Die-hard snowboarders and skiers will actually own multiple boards and skis that are specific to snow conditions, often referred to as their “quiver.” But for your first on-snow wiggle session you’ll want a “do everything” ski or board.) Ask your board tech to set your bindings in a neutral stance (your body’s natural standing position). Then if anything feels uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to have them tweak it. It’s a quick and easy adjustment.
A ski that is around 90-millimeters underfoot (the measurement of the width of the ski directly under the ski boot, also referred to as the ski’s “waist width”) is perfect for every trail and snow condition. Here’s a helpful trick to easily match your ski to your ability level: Stand the ski upright. If the ski tip is at chin level, it’s perfect for beginners; nose equals intermediate; anything above the eyebrows is an expert length. Shorter, skinnier skis are easier to maneuver and control, while longer, wider skis float extremely well in deep snow. Ask the gear store’s ski tech to show you things like early-rise rocker (flexible upturned ski tip and tail), camber (a springy arched shape), and different tip and tail shapes that will suit your ability level and snow conditions.
Work With the Team at Four Mountain Sports
Work With the Team at Four Mountain Sports
At the base of every mountain—Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass—is a beacon of gear and knowledge: Four Mountain Sports. In addition to being exceptionally friendly, FMS employees are diehard skiers and snowboarders. Head into any FMS location and chat up the shop folks about snow conditions, the best restaurant for après, and the greatest gear available. And don’t be self-conscious: let them know you’re a beginner so they can properly set you up for your day. Being new is exciting and high-five worthy.
If you’ve never shoved your feet into a ski or snowboard boot, you’ll likely be surprised by the snug fit. We’re not wearing flip-flops out on the slopes, so adjust your comfort expectations. Your footsies definitely do not need to feel like they are being processed into sausage, though. Boots should never make your feet go numb or be painful to wear, so if your “Ouch!”-meter is hitting 11 in the store, it will not get any better on the snow.
Eric Satre, the Lead Technician at Four Mountain Sports in Snowmass, says if you’ve never worn a ski boot before, “get ready for the weirdest ‘footwear’ you’ll ever stick your feet into.”
“It should fit snug everywhere like your whole foot ankle and lower leg is being gripped by a firm handshake,” says Satre, who has worked as an instructor and tech for more than thirty years “The boot’s job is to immobilize your foot as much as possible so every nuance of movement by you as the skier translates to control over the skis.”
Then there’s the whole idea of a boot’s “flex number.” Though it may seem counterintuitive, a lower flex number indicates a softer boot, which is easier to ski in. “This is ideal for lower intermediate and beginning level skiers,” says Satre. “As ability increases, so does speed. And also, as the terrain gets steeper, a stiffer boot becomes more appropriate.” In which case, the flex number in your boot will increase.
What about those buckles? According to Satre, buckling starts at the top around the shin. Get that tight and comfortable, then move down the boot to the other buckles. “The forefoot buckles (the ones right by your toes) really only need to be tight enough to close and seal the shell so water, ice or snow wont leak into it. And so as that your foot can't slide side to side. Overtightened, these buckles will leave you with cold numb toes, or worse! Slightly snug is warm and comfortable.”
Clothing and Outerwear
It’s winter and you’re in the mountains. Snow is flying around. It’s cold. You’ll need clothing that’ll keep you warm, but never hot and sweaty. Remember, skiing and snowboarding are physical activities—you're going to heat up, so don’t over-layer.
Midweight and thin merino wool base layers and socks will keep you warm without overcooking your biscuits. A lightweight mid-layer, like a fleece or a wool sweater, will be plenty warm for days in the 20s and 30s (Fahrenheit). Stay away from cotton hoodies and t-shirts. Cotton gets wet and stays wet while wool, fleece, and synthetic layers dry quick and stay warm. When temps hit the teens or single digits, you’ll likely need a midweight puffy jacket under your ski shell. And keep this in mind: If you need to unzip your jacket and dump heat while you’re booting up, chances are you’re going to turn into a sweaty mess while skiing.
Snow is just water pretending to be fancy, so waterproof jackets and pants are a must. Be on the lookout for outerwear that has GORE-TEX and DWR (durable waterproof repellent) fabrics. Some often-overlooked but essential pieces of gear that are keystones of great ski days are waterproof mittens or gloves, a facemask or neck gaiter, sunscreen and wind ointment, lip balm, and anti-fog goggles (these will come with a microfiber goggle bag, which you should keep in a pocket in your jacket so it stays dry; use it as a lens wipe). And whatever you do, don't go anywhere without a snack or twelve. Nothing stops a ski day quicker than an empty stomach.
These are just some basic equipment recommendations. The number one piece of gear to ensure a more-memorable-than-your-first-kiss day on the slopes is a good attitude. Skiing is the best—but it’s not always easy. Chances are, you’re going to have some difficulties. But the entire point of skiing is to have fun (and drink hot cocoa). Be safe, smile so big it touches behind your ears, and remember to laugh often. Skiing is definitely going to be a lot better than your first day of high school.
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