Learning to ski or snowboard can be intimidating for any first-timer, especially when you're surrounded by the world-class terrain and world-class athletes that call Aspen home. But, the beauty of our four mountains is that they offer something for everyone - young and old; novice and expert; and everyone in between. We all have one thing in common that unites us; a love of snow.

If you're lucky enough to be getting your first turns surrounded by the beauty of the Elk Mountains, you're sure to have a memorable time and return home transformed. To make your experience even better, we've created a comprehensive guide for first time skiers and snowboarders that includes everything we wish we knew before embarking on the journey of learning to ski and snowboard as adult beginners. Like any great adventure, it always pays off to plan ahead. Consider this your pre-lesson reading material; kick back, read on, and get ready to experience the magic of skiing.

Ski & Snowboard Vocabulary

Ski & Snowboard Vocabulary

Every sport has its own vocabulary, but skiing and snowboarding takes it up a notch. Before you find yourself asking "what did you just say?" here is a primer on some of the most likely lingo and catchphrases you'll hear on the slopes.

BUMPS

Bumps carved into the snow; typically they are created by the turns of skiers, but they can also be carved out for perfectly shaped mogul field. Also referred to as “moguls.”

Bunny Slope

This phrase refers to the flatter slopes where beginners learn their first turns. Graduating from the "bunny slope" is always a memorable moment for skiers and snowboarders. First time skiers and riders are encouraged to take lessons at Snowmass and Buttermilk. At Snowmass, our "bunny slope" is at Elk Camp Meadows. At Buttermilk, it's at the base of the mountain and lovingly referred to as Panda Peak.

Cat Tracks

Relatively flat paths used by Snowcats to move around a mountain. These are often used by skiers and snowboarders as well to reach different areas within a resort.

Din

A tension release setting on your ski binding which is calculated based on your height, weight and skiing ability. The higher the din setting, the harder it is for your foot to release from your binding (a good thing for advanced skiers, a bad thing for potential injuries). When you pick up your ski rentals, the sales attendant may ask you “what is your din setting?” You can simply tell them that you’re a beginner skier and would like a low din setting.

Grooming

The most common form of trail maintenance, done to spread new snow and to smooth over bumps, icy patches and other obstacles. To groom, tractors known as Snowcats drag giant rakes over the snow; on steeper slopes, winches are used to drag rakes up the incline.

Liftie

Staff that operates our chairlifts and gondolas, and assists skiers and riders to get on the chairlift safely. Also checks for ski passes.

Magic Carpet

A moving conveyor belt that transports skiers uphill, best for beginners on a gentle slope.

Quad

A chairlift that seat for, versus a Triple or Double or Single, some are high-speed detach, others are fixed grip.

Six Pack

Slang term for a chair lift carrying six people.

Ski Patrol

Trained staff of skiers and snowboarders responsible for slope safety, including clearing areas of possible avalanche danger after a storm, marking dangerous obstacles on/near a trail, and assisting or even carting injured riders down a mountain.

Skier's Left

Used to describe the area to the left of someone heading downhill. Think “stage left.”

Skier's Right

Used to describe the area to the right of someone heading downhill. Think “stage right.”

Traverse

To ski across a hill, not dropping in elevation. You usually find yourself traversing when trying to relocate to a new area or lift on the mountain.

Tree Line

Elevation above which trees do not grow, snowfields and rocky mountain tops. Around 11,000 - 12,000 feet in our area

Wind Hold

When chairlifts and gondolas are closed because it’s too windy to operate safely.

Gear and Getting Ready

Gear and Getting Ready

Bluebird Day

Conditions: Chilly, but crystal clear blue skies and bright sunshine.

Bluebird day - gear to wear - Beginner's Guide to Skiing by Aspen Snowmass
Bluebird day - gear to wear - Beginner's Guide to Skiing by Aspen Snowmass

The Gear:
Base layers – Leggings or long underwear on bottom (think yoga pants or similar), cold-weather long sleeve sweat-wicking athletic top on top
Mid layer – Fleece jacket or a lightweight puffy
Top layer – Waterproof snow jacket, waterproof ski pants
Accessories – Goggles for high light, gloves, glove liners, chapstick in pocket, sunscreen, sunglasses in pocket for après

Spring Day

The conditions: Warm and sunny, with the chance of cold winds and occasional bursts of snow.

Spring Day gear suggestions - Beginners Guide to Skiing by Aspen Snowmass
Spring Day gear suggestions - Beginners Guide to Skiing by Aspen Snowmass

The Gear:
Base layers – Warm-weather sweat-wicking athletic top on top, Base-layer pants are optional since your waterproof ski pants may keep you warm
Mid layer – Not necessary
Top layer – Lighter, waterproof top layer; waterproof ski pants
Accessories – Goggles for high light, gloves, chapstick in pocket, sunscreen, sunglasses in pocket for après

Powder Day

The conditions: Cloudy and snowing consistently throughout the day.

Powder Day Gear for Beginner's Guide to Skiing by Aspen Snowmass
Powder Day Gear for Beginner's Guide to Skiing by Aspen Snowmass

The gear:
Base layers – Leggings or long underwear on bottom (think yoga pants or similar), cold-weather long sleeve sweat-wicking athletic top on top
Mid layer – Fleece jacket or light down jacket
Top layer – Waterproof snow jacket, waterproof ski pants
Accessories – Goggles for low-light, neck gaiter/buff, gloves, glove liners, chapstick in pocket, hand warmers in pocket
  • For skiing, you should plan to rent a pair of skis, ski boots, ski poles and a helmet. For snowboarding, you should plan to rent a snowboard, boots and a helmet. For either skiing or snowboarding, you should plan to buy goggles, which are not available for rent. Buying a helmet can be a good idea as well, as fit and comfort can really improve your day.

    Our friends at Four Mountain Sports can hook you up with all of it, and our friends at the Ski & Snowboard School can show you how to use it!
  • In addition to renting, you will need to bring gloves, sunglasses, as well as all of the clothing suggested above. Goggles need to be purchased in advance or in-resort as they are not available for rent. Most rental packages include skis/snowboard, poles and boots. Helmets are available for rent or purchase separately. To check out a full selection of gear available for rent or purchase, visit Four Mountain Sports.
  • For skiing, you should plan to rent a pair of skis, ski boots, ski poles and a helmet. For snowboarding, you should plan to rent a snowboard, boots and a helmet. For either skiing or snowboarding, you should plan to buy goggles, which are not available for rent. Buying a helmet can be a good idea as well, as fit and comfort can really improve your day.

    Our friends at Four Mountain Sports can hook you up with all of it, and our friends at the Ski & Snowboard School can show you how to use it!
  • In addition to renting, you will need to bring gloves, sunglasses, as well as all of the clothing suggested above. Goggles need to be purchased in advance or in-resort as they are not available for rent. Most rental packages include skis/snowboard, poles and boots. Helmets are available for rent or purchase separately. To check out a full selection of gear available for rent or purchase, visit Four Mountain Sports.

When Should I Visit?

When Should I Visit?

One of the things our guests love most is the variety of the four seasons here, but that doesn’t stop at spring, summer, fall, winter - every month offers something completely unique. We broke it down for you to choose the best time for you and your group to make the trip!
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November

Aspen Mountain and Snowmass typically open for the season in November. November offers the opportunity to give thanks in a magical destination while skiing on select terrain. The resort typically has limited terrain open as conditions allow, which means you can save big — lift tickets prices are typically low and the resort offers several packages and deals.
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December

Moving into December, conditions typically improve allowing more and more terrain to open, expanding your opportunities for adventure. Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk typically open in early December. Early December is also a great time to take advantage of packages and deals to get the most bang for your buck. Then, in late December, the towns of Aspen and Snowmass light up as we approach the holidays. The holidays are a magical time here and are our busiest time of year for good reason!
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January

In January, snow conditions start to peak and you’ll have runs all to yourself since the holiday crowds have left. This month is the perfect time for a romantic getaway or luxurious winter escape. Gay Ski Week happens during mid-January, providing many opportunities to celebrate as well.
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February

February and March compete for the best snowfall most years, so if you love a good powder day, these months are your best bet! February continues to be a quieter time here and you’ll avoid the crowds of spring break.
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March

In March, festivity is the name of the game. As spring breakers make their way to the mountains, there are an incredible list of events, après parties, concerts, family friendly activities, and more to make the most of every day. The days are longer, the air is warmer, and everyone is here to have a good time.
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April

April is the locals’ best-kept secret here as the long days, plentiful sunshine, and warm weather make skiing like a day at the beach! Après parties are happening throughout the resort to celebrate ending an incredible season and kickoff the start of the next. April is also a great time to take advantage of packages and deals to save up for your trip back next year!

Preparing for the Mountains

Preparing for the Mountains

Aspen and Snowmass Village both lie at about 8,000 feet above sea level (roughly 2,400 meters). The top of Aspen Mountain, however, is 11,212 feet (or 3,417 meters) while our highest in-bounds elevation — the top of Highland Bowl — is 12,392 feet (3,777 meters). In other words, there isn’t a lot of oxygen to take in if you are not used to it.

The good news is that our bodies eventually adjust to elevations over the course of a few days, but everybody is different. Learn more about altitude sickness from the Cleveland Clinic.
Altitude icon, skiing beginners guide
Altitude icon, skiing beginners guide

Altitude

The higher you go in elevation, the less oxygen there is to breathe, which means your body has to work harder to get the oxygen it needs to function. Symptoms of altitude sickness include headaches, nausea, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping. Mild fatigue is normal, but if symptoms increase, your only remedy is to go to a lower elevation and you should seek medical help if the symptoms are severe.

In order to avoid altitude sickness, you should do the following:

Acclimate: Take it easy on your first day at Aspen Snowmass and allow your body to adjust to the altitude before you enjoy a night out or a big day on the slopes.

Drink water: And we mean A LOT of water.

Rest: Allow your body time to catch up to you and replenish your oxygen stores.

Get low: If you do start to feel altitude sickness coming on, return to lower elevation at the base of the mountain and call it a day.
Sunscreen icon, skiing beginners guide
Sunscreen icon, skiing beginners guide


Sunscreen

Higher elevation means higher risk for sunburn, even in winter. Colorado is lucky to have over 300 days of sunshine a year, so be sure to apply sunscreen before you head out on bluebird days.

Stop by to see one of our ambassadors around the mountain and grab some free Supergoop sunscreen (and maybe some apple cider to hydrate too).
Alcohol icon, skiing beginners guide
Alcohol icon, skiing beginners guide

Alcohol

Be aware that alcohol WILL hit you harder while you’re at altitude. You should plan to take it a little easy at après and drink slightly less than you otherwise would at home until you get your bearings. You’ll thank yourself later!

In addition, make sure you are staying hydrated and drink water throughout the day and night. The mountains are a lot drier and you'll find yourself dehydrated quicker than at home. With alcohol in the mix this problem can be compounded even more, so make a conscious effort to sneak water in on all your ski breaks.

Types of Snow Conditions

Types of Snow Conditions

Bluebird Day

Also known as the best of both worlds: great snow to ski on, blue skies overhead. The weather is rarely “dreary” in this part of Colorado. It will snow, and when it is done, the clouds will clear and the sun will stay out until the next storm.

Corduroy / Groomed

A common slang term for the grooves found on a recently groomed trail created by a snowcat or grooming machine. Called as such for the obvious resemblance to the fabric. Groomed terrain is a smooth and even ride and it's considered enjoyable to almost everyone. You can find out which trails are groomed by checking the daily Snow and Grooming Report on the Aspen Snowmass App.

Corn Snow

Springtime snow; the repeated melting and refreezing of the snow results in corn-sized icy snow crumbs.

Crust

Refers to a frozen layer either covering softer snow or buried under a fresh dusting of snow.

Dump

Slang term for a noteworthy snowfall of fresh powder; A t-shirt with the staple slogan "I love big dumps" can be found in many ski tourist towns.

Frozen Granular

Older snow that has frozen together, typically a result of being groomed repeatedly.

Hardpack

A term for snow that has been densely packed due to repeated grooming or skiing and the lack of fresh snowfall.

Packed Powder

Term used to describe relatively new snow that has been groomed or ridden over repeatedly and thus is harder than powder. Less scrupulous resorts will define virtually all snow, regardless of actual conditions, as packed powder.

Powder

Fresh, dry and lightweight snow that for many is the Holy Grail of skiing and snowboarding. Large amounts of fresh powder make for epic skiing conditions.

Wind Packed

A term used to describe snow that has been compressed by the movement of the wind.

White Out

Heavy snowfall, and the accompanying conditions, making it impossible to see more than a few yards in any direction.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What's après ski?

The daily ritual of hanging out with friends in the late afternoon after a day of skiing. A round of drinks and appetizers is usually involved. While the phrase may be borrowed from the slopes of the French Alps (where “after ski” is every bit as important as “ski”), we like to put our own local spin on the tradition. Hotspots for àpres include Ajax Tavern at Aspen Mountain, Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro at Aspen Highlands and Elk Camp Restaurant at Snowmass.

Learn more about favorite après hotspots.

But Which Mountain Should I Ski?

Aspen Snowmass is composed of four different mountains with their own ski areas: Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk. We recommend Snowmass or Buttermilk to all beginners or first-timers because they feature a wide variety of beginner terrain as well as a "bunny slope" area ideal for getting your bearings on snow. Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands do not have any beginner terrain, nor do they have bunny slopes, so they are a great place to visit on your next trip back to Aspen Snowmass when you are confident on snow! Still not sure? Click here for additional details about each of our mountains.

How can I keep my feet from hurting or getting cold?

If you’re skiing, unbuckle your boots before you get on the lift after each run to let blood circulate to your feet and warm them. Then re-buckle your boots again at the top when you exit the lift and begin your next run.

What is the best way to carry skis?

Ah yes, the age-old question on how to get around with skis. The easiest way is to slide your skis together, then rest the space between the bindings on your shoulder while supporting the base of the skis with your hand. In your opposite hand, carry your poles (and boots, if you aren’t wearing them).