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by Ambassador Alex Parsons
The first time you go skiing or snowboarding can be overwhelming - even before you get on the snow! There's so much to organise in advance, so many layers to wear and gear to buy or rent. To help take some stress out of your trip, here's a handy checklist for your first snow trip from a snowboard instructor (that's me).
The things you should never leave home without!
Lift pass: Buying this online and for multiple days can save you money. You'll also be able to save time instead of queuing at the ticket window. Many resorts also offer lesson and rental packages online.
Sunblock: Essential to avoid a hideous goggle tan. I use an SPF15+ foundation every time I ride and use sunblock on top if it's a sunny day. The winter sun in the mountains is harsh!
Lip balm: The cold and wind can wreck your lips so get a moisturizing lip balm with sunblock included.
Phone: You'll be needing this for taking photos, catching up with friends and maybe calling ski patrol (make sure you save your local ski patrol's number!).
Wallet: Because money.
For your first trip you'll probably be hiring your gear or borrowing from a friend. If you opt to rent, the ski shop will help you size your gear, but in case you're borrowing or buying your own gear, be sure you have a good fit. Here's what you need for both snowboarding and skiing:
Boots: You want boots to fit super snug, so with some brands you may go down a size from your regular shoe size. Make sure they're done up properly as a well fitted boot makes snowboarding easier. Brands I've used include Nitro, thirtytwo and Burton.
Board: As a rough guide go for one about chin height and a softer, more flexible board is best for learning on. I started out with a flexy park board by GNU and moved through a Salomon board to my all time favourite Yes Hel Yes, which is suited to more advanced riders.
Bindings: These don't matter too much at this stage as long as they're not super old and falling apart. They'll probably come already attached to your board. Most snowboarders swear by Flux or Union bindings. If you're borrowing gear from a friend, test to be sure your boots fit into the bindings before heading up to the slopes.
Skis: Look, I'm not an expert here as I'm a snowboard instructor, but I hear that skis around chin to shoulder height are best for beginners. A softer, more forgiving ski is also good to start on. The ski shop will help you properly size your skis for your level.
Bindings: Like snowboard bindings, these will come already attached to your skis if you're hiring/renting. The main thing to look into is the DIN setting. This is the release force setting, which is designed to let your ski boots come out of the bindings when you fall. A lower DIN setting is best for beginners but don't try to change it yourself - ask the rental people or another professional as the wrong DIN setting can result in some nasty injuries. If you're borrowing skis, you can take them into the shop on the hill and ask them to check your DIN setting for a small fee.
Poles: It's actually best to not have poles if you're starting out. They can be a real distraction, you'll rely on them unnecessarily and they can lead to injuries.
Ideally your outerwear will be the right mix of practical and stylish as hell!
Snow jacket: Look for waterproof, snow-specific jackets. I like ones with a hood, vents, lots of pockets and a long-line design to avoid snow getting down my pants. I've loved jackets by the New Zealand brand RPM, Volcom and the eco-warriors Patagonia.
Snow pants: Waterproof pants are essential, especially for beginner snowboarders who spend a lot of time sitting down. Your pants should have an inner boot gaiter and an outer layer, both of which go on the outside of your pants to keep snow out.
Gloves/mittens: Mittens are warmer but don't allow as much finger movement. High quality mittens that are warm and waterproof will keep you much happier throughout the day. These can't be rented so you'll need to buy a pair.
Protective equipment is great when you're starting out. It reduces your chance of injury and gives you more confidence - and confidence is key in snow sports.
Helmet: Say yes to a helmet! Even if you're not going that fast to begin with, you will fall at some point and could run into a tree or other obstacle. Plus there will be some people flailing about, wildly out of control on the hill so it's better to be safe than sorry. I wear a Giro Combyn helmet because it's designed to withstand multiple impacts instead of just one (like most helmets). A rental shop should provide a helmet along with your rentals.
Goggles: These will help protect your eyes from snow, wind and sun. I'd recommend goggles over sunglasses but some form of eye protection is an absolute must, because the sun reflects off the snow and makes it extra strong, leading to legit eye sunburn. Remember, goggles are one of the things you can't hire so you'll need to bring your own. Smith, Electric, Dragon and Oakley do particularly awesome goggles.
Butt pads: Highly recommended for beginner snowboarders. Burton do some good ones that include impact gel.
Knee pads: Great for preventing bruises during falls.
Wrist guards: Data suggests that wrist guards really do help to prevent or minimize wrist injuries, which are one of the most common injuries in snowboarding.
Avoid cotton layers at all costs as they hold on to moisture and make you cold. Opt for fitted thermals made out of wool or synthetic materials. If you don't have any snow-specific gear, opt for nicer activewear over sweats and hoodies.
Hat or beanie: You'll need something on your head, even when you're not snowboarding. When it comes time to ride, wear just a helmet or a beanie under your helmet.
Snow socks: Snow-specific socks are ideal as they're long and not too bulky. Never wear two pairs! Le Bent are my all time favourites but you can easily pick up socks in bulk from the ALDI snow sale.
Thermal pants: On warmer days yoga pants or non-cotton leggings will do just fine but if you live somewhere freezing you'll want proper snow thermals.
Thermal top: Look for a long-sleeved top as a base layer. Rojo and Mons Royale are my top picks for thermals.
Mid-layer: This is a thicker layer that goes over your thermal layer and under your snow jacket. You might like a woolen jumper, light synthetic jacket or vest. Or if you run hot you might not need a mid-layer - it really depends on your own thermostat and the weather on the day.
Sports bra and underwear: You'll be moving a lot and probably getting sweaty so choose underwear that you'd wear to the gym.
Snacks and/or lunch: Snowboarding in the cold burns a lot of calories so snacks may be your best friend. Mountain food is generally very over-priced so if you're on a budget it'll save you money to bring your own snacks and lunch.
Phone battery pack: The cold does weird things to batteries. If you're planning on taking a lot of photos and posting to social media you'll want a spare battery back for re-charging on the go.
Tissues: The snow sniffles affect a lot of people, myself included. Tissues are always preferable over using one's sleeve.
Facemask: This will protect your face from cold, wind and sun. I never snowboard without one.
Earphones: Listening to music while you ride may not be the best idea for your first time as you'll want to be aware of your surroundings. But it can still be good to listen to music when you're on a chairlift in order to psych you up or help you relax and ride to the best of your ability.
Car chains or snow tyres: Depending on where you live these might be compulsory to have on your car, or at least compulsory to carry (as it is with chains in Australia). Do your research, know what you need and how to put them on so you don't get caught out in a snow storm!
There's just one more thing you need for your first time skiing or snowboarding - a lesson! Snow sports are not very intuitive, meaning it's rare for people to 'just give it a go' and figure it out by themselves. Getting a lesson will save you so much time, pain and embarrassment. Plus they're fun, you can ask heaps of questions and most instructors are really awesome people!
Hope to see you on the snow some time,
Little Cat (Alex)
p.s. Would you like to read more snow tips and thoughts from a snowboard instructor? Check out BigWorldLittleCat.com