How Long Does it Take to Learn to Ski (TIPS & GUIDE)

Learning how to ski as an adult seems to be either a terrifying or terrific prospect for people looking for a new sportive challenge. If you think you need to be a hard-wired adrenaline junkie, or have completed a 16-week workout program before you can go on your first ski trip – fear not.

So, how long does it take to learn how to ski? Led by an experienced ski instructor, in an established resort with the right facilities (competent rental equipment specialists, separate beginners’ area, etc.) it takes 3-5 days for adults to be able to do an unassisted easy blue (or green) run.

As a decade long ski inusiast, I know skiing to be a very inclusive sport, as long as you are willing to enjoy yourself in nature and are not afraid to look a bit silly at times.

How Long Does it Take to Learn How to Ski: Timeline

Even though international ski curriculums slightly vary from country to country, you can expect the following progress during your first few days.

An average lesson will usually last 2-3 hours, some ski schools provide all-day lessons for groups as well. If you have booked a private lesson, you can book as many hours as you please.

Days 1-2

  • Getting used to the equipment, ability to stand, turn and step on the flat with all your gear on without falling
  • Sliding in the flat, “skate steps” how to hold your poles, basic “snowplow” or breaking the motion
  • Sidestepping up the hill, sliding on a minimal incline, breaking, coming to a full stop both in the flat and on the incline
  • Learning how to fall, and how to stand up on the incline with your gear on, what to do if you need to step out of your gear or lost it during the fall, how to get back into your skis standing sideways on the hill
  • Learning how to use the lifts (button, T-bar, chair, gondola)
  • Basic speed control (varying of breaking angle, varying of terrain)

Days 3-4

  • Snowplow turns
  • Basic alpine position. Finding the position of skiing that gives you maximum flexibility to react and to move with maximum stability (this is a tricky one)
  • Snowplow turns into parallel traversing (if you are a fast learner)
  • Radius control and speed control in varying terrain

How to Prepare for Skiing for the First Time

Skiing is known as an “open environment” sport, and by that I don’t mean the fact that it largely happens outside, but that its environment is determined by a multitude of controlled, unpredictable and personal factors.

These multiple factors are the reason skiing seems so fascinating, yet intimidating at the same time, but if you prepare yourself for them, I guarantee anyone can have a fabulous time learning how to ski.

Controllable and unpredictable factors in learning how to ski

A lot is going on when you learn how to ski. If you are apprehensive about your first few days on snow, make sure to at least prepare for the things you can control

Controllable Factors Uncontrollable Factors
Time of day you take your lesson How busy the hill is that day
Gear Group Size
Fitness level Weather  

 Controllable Factors

  • Time of day you take your lesson: book your lesson when you naturally feel fittest (morning, afternoon?).
  • Gear: rental shops will give you appropriate beginner’s gear, just like cars, never buy a pair that you haven’t test-skied before.
  • Your general fitness level: make sure you plan your rest times. It is often better to take some time off for rest and recovery, then to power through and hurt yourself. The best rest timing is usually after day 2.

 Uncontrollable Factors

  • Weather: make sure to study the weather forecast so that you wear the right layering and are not too hot or too cold.
  • Group Size (if you have not booked a private lesson) and age average.
  • Type of snow you are on: the most common are: fresh, icy, packed, artificial, slush, bumpy
  • How the new type of physical exertion will impact your body/fitness level: a lot of people are surprised by how their body reacts to altitude, the new movement, and the mental stress (fear, impression fatigue) 
  • How busy the hill is that day: you might find yourself tiring in lift lines or have the whole area to yourself. It depends on the time of day and year, weather, etc.

Determine your preferred learning environment

You are likely to have just as wide variety of reasons to learn how to ski, as you have characters in your travel group, and knowing which type you are will determine how you should best go about learning how to ski:

Maybe you like the sociable, relaxed aspect of skiing. You want it to be an enjoyable and easy activity during your mountain holiday and the perfect excuse to tuck into the starchy alpine dinner in the evening.  If so, make sure you book an adult beginners’ group. The ease of learning in a playful, sociable environment will be beneficial to your advancement.  

Or, are you more the naturalist type? Are you primarily in it to breathe in the fresh mountain air, marvel at the beauty and majesty of imposing alpine views, and simply want to be outside and move about in nature? Consider sharing a private lesson with your kids or your family. It will give you time to enjoy the environment while you can catch a breath when it’s your kids’ turn to fall.

Maybe you are the third, and often most excitable type, and you see it as a sportive opportunity to challenge yourself. You like the idea of mastering a new skill, and maybe even benefiting from the effects of high-altitude training for your running routine once you’re back home. In this case, make sure to book a private lesson with an experienced instructor and you will spend the day focusing on skills and covering as much slope length as possible.

So, before you book a class, and before a clever sales and booking agent can convince you to buy the most expensive lesson package there is, determine which scenario you will feel most comfortable in. Then, tell your instructor what you hope to achieve during your lesson, and what needs you expect him or her to cater to primarily. This will determine the method your instructor will use to teach you how to ski.

How ski resorts are set up and important things to consider

Most resorts will have a prominent ski school. Sure, if you like it more exclusively, you can ask either at your hotel, or ask around town to find more “boutique” ski schools, but this really only makes sense if you are looking for private lessons, and you want extra services such as shuttle bus pick-ups directly from your hotel or an instructor that is ready for you “on-call”. As you may expect, these services will also hike the price of your lessons significantly.

If you simply want to have a good time and competent instruction, it is usually best to go to the main ski school provider. They will also have rental services attached.

Dependant on your height, weight, level of fitness and experience in snow and ice (maybe you have ice skated before or have general experience with snow in its many forms), the rental service will provide you with adequate gear.

It is crucial that your skis are not too heavy or long in the beginning so you have an easier time maneuvering them. Your ski boots will feel terribly tight and heavy and restrictive in the beginning, but trust me, believe the rental people when they say they should feel tight. You will get used to them.

If your boots are too loose, it will create muscle pain in your calves, plus blisters and bruises. Also, you will get cold quicker and nobody wants frosty toes. Your boot is responsible for transferring the pressure you try to impact on the ski, and the more direct (i.e. tight) that happens, the easier it will be to ski.

Once you have your gear and booked your appropriate lesson, the ski school will tell you where and when to meet for the lesson, and the name of your ski instructor.

Usually, you are responsible for buying your own lift pass. It won’t be included in the lesson price, so make sure to get your pass before the lesson starts!

How to read a piste map

DifficultyColor
Easiest runsGreen or Blue
Intermediate runs Red
Advanced runs Black
Highly advanced runsDiamond or Double Black

Every resort numbers its runs, so you should always know where you are, and with a bit of getting used to, it is relatively easy to have good orientation on the mountain.

Make sure you agree on a meeting point with your friends or family at the end of the day or your lesson. Phone batteries often die in the cold, and you want to make sure someone knows when you are supposed to be somewhere, in case something happens and you are unable to make contact.

Once you have learned turns, and how to come to a full stop even on the incline (meaning you don’t need a flat area to take out your speed, but you have enough control over your skis that you can stop in the steep whenever you want), you should be able to do green or blue runs.

Often, at the end of the ski day, especially in a busy resort, you may even consider taking the red run as your last run down, if you are feeling confident.

Ask your instructor first, but often a smooth, empty red run might be easier to master, than a crowded bumpy green run with lots of beginners flailing about, patches of ice, and nowhere to escape to.