Greg Alexander

Don’t Be Afraid – Hit the Slopes

Baltimore Sun, November 9, 2008

Swooshing down the slopes, the wind in your hair, darting back and forth while admiring the picturesque mountains and the powdery snow … skiing and snowboarding can be relaxing, therapeutic and exhilarating – all at the same time. However, if you are a first-timer or someone who hasn’t hit the slopes in a few years, it can also be a terrifying and nerve-rattling experience.

“Skiing or snowboarding for the first time can be very intimidating. Everything about it can seem foreign from the equipment to your clothing. It’s like going to a foreign country,” says Anne Weimer, spokesperson for Liberty Mountain Resort ( in Pennsylvania. Weimer says one of the most common misconceptions beginners have that helps feed their fears is that everyone else on the mountain is more experienced than they are. “Even in the equipment rental area, we see beginners there who have that look that says, ‘everybody else knows what they are doing except for me.’ It’s simply not true. At Liberty, over half of the people there on any given day are in the same boat as you are. We’re definitely a learn-to resort for both skiers and snowboarders.”

Lori Epp, spokesperson for Wisp Resort ( in Garrett County, Md., agrees. Epp notes that Wisp Resort is a very family-oriented resort making it beginner-friendly for the first-time skier or snowboarder. “Almost half of our slopes are for beginners – 41 percent of the terrain levels are for beginners and 28 percent for intermediate,” Epp says.

Before hitting the slopes, Weimer urges beginners to “ask lots of questions, even in the rental area. Don’t be too embarrassed to ask which boot goes on which foot – we’ve heard it all, and we are here to help. It’s also OK to express any fears you may have to our staff. Remember, you are not the first beginner here at Liberty. We want you to have fun and be safe – that’s our daily goal.”

What should I wear?

The clothing worn by skiers and snowboarders runs the gamut from high-end ski suits and bibs to college kids in torn-up jeans and sweatshirts. “Ski clothing can be quite expensive, and for a beginner, that is a significant investment, especially if you don’t ski often. That’s why last year we started offering rental clothing. It’s a great way to try it out, see if you like skiing and if you do, then you can buy what you need later,” says Epp.

Michael Valach, director of Skier and Rider Services at Wisp Resort, stresses the importance of dressing in layers. “People have a tendency to overdress. While it can be windy and cold on the mountain, wearing bulky, heavy clothing is not a good idea. When you overdress, you end up sweating, which can cause dehydration. Keeping hydrated is really important, especially with snowboarding,” Valach says.

“You don’t need to run out and spend a lot of money on a litany of new clothes, but waterproof pants are a must,” says Liberty’s Weimer. “Chances are, you’re gonna fall down and get wet, especially with snowboarding as you sit down a lot to get on and off the board. Whatever you do, don’t wear jeans, which when they’re wet, won’t dry. You’ll be cold and when wet jeans stiffen, it hinders your mobility. Also, with jeans, there is a tendency to tuck them in your ski boots since they probably won’t fit over them. When you do this, it creates pressure points in your ankles, which is very uncomfortable. Also, don’t wear multiple pairs of socks; ski and snowboard boots are insulated.” Weimer also notes that the retail shop at Liberty has a wide range of prices, so if you forget your gloves, you can opt for a cheap or expensive pair.

A hat, sunglasses or goggles and an extra pair of clothes for the ride home – or back to wherever you’re staying at the resort – are also recommended.

Learning the ropes, err, slopes

For both kids and adults, a private or group lesson can make all the difference for beginners, not only to ensure your safety but also to make your day more enjoyable. Epp urges beginners to call Wisp Resort first as there are many packages specifically tailored to beginners that include hotel accommodations, lift ticket, a lesson and equipment rental. “Not only are these packages discounted, but it also eliminates the need to go to several different outlets once you get to Wisp, which can also be a little intimidating. It just makes the whole process smoother,” says Epp, who notes that Wisp has a “Learn To” program where adults save $20-$40 off the all-inclusive package price if they ski or snowboard after 2 p.m. At Liberty, Weimer notes that a “Learn To” package is being offered through Dec. 23 for anyone over 8 years old that combines a life ticket, lesson and equipment rental for $39. Both resorts are also official Burton Learn to Ride Centers with specific snowboarding instruction programs for kids, adults, women and freestyle boarders.

Whatever package or route you go, insiders stress the importance of a lesson or two. “Taking a lesson from a certified instructor, not your friends, can make your experience so much more enjoyable. If you learn how to ski or snowboard properly from the beginning, you will have so much more fun,” says Weimer. At Wisp and Liberty, all instructors are certified through the Professional Ski Instructors of America and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors. Most ski resorts offer both private and group instruction. “Private instruction will obviously be more expensive, but you can take them at any time. With the group instruction, class size is small and we group people together by age and similar ability level. The group lessons are not ‘cookie cutter,’ everyone is taught differently,” says Weimer, who adds that Liberty’s carpet lift for beginners is less intimidating than a chair lift system.

“We group kids together by age and have a Mini Rider program for snowboarders ages 6-7, as well as a Mountain Rippers program for kids 8-14 for skiers and snowboarders,” says Epp. “For our kids programs, our No. 1 rule is ‘No parents allowed.’ We find that parents can be a distraction for kids trying to learn, and the kids interact better.” Valach says that Wisp uses younger instructors for the kids’ lessons, as they tend to relate better to children. “We keep children’s groups small – usually 2-5 kids per group and offer a half- or full-day program,” Valach says. With the full-day program, the package includes lessons, rentals, lift ticket and lunch, allowing the children to spend all day together and create new friendships.

At Liberty, the Children’s Learning Center, Weimer says, is great for kids under age 12. “It’s a fun themed area on its own part of the mountain with a separate are for check-in. We also have a great ‘Ski with Me’ program where parents take the lesson with their child, and while the lesson is for the child, the parents learn how to instruct their child best.”

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