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How to Look Like a Pro Skier Even When You’re a Complete Beginner

Heading to the mountains for a ski holiday? Try not to look like a complete lemon when you hit the snow with these expert tips.
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Daron Rahlves is undoubtedly one of the world’s coolest skiers. Photo: © Atomic.

Heading to the mountains for your first ever ski holiday? Lucky you. You’re about to be initiated into of the world’s most exciting sports, in one of its most stunning environments. Yes, okay, you’re also going to unleash an avalanche of money from your bank account, and bore your non-skiing friends stupid for weeks on end when you get back. But believe me, it’s worth it. Winter will never be the same again.


But Can You Promise Me One Thing Before You Go?

Try not to look like a complete lemon when you hit the snow…

Being a complete beginner in an environment where everyone else seems to know what they’re doing is intimidating enough at the best of times, but you don’t want to make life more complicated than it need be by committing the most common faux pas.

You need to take equipment and clothing loans from your skiing friends with a pinch of salt, too. Yes, they’re a great way of saving money… but don’t let them dig too deep into their lofts in their bid to help you.

That pair of white Salomon rear-entry boots (SX92 Equipes – anyone remember them from the ’80s?) they’re offering you? A pair of robins probably nested in them last year and they’ve suffered from terminal plastic fatigue for the past three decades.

Ski Retro is cool. But this isn’t retro, it’s fodder for the landfill section of the council dump. And those 1980s salopettes, complete with braces, are going to produce guffaws of disbelief in the lift queues from your fellow skiers, as well as no longer being waterproof.

Here are some of the most common dos and don’ts of the slopes:


Get The Jacket Right

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Not so cool. Photo: © Cappi Thompson/Shutterstock.

Wear a real ski jacket with your ski pants. Not a shooting jacket, sailing jacket, poncho, waterproof windcheater, packaway mac or anything else that isn’t specifically designed for wintersports. We once saw someone skiing in a houndstooth shooting shirt and tie – the mind boggles.

No onesies unless you’re under 25, no jackets and pants in gold or silver, and no patterns which match on both jackets and pants. In fact any outfit which screams “look at me” is probably not a good idea when you’re a beginner. After all, everyone’s going to look at you…and see you’re doing a snowplough.


…And Zip It Up Properly

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…and don’t leave your jacket flapping in the breeze. Nothing shouts louder: “I’m a complete beginner and I’m in a muck sweat!” You’ll get snow down your trousers and up your top, and the jacket will get in the way and could even become caught on a lift. Don’t roll up your sleeves, either – after all, this isn’t 1980.


Do Up Your Boots

Don’t walk around with boot buckles open, the straps trailing along the ground, and your pants bunched up on your calves. By all means loosen your boots in the restaurant at lunchtime – but afterwards, make sure you clip them up firmly. Beginners: watch this video about how to get boots on for the first time and remember not to tuck your trousers inside!


Carry Your Skis Correctly

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Wrong way round. Photo: © Volt Collection/Shutterstock.

They should be carried over your shoulder, with the bases facing each other and the tips pointing forwards, bindings resting just behind the shoulder. An exception is for uphill hikes when experts will probably choose to strap their skis onto their backpacks for the climb.

Highlights of ski carrying no-nos include The Scissors, The Rifle, and The Bundle of Wood. And we’ve even witnessed The Water Buckets – which is someone carrying them across their shoulders with a helmet dangling from the tips.

When you turn around to talk to a friend whilst carrying skis on your shoulder, just make sure there is no one behind who could be knocked out cold.


Hold Your Poles Properly

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Fencing with poles? Photo: © Volt Collection/Shutterstock.

Push your hand up through the loop and then hold onto the pole – any other way and you could hurt your thumb in a fall. Many instructors advocate holding the poles (never called ‘sticks’) over the loops when skiing off-piste, so that you won’t anchor yourself down in a fall in deep snow, and you’ll be able to get rid of them easily if you were unlucky enough to find yourself in an avalanche.

Don’t use their straps as part of a complicated ski carrier arrangement, and don’t hold them with the sharp bits facing upwards or the wrong way around, like swords. They can be dangerous pieces of equipment, in the wrong hands.


Avoid The Punter Gap

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Wrong! Photo: © Karelnoppe/Shutterstock.

In case you don’t know what that means, it’s the space between your goggles and helmet (or hat, if you must wear one). It’s cold, you’ll get a weird stripe to go with your goggle marks, and it doesn’t look professional. Get rid of it.

And don’t wear a beanie under your helmet. It completely negates the safety of wearing a helmet. A helmet should fit snugly, and you’ll probably end up with a headache if you try to squeeze a woollen hat under it. If you’re cold, then buy a thin helmet liner; but never wear the helmet liner on its own.


Don’t Bother With Snowblades or Gimmicky Equipment

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No thanks. Photo: © Gorilla Images/Shutterstock.

Remember how Prince Harry was once photographed on snowblades? He didn’t look cool on them either. Snowblades are for people who like comedy ski helmet covers (see Novelty Hats below) and are trying to convince the world (and themselves) they’re wild and crazy guys – not paperclip salesmen.

Everyone else would rather stay on skis, thanks very much. After all, most of us only have a week’s holiday. We don’t want to waste a day wibbling about on slow little sort-of-skates which provide almost no grip on icy pistes and are impossible to schuss in.

If you do want to try something different, why not go tobogganing instead? Or fat biking? Or cross-country skiing? That way you’ll leave the downhill pistes clear for the rest of us.


Don’t Wear a Face Mask Unless It’s Frigid

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Non-no. Photo: © Joppo/Shutterstock.

Let’s face it, you’re not a gangster, are you? You’re a card-carrying member of the affluent west who’s wealthy enough to holiday in the mountains in winter. So put the bandana away and leave the pretence to the park rats. At least they’ve got an excuse. Most of them are teenagers.

The only time face coverings make any sense is when you’re somewhere really cold (-15C or below) – and then they should be made of marino wool (best) or neoprene (not as comfortable). Someone I know once skied at Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire where the resort ‘boasted’ that it was -80F (about -62C) that day, with a wind chill that ripped straight through any clothing. In those cases it’s best to ski straight down and stay indoors!


Don’t Use Gaiters

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Photo: © Hideyourarms

Does anyone still wear them? Do you still have some lurking at the back of a drawer? Get rid of them now – they’re a 1980s fashion item that was sometimes worn over jeans and is never likely to come back.

Incidentally, don’t wear denim when you’re skiing or snowboarding. However good a skier you are (ok, so you might not fall over), you will freeze – or at least your jeans will. And snowboarders will have permanently soaking bums.


Don’t Wear Novelty Hats

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No way Santa. Photo: © Lightwavemedia/Shutterstock.

Nothing screams “no-hoper” louder than a silly hat. It’s the kind of garment people don when they’ve decided they hate skiing, and will never be any good at it, so they might as well try to be funny instead. It’s not funny. What’s funny is the complete lack of grit they’ve shown on the slopes.

The most common examples of non-comedy headwear include jesters’ hats (with bells on), hats with brightly coloured ‘hair’ or spaghetti on top, reindeer antlers, rhino horns, Santa hats (unless you’ve been employed to be Father Christmas), flat caps or baseball caps.

Children under the age of ten are, by the way, exempt from this rule.


Do Wear a Backpack

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Photo: © TVB Zermatt/F.Schenholm.

Not only is it useful for carrying all those extras like spare gloves, goggles, or another layer, but you can also pack a bottle of water, a picnic lunch, or even a first aid kit in your rucksack.

The only problem is that sometimes you’ll find you’re the only one in your group wearing one…in which case everyone will want to put their spare bits and pieces in yours. So pack it out with a couple of items of light and bulky clothing (fleeces are great in this respect), and tell everyone that you’d love to help, but…


…And To Show You’re Awesome, Try These

Loop your ski poles over the foot-rest of a chair-lift on your way up (read: “I’m a ski instructor”)

Try going no hands on a button-lift (read: “I’m an experienced skier with good balance”)

Schuss a long path sitting on your skis, with your bottom touching your calves (read: “I’m incredibly fit and flexible”)


Here’s a Canadian Take on the Subject…


What Do You Think It Takes To Look Cool On The Snow?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments box below.

About the author

Felice Hardy

Felice was one of the founders of Welove2ski and regularly contributes, as well writing for a range of other publications including The Evening Standard, The Guardian, Conde Nast Traveller, Tatler, Harpers Bazaar, Country Life, BA Highlife and House & Garden. She started skiing at the age of three. She also enjoys hiking with her dogs and mountain biking in the Alps.


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  • One of the best and most entertaining features on Welove2ski – and that’s saying something. Really enjoyed that ! Arnie Wilson (who doesn’t always get it right himself !)

  • Fun read but I have to put my two cents in as a pro skier (not ski instructor, that’s not beeing a pro)

    On the contrary, buckles tighten at all times is a beginner giveaway, good skiers unbuckle as soon as they reach the bottom. Why? Because boots should be fitted so tightly when skiing that you must unbuckle to get the circulation going again. Look at any racer or other pro skier (except jibbers) pretty much all do it.

    Neoprene might be good but no pro would be caught dead in one, merino wool or nothing regardless of temperature. And don’t forget, it’s a excellent sun block. My experience says that 90% of professional big mountain skiers wear one almost all the time, but not always covering your whole face. average age in the early 30s.

    Backpack yes, but primarily for avalanche equipment and first aid kit. I never ride with people who don’t have this and they need to know how to use it.

    Carrying your skis, I want to add on that when walking close to people or turning around, push your tips down so your tail will be way overhead of anybody. Also, pay attention on the ski stoppers, the one ski that have the ski stopper inside the other goes on top, preventing your top ski from sliding forward. Indoors, or very crowded, take your skis down and use them like a walking stick.

    Other than that valid points.

    Well one little thing, the title says “how to look like a pro skier” but later it says no matching setups or stand out colours, pro skiers often wear clothes that stand out, “hey look at me” colours. Mostly because it works well on photo and film, I had a shoot with a black and grey line and the photagrafer was not happy about that, he made me change into an other setup, no contrast, not pop in the images otherwise. But yeah, people will look so the best way is to just get good… Fast.

    And if course, if you have rental bindings you might as well just go with it, you will look like a beginner regardless, that said, it is ok. Go out and have fun, that’s all that matters.

    Dont know why I put so much into this… I’m bored… Need snow.

  • Reine, this feature is not really aimed at actual pro skiers who will already know all about equipment. It is also meant to be a light-hearted, amusing read! Thanks for your valid point about carrying skis.

  • So many of my pet hates… #1 has to be the open jacket though.. Inexcusable!! Closely followed though by those who carry skis tails first over the shoulder.. this invariably ends with skis like open scissors ready to cause chaos. Wise words Christine.

  • Dont tell beginners to wear backpacks! Their balance is bad enough without that weighing them back. Also santa hats are fine if its christmas day. Skiers are too judgy i think we should just accept newbies making mistakes that they correct over time

  • Mainly good advice, and a good site.
    I dont agree about the ‘punter gap’ between lid and googles. Close that and you block the ventilation gaps on your googles, which can then mist up, particularly when slow moving.

    I’d add ‘get a carry strap’ – a strap with two loops which lets you carry skis on your back, leaving both hands free.

  • “Dont tell beginners to wear backpacks! Their balance is bad enough without that weighing them back.”

    A small backpack is the most massive benefit that I do now that I didn’t do in the past. It makes no significant difference to balance, and relieves anxiety of wondering if you will be too hot or cold (carry or store extra layers), or need to drink or eat.