When I decided to move to California I pictured dramatic coast lines, wine country and beautiful national parks. Mountains and snow did not feature in my vision! I’ve never been skiing or snowboarding before, having previously favored city weekends or sunshine holidays, but I was willing to give it a go.
I should start off by saying going to ‘the mountain’ seems like an institution for San Franciscans. While taking a winter stroll around our neighborhood between the hours of 3-6pm on a Friday evening, I witnessed on every corner people loading their cars with ski wear and snowboards. Winter sports are a big thing here, and with the mountain just 4 hours away (on a good run) why wouldn’t they be?
There are 17 ski resorts around Lake Tahoe. For beginners the largest resort, Heavenly, offers lessons and the biggest range of beginner and green runs for practicing on. This in turn means it’s also the busiest resort by far.
I skied for three days in total, with lessons on the first two mornings and then a full day to practice. I found this to be the perfect amount of time for a beginner. Although my way more experienced friends spent a fourth day on the mountain, by that time my legs where in agony and I couldn’t bear the thought of another day in uncomfortable rented ski boots!
By coincidence, both of my lessons were taken by English instructors, including one guy who grew up two streets away from my Mum in Liverpool. I would have loved to know how they both ended up as ski instructors in California, but the classes were quite large (up to ten people) so there wasn’t much opportunity for chit chat. Private lessons are available at a massively inflated price. For a complete beginner, I think a group class is perfect as you can watch the others in the group and learn together. I also recommend watching some videos on YouTube (lots are available) to get an idea of what you’ll be doing when you get onto the slopes.
By the end of my first day I was ready to hit my first run! Only I got mixed up between the beginners slope and a green run, which meant I fell over three times on my first time down. This turned into two times on the second run and by the 4th I was skiing down unaided without stacking it, which felt brilliant.
A second day of practicing turning in my lesson led to a whole afternoon on a green run with no falling over. My advice here is to speak to the instructor before the lesson to make sure you’re in the right group. At Heavenly, there are between 4-10 lessons going out at any one time, so it’s easy to switch to one more suited to your ability. I didn’t and regretted it.
By the end of day two, if you’ve been doing it right your leg muscles will be angry and sore. As a beginner, the position you need to hold to slow yourself (known as ‘pizza’ to kids or ‘the plough’ to adults) is unnatural and takes a toll on your legs. The tiredness is a good feeling though, and you’ve earned that pizza!
I spent day three on the mountain practicing what I had learned on my first two days and building up confidence. The key to learning to ski, I think, is confidence and not letting the fear get to you! It’s pretty unnatural to be sliding down a mountain on wooden planks, so it’s difficult to relax at first. After the third day I have to admit I was sold on skiing and hope to be back next year!
The downside of skiing is the expense. Once you’ve booked lessons, bought a lift pass and rented your equipment the costs really start to mount up. Although as a total beginner it wasn’t worth investing in boots or a lift pass (I might have hated it or been a really terrible skier!), next season I hope to buy a lift pass and ski boots as they pay for themselves in 2-3 trips.
At South Lake Tahoe, we stayed at the Marriott Grand Residences. As a first timer, it paid off to be right next to the ski lift so I didn’t have to lug my equipment too far! The facilities, such as an outdoor heated pool and hot tub were also fantastic. However, next time we will definitely look into a hotel on the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe (which are cheaper) or get an Airbnb.
Here are some of the places I would recommend to eat at in South Lake Tahoe and what you need to pack as a first-time skier!
Where to eat in South Lake Tahoe
The Naked Fish – amazing Sushi and yummy cocktails
Basecamp Pizza – huge range of great pizza, although they don’t take bookings so prepare to wait
Basecamp Hotel – casual food such as hotdogs and mac n cheese. Great beer selection!
What to pack for a first-time skier
- Neck & head warmer (I got this cosy neck warmer)
- Ski socks
- Toe and hand warmers (pre-order them from Amazon)
- A thermal undertop and several layer such as t-shirts and fleece tops (one set per 2 days)
- Leggings or thermal underwear (for under ski pants)
- Ski pants and jacket
- Gloves and glove liners
- Complete change of clothes (including underwear) for the evening, casual is fine
- Decent shoes/walking boots for getting around the town if it’s icy!