Skiing for beginners: Tips for where to start and what to do

A ski instructor at Breckenridge Ski Resort works with students.
Andrew Maguire/Breckenridge Ski Resort

Starting out as a beginner skier or snowboarder can be intimidating. After renting the proper gear, purchasing a ski pass and arriving on the mountain, where do you start, and where do you go after you tackle the bunny hill?

Summit County is home to four ski areas: Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Breckenridge Ski Resort, Copper Mountain Resort and Keystone Resort. All four ski areas have designated bunny hills or beginner areas as well as green or easy-rated runs to graduate to. The ski areas generally recommend that first-time skiers and snowboarders take a lesson to start out and learn basic techniques.

Eric Zerowin teaches new skiers and snowboarders as well as instructors at Breckenridge. He explained that as first-time students learn on the magic carpet, a surface lift that moves along a gentle slope, they usually aren’t brought farther up the mountain until they have a lot of balance and control over their skis or board.

Before a student moves from the beginner area to a green-rated run on the mountain, Zerowin said they need to be able to ski forward with parallel skis and then come to a stop, just as they would to unload a chairlift. He also wants people to be able to effectively steer left and right before moving from the beginner area. Zerowin uses freestanding metal benches at the beginner area so that new skiers and riders can get a feel for unloading a chairlift.

When teaching skiers to load and unload a chairlift, Zerowin makes sure they understand that they need to hold their poles in one hand, rather than use the poles to stand up, and to lean toward the tips of their skis. For new snowboarders, he teaches people to lean toward the nose of their snowboard, push their back foot up against their back binding when standing and to make sure that their board is perpendicular to the lift so that they will glide straight.

“A huge piece of advice for both skiers and snowboarders is resisting the urge to stand up too early,” Zerowin said. “A lot of people, when they get to the top of the chairlift, they feel like as soon as their equipment touches the snow they have to stand up. When your equipment touches the snow, you actually still want to remain seated, and you don’t want to stand up until (you get to) the yellow line that says ‘unload here.'”

What locals say about the best beginner areas

“Kokomo and Lumberjack terrain at Copper. Go from the carpet to Kokomo easy green runs. Then on to Lumberjack and some rolling terrain which is perfect for terrain-based teaching. There is also Green Acres out of Center Village with poma and chair access.” — Jim Schutz

“If they can ‘load,’ the Ranger lift at the top of Keystone gives access to Endeavor and Scout, (plus) you get to ride the gondola up and down. Keystone is the family friendliest mountain in Colorado!” — Dave McPherson

“Silverthorne at Breckenridge, long and low pitch. Great learning terrain after getting off the carpets. Negative is on pow days you may not move at all.” — Ryan Whiteneck

Quotes are in response to a social media post in the One Man’s Junk Summit County Facebook group.

An instructor at Keystone Resort works with a group of snowboarders.
Photo by Ben Lindbloom / Keystone Resort

Keystone Resort

Keystone Resort is known for being fairly family friendly with lots of green runs. The resort’s beginner spot is the Discovery Learning Area, which is in the Mountain House base area and features magic carpets and a chairlift. Keystone spokesperson Loryn Roberson said the learning area is a great place for people to get the hang of things. It allows novices to practice making turns with wide-open spaces and a gradual slope. After gaining confidence in the learning area, Roberson recommends heading to Dercum Mountain to the Scout beginner run.

“That is right off of our Ranger lift,” Roberson said. “It’s one of those shorter runs, a little bit of a mellow grade and allows them to get the hang of things. But the benefit of Scout is that it’s on top of the mountain so they can still get the beautiful views.”

Scout can be repeated by continuing back up the Ranger lift. If that’s as much as a new skier or rider can take for the day, they can get back to the base area via the River Run Gondola. If a new skier or rider is ready for some progression, they can move from Scout to the Ski-Daddle beginner run, which branches off from Scout. Then, skiers and riders can make their way back to the base area via the Schoolmarm beginner run.

At 3 1/2 miles long, the entire run is a designated safety zone, which is meant to give beginners space and the option to go at their own speed. Skiers and riders also can cut over from Schoolmarm onto the Last Chance or Silver Spoon beginner runs, which take people to the Montezuma Express lift, where they can continue to practice on Schoolmarm or Scout.

Breckenridge Ski Resort

The lower parts of Peaks 8 and 9 offer beginner terrain at the Breckenridge Ski Resort. Lessons are run out of both areas. Roberson explained that the lower Peak 9 area offers accessible and easy terrain to learn on and that beginner skiers and riders can then “graduate” onto upper areas of Peak 9, where there are some rolling blue (intermediate) runs.

Zerowin said beginner lessons at Peak 9 use the QuickSilver SuperChair to access the Silverthorne, Red Rover and Frontier beginner runs. When bringing beginners onto Silverthorne, instructors will use King’s Way for skiers in particular. It’s another green-rated run that avoids the steeper section at the end of Silverthorne. On Peak 8, Zerowin said instructors will use the Rip’s Ride chairlift for beginner skiers and riders and typically take skiers down Trygve’s beginner run and snowboarders down the Dyersville beginner run.

A skier learns from an instructor at Copper Mountain Resort's Green Acres.
Photo by Curtis DeVore / Copper Mountain Resort

Copper Mountain Resort

At Copper Mountain Resort, the terrain is naturally divided with some areas being more suitable for beginners and other areas appealing to advanced skiers and snowboarders. Olivia Butrymovich, the communications coordinator at Copper, wrote in an email that beginner and easy terrain is accessible from Copper’s West Village. From the magic carpet area, beginners can progress to the Kokomo Express or the Lumberjack lifts, which both serve several beginner runs. From the top of the Timberline Express lift, newer skiers and riders can make their way to the bottom via the Soliloquy and Roundabout beginner runs, which in total make up 2.8 miles.

“Green Acres is also a great spot for beginners looking to get in some easy laps near Center Village,” Butrymovich wrote. “Green Acres is perfect for first-time skiers and riders looking for a small hill with an easy pitch where they can get comfortable and adjust to using their equipment.”

An instructor and student make their way down the mountain at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area.
Photo by Ian Zinner / Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

While Arapahoe Basin Ski Area is better known for its expert terrain, the ski area still offers opportunities for beginners, including the Molly Hogan learning hill, which features its own chairlift.

A-Basin spokesperson Katherine Fuller wrote in an email that of the ski area’s four green-rated runs, Wrangler and Sundance are the main beginner runs. Both have their own short catwalks to bypass the steepest sections.

Fuller explained that the beauty of these two runs is that they offer new skiers and riders a chance to take the area’s main lift, Black Mountain Express. This allows riders to experience the views of the ski area’s frontside terrain and meet more experienced friends and family members at the Black Mountain Lodge for lunch.

Wrangler and Sundance also offer access to A-Basin’s easiest tree runs: intermediate-rated TB Glade, Lynx Lane and Weasel Way offer a step up for skiers and riders who feel comfortable trying a tree run. From the green runs, Fuller recommended progressing onto High Noon, one of the ski area’s easiest intermediate runs.

This story previously published in the winter 2020-21 edition of Explore Breckenridge & Summit County magazine.

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