Are skiers the new cyclists? How to hit the slopes without irritating everyone else

friends on a ski lift
In recent years, skiing has developed a bad rap - Getty/E+

Skiing has a bad rap. Once seen as a leisure pursuit for gentlemen, it is now more the home of ski bums and bunnies. There’s no denying it’s a niche sport and seriously lacks diversity. It’s a big buck industry too, driven by revenue sheets, where boozing plays a significant role, never mind reckless behaviour on and off the slopes. Add to the debate questions of sustainability – spearheaded by arresting images of the fast-melting glaciers and ribbons of white piste through brown fields – and there’s a stacked list for the prosecution.

Ask passionate skiers and snowboarders to defend their passion and they will say nothing beats it. So how can enthusiasts clean up their acts and be proper ambassadors for snow sports? Here’s how to combat the most common bad habits, dispel the misconceptions, and become a stand-up citizen on the slopes.

1. ‘Skiers don’t follow any rules’

Do you know the rules of the piste? Were you even aware they exist? Of all the challenges facing the winter-sports industry at the moment, improving piste safety is an easy one we can all contribute to, says Amie Henderson of Morzine-based campaign Piste X Code.

Skiers and snowboarders
Knowing the rules of the piste is vital - Stone/Getty

Know your right of way; look before you slide. Respect the piste signs. Japan and America are much better at policing the slopes and enforcing the rules – reckless skiers can say goodbye to their lift pass. It’s something Henderson is campaigning for, with on-piste behaviour “out of control this winter”. Why? “An excited return to the mountains following Covid-19 travel restrictions, or perhaps the challenging snow conditions this winter,” she ventures. “Watch the videos, learn the rules – the mountains must remain a fun, safe place for families, for groups, for everyone.”

How to break the habit

Get up to speed with the rules. Check FIS guidelines, and visit Piste X Code, which has great learning assets for children.

2. Improve your technique

The high cost puts many off from taking lessons with a professional. What’s more, piste maintenance is so improved, as is technology, that there’s much less need to ski technically, with two-metre-plus-long skis and perennial moguls (thankfully) a thing of the past.

Expert skier
Skiers of all levels should be trying to improve their technique - Digital Vision/Getty

But having better technique is something we should all strive for, no matter our level. “It’s important to take a lesson each holiday to identify and correct any bad habits that have crept in,” says independent ski instructor Mike Richards, based in Hokkaido, Japan. “And it’s the safest and quickest way to feel the enjoyment of moving around the mountain under control. Factor the cost of a lesson or two into your holiday, as you would ski rental or a lift pass. Remember, the smaller resorts tend to offer cheaper tuition.”

How to break the habit

Local ski schools are the first port of call, but consider booking platforms like Maison Sport or Ski Bro if you’re short on time or money. They work a little like dating apps – pick your instructor ahead of time to set up bespoke lessons to suit your timings, group size and budget.

3. ‘You have all the gear, and no idea’

Do you really need to own all that kit if you ski once a year or less? It’s expensive, it’s bulky to store, it’s superfluous. EcoSki estimates that one ski jacket has a carbon cost of 72.7kg of CO2-eq, uses 2.08m3 of fresh water and 992MJ of primary energy (roughly the same energy needed to run a fridge/freezer for a year) in production. When it inevitably reaches landfill, that same jacket can take up to 500 years to break down.

Junior skiers
Renting ski gear can save money and is good for the environment

Most holidaymakers rent their skis, snowboards or boots – so why not the rest? It’s a growing trend and ideal for growing kids, all for a fraction of the cost, keeping quality clothing in circulation for longer.

How to break the habit

EcoSki is a clothing-rental company stocking high-performance skiwear by big brands. Rent everything from helmets, goggles and gloves to jackets, backpacks and avalanche safety kit. Plus, EcoSki sorts the cleaning (in an eco-friendly Ozone chamber), repairs and waterproofing.

If you do buy, make it a smart purchase. Arc’teryx leads the charge in sustainable skiwear. Its ReCARE tips are invaluable for extending the life of technical ski kit, and this month Arc’teryx opens the first service centre in Europe, offering free care and repair on existing gear in Covent Garden.

4. ‘You think you’re an influencer’

Social media makes the mountains so much more accessible, with drone and GoPro technology used to capture extreme lines ridden by professionals, showing us what (and sometimes exactly where) adventurous skiers get their kicks.

Ski slope selfie
Social media has made an impact on the slopes - Moment/Getty

This easy-access content runs the risk of normalising the extremity of these situations, leading aspiring skiers deep into backcountry terrain. The “no fall zone” – sections in which mistakes could have serious consequences due to rocks, cliffs, steepness – is well documented and is no joke, but its gravity can be lost through the lens, fooling amateurs into thinking they can handle the terrain.

How to break the habit

Remember your head, and know your limits. As locals say “the mountain always wins”, and we’re there to enjoy, rather than conquer them. If in search of adventure or the ultimate selfie, ski with a guide – someone who knows the terrain and understands the conditions. They change day-to-day, year-to-year, so be mindful that even well-known slopes can surprise you.

5. ‘Skiers are drunk and disorderly’

Experts estimate more accidents in ski resorts happen off the slopes than on. Table dancing in ski boots, piste-side Jägerbombs at 1,500m (altitude heightens the high), champagne spraying at the Folie Douce – as winter reaches its peak social media is flooded with the antics of drunken (admit it) Britons on the slopes.

Drinking a beer at after ski
Alcohol has long been a part of the après ski experience - Getty/E+

Despite the general perception, these scenes don’t represent the masses or the future – a recent survey suggests nine out of 10 Britons don’t enjoy après ski as much as they used to. While après is still a big part of skiing, it looks a little different these days, with resorts offering far more than just skiing and schnapps. Even the biggest party resorts (Ischgl or Mayrhofen) are trying to shift their reputation and pull in the family crowds.

How to break the habit

Sledding, ziplining, fat biking and snowshoeing are pretty ubiquitous to winter mountains now, with downtime in spas and (local) wine tasting as popular as traditional après-ski. Try something new this winter.

6. ‘You’re killing the mountains you care so much about’

Hypocritical skiers have been called it all – how dare we complain of shorter, warmer winters when we’re the ones building ski lifts and catching flights to ride them. Worried about the impact of your carbon footprint on the ski holidays you love? All is not lost.

How to break the habit

The easiest way to make a big change is to consider taking the train. Ski Flight Free is an information hub for how to ski more greenly when it comes to transport. What’s more, the Italian ski area Vialattea (the Milky Way) offers 25 per cent off lift passes to those arriving by train. Pick a resort that’s making changes and championing sustainability too – in France, some are easily identifiable by the Flocon Vert label (Combloux, Les Angles, Morzine), while Companie des Alpes (the lift company that runs Paradiski, Les 3 Vallées and the Espace Killy) uses 100 per cent biofuel to power its piste bashers.