Learning to Ski with Mitch Warnick

Learn-to-Ski Checklist:

  • Used gear from gear swaps, craigslist, etc—you don't need the newest, shiniest skis, bindings, and boots. Save some skrill with smarter shopping.
  • Trusted and experienced friends—find people psyched on sharing the love! If you can't, use beer to entice them.
  • The willingness to take the time to learn—mistakes are vital to progress. Laugh a little, pick your butt up out of the powder, and try again.
  • Snow—duh.
  • Beer in the fridge for a little après relaxation—duh.


I grew up in the southeast in a family that did not ski. We were not a boring family by any means—I was raised on family vacations in the form of multi-week road trips through iconic landscapes all over the west. Still, moving to Colorado never having skied before was extremely daunting. This is, after all, the skiing capital of America, right? After a few too many seasons lived here without a single turn, I finally got over the imaginary intimidation and made it a goal to learn to ski this winter

I know you may be thinking, “but Mitch, skiing is so expensive—how can I ‘try’ a sport like this without having to take out personal loan or selling my kidneys online?” This was another big deterrent for me, but I soon discovered that a little foresight and careful shopping could make all the difference. By being patient and scoping out local gear swaps, I managed to get an AT setup (powder skis, AT bindings, AT boots, and a set of skins) for $95 and a couple of bombers of some delicious beer—yes, you read that right. Gear, check. Time to figure out this whole ‘shred the pow’ thing…

Luckily, I live in the Gunnison Valley with a bunch of folks who have tons of experience skiing. This made finding my mentor a cinch. If you’re not as fortunate, you may need to get creative. Trade climbing lessons, knit them a hat. Better yet, bribe acquaintances with beer (legitimate currency in the Mountain Standard time zone).

Now with the gear and the help—time to go skiing! I suppose everyone’s goals are different, but from the get-go my goal was pretty much all backcountry. Resorts seem fun, but expensive, and my idea of a wilderness adventure involves more trees and less people (or just less people…). This strategy certainly led to a steeper learning curve (which I am still dealing with), but also a highly rewarding and effective learning process. I mean, my second run ever was through a forest—talk about a steep learning curve.

This seems like a great place to put a ‘disclaimer’ regarding the backcountry. I have yet to go above tree line or hit major slopes in the backcountry because I have yet to take an avalanche certification course. While I have been going out with people who are knowledgeable and experienced, I will not push the limits until I have that knowledge and experience myself. Backcountry travel always carries inherent risks, so use your head.

The learning process has been filled with ups and downs (metaphorically and literally), soreness and aches, frustrations and TRIUMPH. For instance, after the hardest skin up I had attempted yet for the largest run I had ever attempted, I forgot to take my boots out of walk mode (this makes skinning easier, but skiing much, much harder). I could not properly control myself and, therefore, had to fall a lot to be sure I didn’t pick up to much speed. Frustrating, but I will never make that mistake again. However, my memory has filtered out the negative and left only the positive lessons and the feeling of having a great day in the mountains, because that is always the goal.

Without a doubt, the single most important thing (other than safety) is to have fun. Be sure you’re comfortably uncomfortable throughout the learning process. Go out with people you trust and enjoy time with (and can tolerate voluntary physical suffering the same as you). Any outdoor activity follows those guidelines—don’t lose sight of them. 


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