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Ski Instructor Offers Tips for Hitting the Slopes

By Jakob Schiller
Tuesday December 23, 2003

For some, the holiday season means shopping, eating, and relaxing with a cup of warm cocoa, but for others—me included—it means the start of ski season. 

The same storms that brought recent rains to Berkeley have dumped good snow on the Sierra, and there’s no better opportunity to take that well-deserved time off, pack up your snow gear, and head for the slopes. 

As a former ski and snowboard instructor, I thought it might be helpful to provide a guide of sorts, laying out everything you will need to create a successful trip. Whatever your snow toy of choice might be—skis, snowboard, sled or saucer—the following suggestions should help you enjoy the warmest and funnest time in the snow. 



The first secret to staying warm is layering. Contrary to popular belief, bulkier doesn’t necessarily mean warmer or more effective. With the right layering scheme, you’ll not only stay warm, but also be able to adjust to the elements as they shift, which often happens. 

The first layer should always be a whole-body liner. Long underwear, unlike the red flannel longjohns of yore, is now both super thin and much warmer. With several materials to choose, the industry standards are polypropylene and silk. Both keep you warm by hugging your body, keeping heat in while wicking moisture away to keep you dry. 

The next layer for your feet should be a good pair of ski socks. No need for bulky wool socks. Today’s ski socks combine materials (60 percent polyester, 40 percent wool for example) to ensure warmth along with comfort. Besides, there’s nothing more painful than a thick, cramped sock stuck in a plastic ski boot for hours. 

Advances in outdoor clothing go far to render the elements null and void, leaving several options for pants and upper body clothing. 

Gore-Tex, in my opinion, is by far the cleverest invention in the recent years. This material is completely waterproof but also breathable. If you’ve worn one of those old fashioned yellow rain slickers, you know that even though you stay dry, you get awfully stuffy. By comparison, Gore-Tex is a godsend.  

Gore-Tex jackets and pants are available, but often, you can get by with just the jacket, since Gore-Tex usually carries a heavy price tag. You’ll find jackets at local stores at prices from $200 to $400, but as you sit on the ski lift in a blizzard, you’ll realize just how worthwhile your investment was. 

Good gloves are a must because there’s nothing more uncomfortable than cold hands. I find mittens a smarter choice than fingered gloves, and even though the fingers on gloves provide greater mobility, mittens are always warmer.  

A newer but equally important piece of equipment is a helmet. Increased numbers of people die every year from head injuries incurred on the slopes so head protection is becoming the norm. Not everyone needs headgear, but if you’re an intermediate skier with a sense of adventure or planning on making that next step to advanced, a helmet is a must. 

Lastly, make sure you have glasses or goggles. On a sunny day, snow is so bright that without eye protection you will go blind. If you venture out when it is snowing, take goggles because glasses won’t protect you from flying snow. 



To ski or to snowboard, that is the question. 

The rift between the two has developed into one of the great rivalries and continues to rage, mostly falling along generational lines, with the young crowd on the snowboards and the traditionalists on skis. 

Until a couple of years ago you’d typically find equal numbers of both skiers and snowboarders at any given area. Today, however, snowboarders rule. 

And for those with a little more motivation and who don’t insist on being hauled up the slope by a machine, there’s the age-old sport of cross-country skiing, the number one cardiovascular workout in the world.  

Also surging this year are telemarkers (not to be confused with telemarketers)—skiers who ride equipment that is a cross between a downhill and cross-country ski.  


Where To Go and What to Buy 

Sadly, both snowboard and ski equipment is tres expensive. The entire package for either—including telemarking—often runs close to $1,000 new, though cross-country gear costs about half that. As with any consumer product, variables abound, so the best way to insure you get the right product at the right price is by comparison shopping. 

Fortunately, Berkeley is filled with recreationalists and plenty of stores who cater to them. 

The two big names that dominate are REI, at 1338 San Pablo Ave., and Any Mountain at 2777 Shattuck Ave. Other shops offer smaller but sometimes more specialized services, including California Ski Company at 843 Gilman St. and Marmot Mountain Works at 3049 Adeline. Wilderness Exchange at 1407 San Pablo Ave. carries a large selection of used equipment.  

For anyone who plans to just go up once or twice, renting’s the logical choice. All ski areas will provide rental services, but if you want your gear before you leave, stop by Any Mountain. Weekend ski packages weekend are $50, including boots, poles and skis. A snowboard package is $65 and features both board and boots. 

Both REI and Any Mountain also run ski shops where you can bring in your board or skis to get them mounted, repaired and tuned-up. Like any equipment, proper care insures better functionality and safety.  

Expect a three-day turnaround at Any Mountain for any work, while REI is backlogged until the new year. Both places however, run rush services that cost an extra $10 and get your equipment back that same day. Basic tune-ups at Any Mountain are $37 and include a machined edge and base grind, and hot wax. The same service is $40 for REI members and $50 for non-members. Both places employee highly qualified technicians, so your skis will be in good hands. 


Where and How To Go 

Lucky for us, we have Lake Tahoe in our back yard. With 15 ski areas, it’s one of North America’s premier ski spots. There are too many areas to list but a quick Google search will produce a comprehensive guide to each individual area. Keep in mind what kind of skier you are when choosing an area, because each caters to a different crowd. Also bear in mind that the more popular areas like Heavenly and Squaw Valley are more crowded, meaning longer waits at the lifts and less time on the slopes. 

Lodging and food options also run the gamut. Prices range from reasonable to outrageous and, like any good resort town, always run to the high end. 

Most areas can be reached within 2-3 hours if the traffic’s good and there’s no bad weather. Because the drive’s a crucial part of the outing, a successful trip starts with thorough planning. Heading from the East Bay North on a Friday night is usually a traffic nightmare, so keep that in mind—be prepared to leave early or drive late or you’ll spend an extra hour sitting around. Return traffic from Tahoe on Sunday night can be just as bad, especially in South Lake Tahoe as thousands of people try to squeeze into the two lanes on Highway 50. 

And last, but not least, don’t try and beat the weather because Mother Nature always wins. Check the weather reports and bend your schedule around them. The roads in and out of Tahoe often close during storms, and if you have a two-wheel drive car, bring chains and know how to put them on before you leave—there’s nothing more painful than trying to figure out how to put on chains in the middle of a blizzard. If you don’t have chains or a four-wheel drive the state police will turn you away during a storm. 

For more information on equipment please contact any of the following stores in Berkeley. 

Any Mountain-665-3939 


Wilderness Exchange-525-1255 

California Ski Company-527-6411 

Marmot Mountain Works-849-0735