One of the best things about skiing is that it can be taken up almost as easily at 40 or even 50 as at 10 or 20. In fact, a grown-up is likely to do better at first than a youngster. The grown-up is mature enough to make the most out of his ski lessons—provided he is in reasonably good shape.
Regular golf, tennis, swimming, handball or hiking during the summer put you in trim for skiing. If you do not have the time for outdoor sport, then you should start out in late fall with regular home exercises for at least two weeks. The Bonnie Prudden exercises in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED or my own preski conditioning exercises (SI, Nov. 25, 1957) will do the trick if they are done faithfully every day.
A word here about weight. The overweight skier is a short-winded skier, and you cannot learn to ski unless you can stand some continuous exertion. There are only two ways to overcome overweight: stop eating too much and start exercising.
The first time you go skiing, try it for a day or two, preferably at a well-developed ski resort. Rent all your equipment. When you know what you want it's time enough to buy.
Your first skis should be limber (not stiff) and three to six inches shorter than the standard length for experienced skiers. Normally a 130-pound 40-year-old male beginner should take a 6-foot 3-inch ski, and from there the lengths go upward to 6-foot 9-inch skis for a 185-pound beginner. Women beginners should subtract three inches from these lengths to get proper skis. In my opinion, you should rent metal skis. They handle more easily. And get skis with safety bindings. Otherwise you are taking an unnecessary risk. The ski shop will adjust the tension of safety bindings for you. Ask them to show you how it's done. You should be able to do it on your own if need be. As for ski poles, they should reach to your armpit when the points are on the floor.
Be sure to start right out with a lesson. It's the only safe way to start skiing. Besides, your instructor will keep you from faults that may haunt you the rest of your skiing. Don't let well-meaning friends talk you into learning from them. The average good skier is a poor teacher, and you expose yourself to the temptation of skiing too fast just to keep up with your friends. My article on teaching beginners (SI, Dec. 15) gives an idea of the gentle start that a good instructor gives beginners.
After the first couple of weekends skiing, if you then want to take up the sport in earnest, then take a solid week or two of lessons. This will mean that you can spend your whole first winter as an intermediate rather than spending half of it as a beginner.
On buying equipment: the first and most important thing is boots. Try on several different brands in several shops. It's worth all the trouble you may take to get boots that fit without pinching.
To break your boots in: soak a pair of old wool socks in warm water, wring them out, put them on and lace the boots over them, making sure the socks have no wrinkles. Wear the boots indoors for two or three hours until the socks dry. The boots will then take the shape of your foot. Waterproof the inside of the boots to make sure they keep this shape.
Finally, buy at least one set of good warm long underwear, a thick wool sweater and a windproof parka (or, in colder areas, a quilted parka). Wear a turtle-neck T shirt or a silk scarf. Keeping your neck warm is important, and nothing makes learning more pleasant than staying comfortable while you ski.