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What to ask for / how to benefit from a private lesson

Ski Sine Fine

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#1
I’m going to try a private lesson this season. Since I started skiing again two years ago, I’ve not had much success with on-the-mountain group lessons, whether at home or out west (I had a horrible all-day lesson at Breck two years ago). I want an experienced instructor to watch me ski and tell me what I am doing wrong and specific things to do to improve. Any suggestions on what should I ask for when I make the appointment? And what can I do during the lesson to get the most out of it?
 

Jilly

Moderator
Staff member
#2
I know a lot of the ladies here will say you need, such and such level instructor. Yes a higher level will have more technical knowledge, but may not click with you. Ask around for recommendations as to who ask for.

As for the lesson. Take the time to explain to the instructor what you are looking for. Like: I want to be able to ski run X with confidence. Or, every time I try to turn left, it's not as fluid as the right....stuff like that helps them. But also let them see you ski. What you think is great, may be the under laying cause of why you can't do something.
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#3
I’m going to try a private lesson this season. Since I started skiing again two years ago, I’ve not had much success with on-the-mountain group lessons, whether at home or out west (I had a horrible all-day lesson at Breck two years ago). I want an experienced instructor to watch me ski and tell me what I am doing wrong and specific things to do to improve. Any suggestions on what should I ask for when I make the appointment? And what can I do during the lesson to get the most out of it?
I suggest you start by asking for recommendations beforehand. A thread with the ski resort you have in mind in the title is most likely to get good replies in the next few weeks. I've found that if you talk to a ski school and ask for a Level 3 instructor even as an intermediate, you are more likely to be matched with an instructor with enough experience to be helpful. What matters more than the certification is the number of years of teaching experience. During early season is a good time to set up a private lesson.

For my first lesson out west, I sent a PM to who was an instructor where I was going. Note that I didn't know that instructor, but had seen posts. Got two names and set up a private lesson for my trip. Had a very, very good lesson. Have since gone back for other private lessons with the same instructor. For Alta, my usual instructor actually lives in NC and was recommended by the owner of my local ski shop, who is also my boot fitter. When I went to JH, I did a lesson with @snoWYmonkey and talked my ski buddies into doing it with me. At JH, it's the same price for 1-5 people. We all learned a lot even though we were not at exactly the same ability level.

There is a good thread with suggestions about what to do or say for lessons. I'll see if I can find it.

As you get more involved here, you'll figure out which Divas are also experienced instructors. Jilly is one of the instructors. I'm not. My experience is as an older skier who learned the value of working with very experienced instructors since 2012. First at Massanutten, and then at destination resorts out west.

It helped me to learn what PSIA certification levels meant. While there is no need for Level 3 for a beginner or intermediate, a group lesson with a Level 1 instructor with less than five years experience is less likely to be as satisfying. Regardless of certification level, an instructor with 10+ years experience has more potential. They know more ways to teach fundamentals in a way that will click with a given student. I watched my L3 instructor at Massanutten teach a group of never-ever skiers last season during a holiday weekend. It was fascinating how he managed to get the entire group of adults going in an hour in comparison to how the newbie instructors were doing. One middle-age lady wearing a long coat and regular clothing required extra effort.
 

snoWYmonkey

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#5
Ski Sine Fine,

I agree with the above posts.

Certification in and of itself means only that the instructor at a certain point in time was motivated, by a desire to be a better teacher, or by pure financial reward, to get certified. Some get burned out. Occasionally, an experienced instructor never pursues certification, which costs money, but takes a lot of in house training, and has the years and passion to be a great instructor.

I do think that in addition to the instructor being adept at figuring out each student and how they learn and what they need, there is a true chemistry issue at play. Sometimes it's just a bad day for the guest or the instructor, and little can change that, but at times the chemistry is simply not compatible.

A common stumbling block, which can happen on both sides, is attachment to outcome, and attachment to the best way to reach it. Patience or lack thereof can also happen on both sides and lead to a crappy lesson. Some learn best by just doing and repeating with minimal coaching, others need the step by step theoretical breakdown to get it, others still need a video of themselves with the analysis during the video to "get it", whatever it may be at that point in time.

May I ask a few questions to better answers yours?

What about the group lesson format did not work for you? The quality of coaching? The variety of needs and goals of the groups? The actual content, movements, runs chosen for the group? The lack of improvement from the tips you were given?

When you make the appointment (non holiday weekday might be best as booking staff will have more instructors to choose from, if and only if they are at a school where they can hand pick which is not always the case as priority systems automatically assign instructors in some places), ask if the instructor will be contacting you before the lesson. At my school that is the case and it allows me to get a sense of what the guest is looking for and making sure it will be a good fit for us both, or in MarzNC's case for all four of us.

I definitely think that stating what your goals are on the phone and asking to be matched is good. I shy away from students that ask for a certain age or gender of instructor as that often limits the options. Fun, young, female, is the most common request. Some of the best coaches are fun, but not necessarily female or young.

I don't know how long of a lesson you are planning on taking? During the lesson, make sure to communicate honestly with your instructor. "I don't understand your words, or the concept" " I get what I need to do, but I just can't seem to do it" "I am getting frustrated" "Stop, to much information, or not enough" "Can I just practice this one thing for a bit and have you give me feedback?" We often over coach, teach too many things at once, or don't coach enough...so many different teachers out there. I try to check in mid morning and ask if the lesson is on the right path, and then again later. By early afternoon, many students want to "just" ski and we get to apply what we worked hard on either in theory, or with drills, or feedback.

If you have goals, ask your instructor to break down what they think you will need to change, or master before you can actually reach those goals. Often times the goals will require a variety of skills to be understood and developed rather than just one. To teach them, and give the student a chance to even begin to execute in a half day or full day is not realistic. The better we become, the harder it can be to change things up and improve, but when we have the epiphany moments it is that much sweeter.

Let us know how your lessons go. I do like the idea of asking for recommendations on specific instructors so you can ask to book that person.
 

Skier31

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#6
I agree that the best way to get a great instructor is to get a personal recommendation. Different ski schools have different ways of assigning private lessons. It is a total crapshoot at many resorts which is sad given the cost of a private lesson.

I am going to disagree with Marz on a couple of items.

1. It can be more important for beginners and intermediates to have a better instructor. If yoy develop bad habits earlier in your skiing journey, they are harder to fix later and can hold you back.

2. Longevity of an instructor does not necessarily mean they are better. As in any profession, people get burned out and do not keep up with new stuff. Sometimes you are better off with the up to date, enthusiastic newer instructor.

Where are you going to take the lesson? I am sure the collective can help you find someone.

The other point is that if you take a private and are disappointed in any aspect of the lesson, you should talk to the ski school and make your opinions known. You are spending alot of money and should get your money’s worth.
 

Skier31

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#7
I would also suggest that you be brutally honest about what you want and make it clear you want FEEDBACK, both positive and negative and to tell the instructor to not hold back.

There is alot of theory in the ski industry about not giving feedback unless requested and learning by doing and exploring. I am not a fan of that for myself but it is out there.

Also, I ski with many people who really do not want to learn. They want other things which is fine but I think it is important to be crystal clear about your expectations.
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#8
I agree that the best way to get a great instructor is to get a personal recommendation. Different ski schools have different ways of assigning private lessons. It is a total crapshoot at many resorts which is sad given the cost of a private lesson.

I am going to disagree with Marz on a couple of items.

1. It can be more important for beginners and intermediates to have a better instructor. If yoy develop bad habits earlier in your skiing journey, they are harder to fix later and can hold you back.

2. Longevity of an instructor does not necessarily mean they are better. As in any profession, people get burned out and do not keep up with new stuff. Sometimes you are better off with the up to date, enthusiastic newer instructor.

Where are you going to take the lesson? I am sure the collective can help you find someone.

The other point is that if you take a private and are disappointed in any aspect of the lesson, you should talk to the ski school and make your opinions known. You are spending alot of money and should get your money’s worth.
I guess I wasn't clear. I agree that a skier of any ability level will do better with a very experienced and enthusiastic instructor. That's just as true for a never-ever as an expert like my main ski buddy. However, if a beginner or intermediate lets a ski school pick the instructor then they are less likely to get the most experienced instructor available, even for a private lesson. What I meant is that a group lesson with a Level 1 instructor with less than five years of experience can be a disappointment. The point of the story I told about my Massanutten coach was that was trying the students in my Massanutten coach's never-ever class had a special experience.

My experience with L3 instructors in the last 5-6 years includes over a dozen different people at seven different locations in three vastly different regions (Mid-Atlantic, Catskills, Rockies). Most of my instructors have taught for 20+ years. It took several years to learn how to make sure I was spending my time and money wisely for lessons.

I also learned from the experience of friends who were adv. beginners or intermediates when they took lessons from very experienced instructors. Those instructors were some of the most enthusiastic people about skiing I have ever met. Several of the instructors were over 55 and still actively trying to learn something new every day, both for their teaching and for their own skiing.

Of course, just my opinion.
 

Ski Sine Fine

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#9
This is going to be a bit rambling, as I don’t quite get why, so it’s a lot of how I remember feeling.

When I started skiing again two years ago, I figured I needed a lesson to get to know the new equipment and learn how to ski on them. It was only a one-hour lesson at my home mountain and turned out to be not much more than my body remembering the old stuff (I was solidly intermediate years ago). I had to self-assess my abilities and pick a group. It was obvious I underestimated what I could do because midway through the lesson the instructor rode the chair up with me and asked “you’ve skied before, haven’t you?” So the instructor pretty much ignored me the rest of the hour and focused on the other students, who needed more help. That was fine, was really my fault for picking the wrong group.

Second group lesson a week later turned out to be one-on-one with a different instructor, same mountain. She told me a bunch of stuff that was wholly foreign to me — turning my shoulder to the direction of turn, rolling my toes, pushing my heel — I didn’t really understand what she was trying to get me do that I wasn’t doing. My skiing at that point was more instinct, my body automatically doing what I learned long ago, so I wasn’t really conscious of what I was actually doing and what needs to be different with these new shaped skis, or how what she’s saying applied. I was a mess afterwards, trying to do the stuff she said and losing my balance all over the place. Whereas if I just let go and ski, I can go down the run, albeit sometimes with poor speed control.

Third group lesson two years ago was at Breck and it was horrible. I was usually the last one down at each stop, and the instructor kept not waiting for me before giving the next set of instructions. So I ended up skiing down to the group, hearing the last few seconds of what we’re to do next, and go “what?” before seeing the instructor turned and skied away. I got no feedback. I even asked once for him to repeat and he said “just follow the tracks.” Frankly, I remember nothing from that all-day session other than how I practically wasted the whole day. I actually left the lesson early to get some real skiing in. So that first year I pretty much just skied the same old way I skied, but I know it wasn’t altogether right because I had speed control issues.

So last season I found Inside Ski at Leesburg, and got some group lessons that turned out to be one-on-one with some good instructors. After having things explained to me in different ways, I finally started improving my control. I skied much better and had a blast at Breck. I did not take any lessons at the resorts. I know I still have speed control issues, though. I think I am lapsing into bad form when it gets steep, and I want an instructor to work with me on that on the mountain. There was one run I remember, where everything clicked, I was in total control, and it felt like slo-mo. I want to feel like that all the time.

In retrospect, I just had really bad luck with group lessons. I probably should’ve been more assertive and asked for more explanations of the why and more feedback in what I do wrong and what I do right.
 

snoWYmonkey

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#10
Not rambling at all! Wow, clearly the lessons are still very clear in your mind.

Yes, it sounds like some bad luck with the first three. Ideally, even with a skier that is better than the others in the group, if time allows, there are ways to challenge good skiers on easy green terrain...to a point.

The second instructor threw info at you without checking for understanding, and it sounds like a week's worth of pointers in too short of time. That is the only reason I am leery of telling my students everything I see, both in terms of what works and what does not, in one day or a half day. It is just too much to absorb and integrate. Also, it can take a few tries to explain and teach and show a concept in a way that clicks with a student, even if it clicked with the 20 that came before.

Your third instructor sounds like a thoughtless ^&%$! Honestly, there are things to talk about while waiting for the meat of the lesson to happen once everyone is back together. Lame.

It sound like speed control might be your personal goal on steeper terrain? Then the question for you to decide, is how much time to spend on "lessoning" on easier terrain to really grasp the two main speed control approaches and cement them through practice with a watchful eye, versus actually pushing yourself (within safe limits of course) with the help of an instructor at your side. Most people like a little of both in a session.

Look for an instructor that not only understands the theory, but also has a good eye, which many lack, and then a variety of approaches to reach the same goal. The beauty of privates is that you get to tailor it to your needs, assuming that the person can adapt to changing the lesson on the fly.

If you take group lessons again, try to watch the students from the same eye as the instructor and see if you can see what they might want to change up. I learn a lot from watching our coaches teach things that I sometimes don't even really need, but it trains my eye, which improves my understanding of the sport. OK, now I am rambling.

Have fun! Be safe! Improve!
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#11
If you take group lessons again, try to watch the students from the same eye as the instructor and see if you can see what they might want to change up. I learn a lot from watching our coaches teach things that I sometimes don't even really need, but it trains my eye, which improves my understanding of the sport.
One of the interesting aspects of a few of the solo lessons I had at Massanutten was when Walter and I rode the lift that overlooks the primary blue trail. Was probably the second season I was working with him taking advantage of the Silver Clinic for Over 50 skiers on Thursday afternoons. Often no one else showed up. Walter would point out what a skier below us was doing correctly, or more often, incorrectly. "Park and Ride" is common on Mid-Atlantic slopes even for skiers that look pretty good at first glance. Initially I couldn't see what he was talking about. But eventually could tell that Park and Ride was how I skied as a teen who only skied two seasons and never mastered parallel turns on straight skis. That carried into what I did naturally when I started skiing more regularly after 2004. I don't have the instructor skills (or patience) to help a decent skier improve their technique, but in recent years I have learned about Movement Analysis in a way that helps me be more aware of my own movements. Subtle differences start making more of a difference at the advanced level and personal experimentation becomes more important. Walter told me from the beginning it would take a season or two to undo the basic old habits and ingrain new fundamental skills. Took time but I also learned that I didn't need to be at a big mountain to work on fundamentals.

Given a choice, I much prefer a semi-private lesson with a friend than a solo lesson. I learn a lot observing how an instructor figures out a way to get someone to change just enough to feel the better approach to making a turn. Doesn't matter if that skier is an intermediate or advanced. One of my break throughs in understanding why my left and right turns were so different was when Walter was trying to get a man to do a relatively simple drill and we ended up on the green so that he could get it.

In retrospect, I just had really bad luck with group lessons. I probably should’ve been more assertive and asked for more explanations of the why and more feedback in what I do wrong and what I do right.
I had a poor semi-private lesson at Alta a while back with my daughter. It was a couple years after I did a 3-morning Diva clinic that was very good. So I had some sense of what's possible in a few hours with a very experienced instructor and a good small group of similar ability skiers. Wasn't skiing that many days back then so not that much of what I learned stuck.

Thanks to ski school, my daughter was already a little better than I was. Even though I specified to the ski school that it would be a mother-daughter lesson with an 10yo, the instructor who was assigned obviously had no interpersonal skills when it came to interacting with a tween girl. Needless to say, she sensed that immediately. He pretty much tried to teach me and ignored her. It never occurred to me to let ski school know how unsatisfying the lesson ended up and why. If I hadn't learned from online forums how to request a L3 instructor soon after that experience, it probably would've taken much longer before I found ways to get good instruction.

Is it necessary to require a L3 instructor, especially at a small mountain in the Mid-Atlantic? No. But if someone asks for a L3 or has a name as a starting point, a ski school is much more likely to come up with an instructor who has equivalent experience and skill teaching an intermediate or older skier coming back from a hiatus. A bit different than a destination resort like Alta or JH or Taos where there are a few hundred L3 instructors on staff.

Sorry to run on, but it helps me to figure out what worked for me over the last few years. Hopefully my stories will give others ideas of how to find ways to have useful lessons.
 

Ski Sine Fine

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#12
Fantastic advice from everyone. Very helpful. I forgot to add I also have a new torn meniscus to contend with. I assume I should mention that as well to the ski school and definitely the instructor. I will know more in two weeks how active I can be. Jilly, snoWYmonkey, and other instructors — what do you do differently with students with injury issues / bum knees?
 

Ski Sine Fine

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#13
Marz, if Massanutten still have the afternoon silver clinic, I just might rearrange my schedule to get out there. You certainly convinced me of the value of having and sticking with a good instructor for multiple seasons.
 

Ski Sine Fine

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#14
SnoWYmonkey, yes, I’ve come to realize speed control is what I want to work on. Typing all that history helped me work that out. I guess that’s how a therapist’s chair works? :becky: And yes, I’m someone who needs to know the theory of things too, not just the what and how.
 

Jilly

Moderator
Staff member
#15
If a student is injured or has limited mobility (like my DH did), you take the lesson to the proper terrain. In your case....no bumps, I 'd say. When I had the torn meniscus the doc told me to watch walking even. She may have been over cautious as she knows I'm an active person.

For speed control, I would be working on turn shape along with any technical stuff. Are you doing Z turns, instead of nice C's or S's?
 

snoWYmonkey

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#16
I have a small partial tear. I would avoid heavy pow and slush as well as the bumps mentioned above. PT and strengthening will be key once you get the OK to do so. I would add schmearing/skidding for speed control. Less pressure build up through the turn than using turn shape where forces really build up before the transition. At least on steeps, and even on flatter terrain as it allows you to stay more upright and stacked over your knees and feet with less stress on joints. Still of course doing the round C turns recommended by Jilly.
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#17
Marz, if Massanutten still have the afternoon silver clinic, I just might rearrange my schedule to get out there. You certainly convinced me of the value of having and sticking with a good instructor for multiple seasons.
Unfortunately the Silver Clinic was discontinued last season due to lack of interest. Walter had started it a while back because he wanted to help folks over 50, but few adult intermediates take lessons at Mnut. There are very few advanced skiers there, which is one reason why I can ski there on weekends off Lift 6 with no lift line. He was doing a multi-week program on Sunday mornings called the Gold clinic that was great for locals or people willing to make the drive for 4-5 weekends. Not sure that's happening this season though.

What's the closest ski area for you? There are good instructors at all the Mid-Atlantic ski areas including Snowshoe. Although there are cheaper places for private lessons than Snowshoe. @alison wong has been working with a L3 instructor at Liberty. At Massanutten, the resident Examiner is wonderful. His name is Peter Stransky. There are several L3 instructors I would recommend there in addition to Peter and Walter. Julie is great but can be hard to book on weekends because she runs the children's program. She was the instructor for a Sunday morning special Women's Clinic I set up a few years ago that 4-5 Divas enjoyed a lot. One Diva has done a few privates with Julie since then.

I think you may have enough posts to see Meet On The Hill threads. Let us know when you can. I'm going to be at Mnut in early January. Perhaps we can working something out. As I've said, I learn a lot from a semi-private lesson with someone else, even when there is a difference in ability level.
 

Ski Sine Fine

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#18
Z-turns, c-turns, s-turns, schmearing, skidding...I can’t say what I actually do. I could never tell which trails are mine beyond the last turn, and I’m not sure I know what they feel like. I do quick turns and feel like I skid a lot, but really can’t be sure. Hence the need for someone to watch and tell me. Definitely want to ski with less pressure on the knees.
 

Ski Sine Fine

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#19
I got some names of L3 instructors at Liberty & Whitetail, and the multi-week programs info at both. Once I have the go-ahead from my doc, I need to figure out what’s best for now...privates or multi-week. Right now I’m leaning privates for more flexibility. I still have some sessions left at Inside Ski, so will get back there to test out the knee before any on-mountain lessons.
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#20
I got some names of L3 instructors at Liberty & Whitetail, and the multi-week programs info at both. Once I have the go-ahead from my doc, I need to figure out what’s best for now...privates or multi-week. Right now I’m leaning privates for more flexibility. I still have some sessions left at Inside Ski, so will get back there to test out the knee before any on-mountain lessons.
Keep in mind that Evie of Liberty teaches at Inside Ski too. A private with her would be good there or on snow from what I've heard.

Most of my lessons came after knee rehab in 2012. Luckily was pretty much all set by the time ski season started. The plus side was that I was more attentive during lessons, because I was investing time, money, and mental energy in order to enjoy skiing in the long run. Meaning the next 5, 10, 20+ years.

If you can work in a private lesson or two in Dec before the holidays, that would help you decide whether a multi-week program makes sense this season.
 

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