I remember once telling a non-skiing friend that I was going to take a lesson. “Why?” she said. “Don’t you already know how to ski?”
Well, yeah, I do. And yeah, I don’t, too. Skiing is one of those things that the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. Which sounds kind of funny, but trust me, it’s true. There’s always so much more to learn, so many ways to improve. It’s a never-ending process.
Which is the reason I’m writing this today.
Lessons can improve your confidence and expand your options on the hill. The better you ski, the more you’ll be able to do, and to me, that means more fun. But lessons are also an investment in both time and money. So what do you do to make sure you’re getting the most out of yours? To find out, I went to one of the best resources I know — the TheSkiDiva.com — and asked the members there for their input. Here’s what they had to say:
• I think one of the important thing in a group lesson environment is to speak up. You can’t be shy about making yourself heard. In my experience, in many group lessons there is one person who tends to monopolize the instructor’s time and attention. Very good instructors will be able to diffuse this, but I have seen instances where they do nothing. In order to get what you want out of the lesson, sometimes you can’t just sit back and be quiet.
• Being nice, respectful, and attentive is going to get you a better lesson than being sullen or difficult. If you don’t like what’s happening in the lesson, communicate that to the instructor — respectfully. Don’t just bitch about it to the other people in the lesson as you’re going up the lift.
• For a parent, it may be useful to provide a quick introduction for a child to a new instructor and pass on any information that might be useful. This is especially important when there’s something that’s not particularly obvious and you know your kid isn’t going to mention it. For instance, when my daughter was 6 or 7, she was already skiing black runs in the southeast, which is not that common. Since she was petite and looked a year of two younger than she was, I tried to make sure a new instructor knew something about her age and ability before the lesson started.
• If you’re a student, be sure to ask about the purpose of the exercise if you want clarification, such as “Why are we working on learning pivot slips in easy terrain when I want to learn to ski bumps?” And if you’re an instructor, it might be helpful to say up front, “We’re working on precise, effective pivot slips because they’re an important skill you’ll use to steer through the bumps — and you’ll soon see why.”
• For a trip out west from the flatlands, consider the timing of a lesson. While it’s good to have a lesson early in the trip, if you know that adjusting to the high altitude takes a day or two, then perhaps plan for the lesson on the second ski day. If you’re not a morning person, then look for a ski destination that offers afternoon group lessons, if that’s what you prefer. At Alta, it’s possible to schedule a semi-private or private for 2 hours, with the option of extending to 3 hours. That’s handy when working with a new instructor or if the weather is changing the day of a pre-scheduled lesson.
• For most beginners, a highly certified (or even just Level 1 certified) instructor is not necessary, but the more specific a student wants to get, the more they’re going to get out of a lesson with a higher-level certified instructor. First of all, the time, effort, and money invested in getting to Level 3 (PSIA) means they’re not just great skiers, but they have a real passion for teaching and communicating with students. In addition, they’ve been teaching and learning how to teach longer, so they have more experience. They can often quickly and easily change communication style, demos, or exercises to help a student learn quicker. That being said, I know some excellent Level 2 instructors who have a lot of experience, are wonderful instructors, but for various reasons — time away from work or family, injury/illness/chronic disease — haven’t gone for their Level 3.
• You can always learn something from an instructor, even if you find that you don’t agree with or like what they’re teaching, or even their style or approach. If you’re a chronic lesson taker like I am, mix it up — take some classes that you think might be too easy for you and other times, ones that will push you. Also mix up instructors. One instructor pointed out something so obvious that made such a huge difference that I can’t believe no one else pointed it out! Maybe the rest of them thought it was so obvious it didn’t need mentioning? Or maybe they didn’t see it. Who knows.
• [From an instructor point of view] I think it’s important to come into any type of a lesson with an open mind. Many times what the student wants to work on or terrain they want to ski is NOT what they should be working on or skiing on. I want to know the following: skiing experience, why they’re taking a lesson, what would make the lesson fabulous for them, and how they learn. If you know your learning preference, tell the instructor. I had a physical therapist as a student last year. She told me at the beginning of the lesson that she needed very descriptive, technical explanations and that she did not learn by watching. We had a 3 hour lesson and it was fantastic. I went into much more detail than I would with some people and she was off to the races. It was phenomenal.
• [From another instructor] If you are in a group lesson and don’t understand something, please let the instructor know. Don’t be afraid to ask for another demo or another explanation. Chances are others in the group are in the same boat.
Ski at your pace. Do not feel obligated to ski faster than your comfort level because of the group speed. If the group is too fast, ask to move to a different group.
Skier levels are to help put groups of people together with similar abilities so that everyone can learn. Don’t be disappointed if you are put with the 6’s instead of the 7’s. The numbers are really meaningless.
Be willing to put yourself out of your comfort zone. If you always go last, try going first. Instructors in a group manage a lot of things and sometimes it is difficult to manage all of the personalities. Go first — be seen! (I often direct who goes first so that everyone gets a chance).
Please be present! Put the phone on silent, be on time and listen/watch not only the instructor but the others in the group. It’s amazing what you can learn by watching and listening.
• [And from yet another instructor] If you’re a first timer, be sure to answer the following questions for your instructor: Why do you want to learn to ski? What do you do in real life (work, sports, other)? This gives them a good idea of your learning style without asking. Also, where are you from? Base elevation can play a big role in the learning process.
For other skiers, it’d be helpful for your instructor to know the following:Why are you taking a lesson? What is your ski experience (hours, days, years)? What terrain do you feel most comfortable on? What do you want to get out of the lesson? And finally, what are your goals?
One of the best ways to learn is by taking one of the women’s clinics offered resorts throughout the country. Many are on hold this year thanks to COVID, but I’ve attended a few in the past and found them a terrific way to up your skills while having a ton of fun. Why a women’s clinic? Go here to find out.
That said, no matter what type of lesson you take — private, group, or women’s specific — the bottom line is the same: Relax, enjoy yourself, and don’t sweat it too much. Remember: skiing is supposed to be fun.