What is wrong with ski lessons?
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February 2, 2000
Member since 11/19/1999 🔗
176 posts
As an instructor I have my own preconceived notions about what is good and bad about lessons in general and what goes into making a bad ski lesson.

I would like to hear from others what they have liked and not liked about lessons. Other than cost, what is wrong with lessons and why don't you take them or take them more often? What seems to be the most common or most fundamental problem?


February 3, 2000
I took several lessons at Liberty last year and was most annoyed because the lessons sometimes started as much as 20 minutes after the official time scheduled. We'd be there promptly at the official start time, then eventually someone would come round and check who we were, what we wanted, etc, and the requisite instructors seemingly had to be rounded up.

I understand that the alternative (have a fixed # of instructors waiting with a fixed number of open spots) means people could get bounced, but I find it annoying nonetheless.

Besides starting at the advertised time, some other things could be done to save time. For example, all but the beginner classes could meet at the top of the runs, saving not only the time it takes to get to the top (or backside in Liberty's case which is pretty long) but making it less likely someone is going to get in the wrong class. It seems pretty silly because every class I've taken has the instructor start out by asking everyone if it's ok that we go up such and such a lift and ski on the backside or whatever. And there are often people that waste more time by asking the instructor inane questions ("gosh, I've never been there; is that too steep?", etc, etc)

I generally found my classes consisted of just 2 or 3 runs, what with the wasted time at the beginning and the time to go whereever we needed to go on the mountain.

By the way, I had you (Otto) once and enjoyed the class (once the waiting was over ;-)

February 4, 2000
I took my first lesson ever at Whitetail yesterday because it was fairly empty there and I figured I could get in a small class and really work with the instructor. I am an intermediate level skier, but got thrown into a combined class of advanced beginners and intermediates (2 of us were intermediate) due to the lack of instructors. 2/3 of the lesson was spent on the bunny hill if you can believe it and we only made one run down Snow Park (the advanced beginner hill) during which I spent most of the time helping the younger skiers in the group. I didn't bag the lesson because I have two young children myself and thought I could still learn how to teach them. That was the first lesson that I have taken and some things that I would recommend to improve the overall lesson experience are:

1. Proper screening and classification of the skiers into the right groups
2. Limited class size of 4-5 skiers. Anymore than that and you don't get enough attention.
3. Be strict with the start time and do not allow people to keep joining the group after that time has passed.
4. Have the instructor alternate riding the lifts with different students to continue the teaching on the lift ride (especially by observing those skiers coming down the hill).
5. Try and keep similar ages together in different groups.

JimK - DCSki Columnist
February 7, 2000
Member since 01/14/2004 🔗
2,987 posts
I guess I'm a ski instructor's worst nightmare...33 years of skiing and never a lesson. now have 4 kids and never a lesson for them either. Why? this may probably sound foolish, but my mindset is every penny and minute spent on a lesson is time and money that could be spent having fun skiing together as a family. For the person/kid with average muscle coordination it seems like the best instructor is just time, time on the mountain getting experience on skis. That's how it was for myself and with my kids. Except I guess in a sense i served as their private instructor, I stayed beside them until their breakthrough to skiing independently with confidence. I admit my kids are stuck in the "power pizza" mode and i have wondered if some formal instruction (and a week staight of skiing) might get them beyond that?
February 7, 2000
Member since 11/22/1999 🔗
317 posts
Jim K,

I am not an instructor. But as someone who was forced to take lessons five years ago (been skiing over 20 years total), let me tell you that they are NOT a waste of time or money. I started skiing in junior high and took lessons for about three years. After that, I figured I had skiing down pat. For a long time, I skied with my boots locked together and swished down any groomed run with confidence. I fooled myself into thinking that I didn't need lessons. The fact that I couldn't ski bumps that well or turn through ice was the mountain's fault - not mine. WRONG. In the years since my beginner lessons, I picked up a LOT of bad habits. I was skiing too far back, I didn't have a well balanced stance and I was basically just a passenger on my skis.

Five years ago, I joined a local area ski patrol and went through a year of intense ski training and lessons. Man - did I need them. Although I always fancied myself a pretty good skier (expert in fact), those lessons really taught me that I was not nearly as good as I had imagined. In addition to sloppy habits, skiing itself had changed. A more balanced stance was now more preferable than the old "glue boot" style where your feet were locked together. This was in keeping with methods developed by pro skiers and racers. Carving turns provided more control over all types of terrain versus the old skidding style. So I had to unlearn a lot and relearn some new stuff.

In fact, I'm still working on my skiing and am a lot more humble about what I can and can't do. Each year, I take at least one ski lesson (preferably more) to make sure I'm on the right track and that my skiing improves. The benefits have been tremendous. In addition to more confidence on skis, I've learned that bumps are actually fun and that there's more satisfaction in a run with perfectly carved turns than a skidding speed run down a trail. Also, since carving takes less effort that skidding, I can ski longer during the day.

So, in my own long-winded way, I guess I'm encouraging you to re-examine the idea of lessons as I really believe that they can only help. As far as family time - perhaps taking a lesson together may be more fun that just skiing together. Then you'll all be able to help each other improve your skiing. I would also recommend that you try to take at least a two hour lesson. At one hour, things are only just getting started.

Good luck.

ps: I do NOT get a cut from the instructors for typing this message - although if anyone out there wants to cut me in . . . (-;

Scott - DCSki Editor
February 7, 2000
Member since 10/10/1999 🔗
1,251 posts
I took a 2.5 hour lesson while skiing at Winter Park last week, and convinced a friend to, who had not taken lessons and really had no interest in taking one. We both found the lesson to be very useful.

I consider myself an upper intermediate skier or low advanced. Moguls I can barely get through, but I can get down just about any slope. Groomed intermediates I probably look pretty good; beyond that my skiing begins to look less and less graceful. And I've had some bad habits to get rid of (leaning back, etc.)

One of the benefits of taking a lesson is that you go skiing with an expert who can point out things you can't see. When I'm skiing, I can't see myself - so I really have no idea that I'm leaning back. And the instructor can point out simple things you can do to correct the problems.

The main problem I have with lessons is that my head gets filled with so many new things, that I quickly forget everything and don't have a chance to practice everything I've learned. I agree with Jim - you should take at least a 2 hour lesson, especially since much of the time will be spent on the lift, although a good instructor will continue to instruct on the lift ride up.

Several years ago, I took a four-day "Mountain Masters" clinic at Snowmass, Colorado. This was an intense course! But I got a lot out of it. By skiing with the same group and instructor for four solid days, a camaraderie developed and the instructor really got in tune with your skiing habits. You can get a little bit out of 1 or 1.5 hour group lessons, but to really elevate your skiing level, I'd recommend taking one of these multi-day classes. The instructors make sure you get in plenty of "fun" skiing so it never gets boring.

Also, as with Jim, the more I ski, the more I realize I'm not as good as I once thought. I still skid through ice but notice that others can carve through it as though it were packed powder. I can get down bumps but I don't look very pretty and I only take a couple at a time.

One of the things I like most about skiing is that it's something you really *can* improve at, always moving up to the next level. The sense of accomplishment going from a beginner slope to my first intermediate was overwhelming. Skiing down the same intermediate with no pauses and no falls was the next step up. Skiing down a black diamond mogul run at Winter Park the past week was also exhilirating - looking up above at the scary slope I had just skied down after reaching the bottom. You can move to the next level on your own, but I think lessons accelerate the process and allow you to skip the silly habits that hold you back that you don't realize.

- Scott

February 7, 2000
Enough of everyone saying how useful lessons are - we know that. The point of this thread was to explore how lessons could be improved.
February 8, 2000
Member since 11/22/1999 🔗
317 posts
Okay, okay - here are some things that could use improving:

1) Don't teach too much in one lesson - as Scott mentioned, its hard to keep everything you learn in your head. For intermediate level skiers and higher, maybe instructors could concentrate on improving one or two (at most) aspects of a student's skiing and concentrate on that.

2) Definitely use the lifts for teaching. Great opportunity for instructors to talk to students. Slope time should be used for more skiing, less talking.

3) Set up video taping if possible. Nothing teaches a student faster about body positioning and technique than seeing what they are doing on tape!

My (last) two bits.

Ski and Tell

Speak truth to powder.

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