A General Complaint about Mid Atlantic Skiing
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Roger Z
January 24, 2007
Member since 01/16/2004 🔗
2,181 posts
This is the second time I have brought a near-beginner out west after he or she has had a first lesson experience in the Mid-Atlantic. And, for the second time in a row, the near-beginner skier was absolutely blown away by how much better the adult learn-to-ski programs are out west than it is at the local hills. In the first case, the lesson program at Steamboat had the beginner up to a low-intermediate level by the third day, and in the second case the near-beginner was comfortable on top-to-bottom beginner runs by the first day.

In contrast, I met the first beginner skier at the base of Roundtop after her one hour lesson, and she was just about ready to throttle me and everything else she was so frustrated about skiing. The second beginner skier couldn't even make a controlled turn after four hours of lessons at Wisp.

Here's my complaint, and this is serious. Local ski hills- regardless of whether they are in the Mid-Atlantic or anywhere else- should realize that their most critical purpose is to introduce people to skiing so they grow to love it. This means, most critically, that their instruction serve as a way to advance the skiing quality and experience of newbies. But instead, the lesson programs I have been exposed to in the Mid-Atlantic seem most concerned with teaching beginners how to fall away from the chairlifts when they get off.

Why are there not more affordable daylong programs for adult beginner skiers in the Mid-Atlantic? I know there are some instructors on this board so let me qualify this complaint: I am certain there are great instructors in the Mid-Atlantic, and I am certain that program experiences may be different at different resorts. But I am zero for two in my experience with beginners lessons back east, (and three for three- another beginner from Houston came with us once and was snowboarding blues by the end of his second day- with learn-to-ski programs out west), and it's more the *organization* of the learn-to-ski program that I am concerned about rather than the abilities of some, many, or even all of the instructors. Even the best employee placed in a bad structure can't perform well.
JohnL
January 24, 2007
Member since 01/6/2000 🔗
3,516 posts
Quote:

This is the second time I have brought a near-beginner out west after he or she has had a first lesson experience in the Mid-Atlantic.




Sounds like the Mid-Atlantic lessons were the first time on skis for both people. Is that true? If so, I'd imagine the very first day on skis would be very rough, independent of where one is taking lessons. Days 2, etc. should be a bit easier.

Were the lessons on crowded weekends? Were the classes too large?

I agree that not much learning can be done in a one or two hour lesson. I'm curious as to why instructors think longer lessons are not more common in the Mid-Atlantic. I'm sure economics and scheduling have something to do with it. Maybe there is not sufficient demand.
Murphy
January 24, 2007
Member since 09/13/2004 🔗
618 posts
I've had two group lessons in the Mid-Atlantic and been reasonably pleased with both. However, mine were mid-week. I was a group of one in the first and there were only two other students in the other. I have seen group lessons with close to 10 people in them and I can see how a never-ever would get very little out of that kind of environment.

That being said, even though I was happy with my lessons, neither of my instructors were exceptionally qualified. The first "instructor" had to have his mom drop him off to work . I kind of doubt he had any kind of certification but I was really pleased with my progression that day (only my second ever on the slopes). The second had just passed her certification test. She knew what she was doing but geared the lesson too much toward the park (I'm a snowboarder) but that's not really what I was there for.
Roger Z
January 24, 2007
Member since 01/16/2004 🔗
2,181 posts
Not sure about the crowds and class size for the first newbie, and since she is a long, long since-ex-girlfriend I have no interest in getting that answer for you. With number two, however, there were only three people in her class.

Generally, though, I think you're onto something about the longer lessons. Maybe my gripe would be answered just by offering an all-day learn-to-ski program instead of the one-hour ones. Hopefully some of the instructors (Otto?) can tell us why this isn't more common.
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skiTLINE
January 24, 2007
Member since 12/15/2004 🔗
230 posts
We got our son (5yrs old) a private lesson (1hr) at Tline. The girl was fantastic and made it fun for him. Me and the wife then talked with her for a few minutes afterwards and got a general idea of what we should show him. He is now skiing down the beginner hill (middle lift) making several big s turns. I couldnt be happier. I think if you are going to take ski lessons there is only one way to do it and thats private. In a group the instructor must work to all students levels instead of focusing just on one.

Just my opinion
gizmosnow
January 24, 2007
Member since 10/6/2005 🔗
269 posts
I suppose it is somewhat hit & miss.

However, my wife & I began skiing, for the first time, five seasons ago ( at the age of 48, for me).
At that time, HV had midweek adult 5-wk group lesson packages for a very reasonable price. That first season there must have been 50 people who showed up. By the end of the first season ( 5 X 1.5hr lessons) the instructor had us traversing down firebird doing mostly skid/parallel turns. Went back each of the following 3 seasons with excellent instructors and consider myself to be an advanced/beginning expert skier today (having never had a private lesson). Unfortunately, attendance at the HV adult ski program dwindled from yr-to-yr, likely due to lack of promo on behalf of HV but, i can honestly say that my experience with the adult ski program at HV was enjoyable, productive and affordable. Don't know if the program continues this season or not.
KevR
January 24, 2007
Member since 01/27/2004 🔗
786 posts
Well, it's easier to ski out West to begin with, what with near perfect snow conditions on groomers most of the time, probably better rental equipement, and longer season seasoned ski instructors ta boot....
It all adds up to me ...
therusty
January 24, 2007
Member since 01/17/2005 🔗
422 posts
Thanks Roger for a well thought out commentary and a valuable suggestion. I work at Whitetail. The only full day options for beginners that we have are private lessons and kids camp for 4-12 year olds. Neither option is cheap. I agree with you that local resorts should offer day and 1/2 day instruction packages. My suggestions have been politely turned down. My perception is that the primary issue is staffing and the secondary issue is perceived lack of demand. It's pretty obvious that demand for the learn to ski programs that are already offered is pretty high.

Snowtime does offer a learn to ski or ride product that includes a lift ticket, rental and lesson for $29 if you do it early season. Most Western resorts that offer the full blown beginner package charge a lot more. My bet is that people that travel to a Western resort are more committed and more willing to pay the higher price for the better product.

The national average of only 16% of first time skiers getting converted into 3 times or more per season skiers works in two directions on this issue. On the one hand, Snowtime has received an award from NSAA for what is now called the Mountain Passport program. This is where we give a coupon to beginners to buy a discounted return trip and upon their return give them an "Advantage card like" (no free tickets, but similar 40% discount on lift and rental) "Passport" that entitles them to free lessons for the rest of the season. In my mind, this is close to the intensive lesson experience of out West, but not yet ideal. On the other hand, knowing that 8 out of 10 aren't coming back tends to support the argument for "teach them enough to make them self sufficient on the bunny slope and turn them loose."

A good instructor, with the proper size class, who are on the right gear (short shapes) can teach an entire class how to be safe and have fun in a short time. At Whitetail, our group lessons are 90 minutes. If someone is not self sufficient after one class, they are welcomed to attend another. I believe that the majority of my students have the hang of it by the end of the first lesson and that they don't NEED me any more, but I do wish that I could spend more time with them.
Otto
January 24, 2007
Member since 11/19/1999 🔗
176 posts
You are comparing two totally different markets and making your decision on a sample size of two skiers and one snowboarder. Day trippers do not want all day lesson packages any more than a fish wants a bicycle. They don't have the time. The local mountains are not destination resorts and the people who come to get a first class lesson package are, in my experience, looking to get their feet wet, try something new and have some fun. They have to drive up, buy their ticket, negotiate the rental shop, show up for lessons, get the lesson, eat, get a little skiing in, return their stuff and then drive home.

I'm sorry your friends had bad experiences. In my experience I'd say about 75-80 percent of the beginner lessons I have taught have produced competent wedge turners who can negotiate the lower greens at Liberty. And, as prior posters have mentioned, if you don't get it in your first beginner lesson at a Snow Time resort, you simply retake the beginner lesson. Also, although I don't teach beginners very often anymore, I spent whatever time it took to get the group in shape and, if one person was just stuck, would get help from a supervisor or another instructor, so the group could finish up.

I can't speak for Wisp or TLine. Liberty takes the beginner thing very seriously and works hard at putting together a lesson format that works.

My guess for why local mountains don't offer all day beginner programs is that nobody would buy them.
Roger Z
January 24, 2007
Member since 01/16/2004 🔗
2,181 posts
These have all been good comments and would be very helpful for anyone in DC looking to bring an adult first-timer onto the mountain to learn. Both the Snowtime program and the Hidden Valley program sound interesting, and maybe if there is a next time I could try Liberty instead of Roundtop with a beginner. Our experience at Wisp was particularly bad. Sandra told me that she didn't do well in her first 90 (or 120- I can't remember which) minute lesson, so they invited her back in the afternoon. In the afternoon, the instructor just told them to ride the magic carpet up and ski down, and provided almost no instruction at all. I was told this by Sandra on the recent trip to Park City and was floored. The instructor at The Canyons, in contrast, spent 90 minutes just going through the basics of clothing, movement, stretching and getting in and out of skis before he even began to have them go up and down the slopes.

Otto, you're right that I've only had a limited number of exposures to lessons, but that's how most people get their experiences skiing. It's not as if non-instructors bring new skiers to the mountains ten or twelve times a year; we usually only do this a limited number of times and have to assess things based on those limited experiences. And when the assessments are uniformly good on one side and uniformly bad on the other, that raises red flags. Like I mentioned earlier, maybe Liberty is the way to go instead of Roundtop or Wisp. I think the most helpful thing is simply being able to hear everyone's experiences and opinions here to help make better decisions down the road, no?

In general, do people think there are other things local ski resorts can do to draw more people into the sport, or back to it? Our sport is stagnated after all. My main concern is seeing beginners really enjoy and gain something meaningful out of their first exposure on the local hills.
tromano
January 25, 2007
Member since 12/19/2002 🔗
998 posts
My soon to be brother in law, was a never-ever when we took him skiing the first time at 7S last February. He has since gone two more days and is still a beginner, but is able to ski the greens at 7springs with some confidence. It looks to me like the 3 1-hour group lessons he has had have worked for him at least to get comfy with the basics of skiing.

I think that if you are helping introduce some one to the sport the best thing you can do is to make them take a lesson and to help them get situated before their lesson starts. This includes helping them dress properly, over dressing seems to be a common mistake among first timers. Following them through he rental line to get the correct, well fitting, rental gear. And also showing them the basics of using their gear, how to carry skis, how to click in to their bindings, how to fall, and how to stand up if they fall down, etc...

The simple fact is that for a never ever the first day is always hard because there is so much for them to learn before they can even ride the lift up the first time. That is why as otto said, it is much better to do the initial learning on a multi day trip because after the first day many skiers may not want to come back for day 2 or 3 where their initial falls will pay off in fun.
tromano
January 25, 2007
Member since 12/19/2002 🔗
998 posts
Quote:

I suppose it is somewhat hit & miss.

However, my wife & I began skiing, for the first time, five seasons ago ( at the age of 48, for me).
At that time, HV had midweek adult 5-wk group lesson packages for a very reasonable price. That first season there must have been 50 people who showed up. By the end of the first season ( 5 X 1.5hr lessons) the instructor had us traversing down firebird doing mostly skid/parallel turns. Went back each of the following 3 seasons with excellent instructors and consider myself to be an advanced/beginning expert skier today (having never had a private lesson). Unfortunately, attendance at the HV adult ski program dwindled from yr-to-yr, likely due to lack of promo on behalf of HV but, i can honestly say that my experience with the adult ski program at HV was enjoyable, productive and affordable. Don't know if the program continues this season or not.




That sounds like a great program. I don't think making lessons an hour longer or a full day is the way to fix things. Its a simple fact that most people don't learn to ski in one day or even one weekend. For most folks, learning to ski is both costly and painful (physically) and takes time. Many people, I think, go skiing one day, maybe take a lesson, then take a few hard falls, have trouble, don't have much fun, and then go home without ever getting anything out of it. Its pretty obvious that learning to ski takes some commitment and determination simply to keep going, but after a little while something clicks and it stops being work and starts being fun. If resorts found a way to get skiers to that point, then after that they would be established customers.

I would think that ski areas should do more to encourage newbies to be committed to learn skiing. One great way to do that is by working with existing social networks and groups of friends, families, scout troops, church groups, whatever... and using them to get more people to give skiing a shot. For example, give regular skiers or pass holders incentives to bring their friends skiing and to get them involved in the sport. Maybe give current pass holders a few free ride along lift tickets per season to encourage friends or family. Maybe give regular skiers discounts for referring new people to the mountain. Maybe encourage ski school staff to give vouchers to first timers after successfully completing their first lesson that way they come back. There are many different creative marketing ideas that could be worked out.
kwillg6
January 25, 2007
Member since 01/18/2005 🔗
2,031 posts
When I used to teach, I followed the same proven method that I use in the classroom. Less talking, more demo and doing. When taking a lesson, I have always told the instructor exactly what I expected to gain from his/her expertise. In the beginner's case, these expectations are obvious. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to know what needs to be done. However, I have discovered that it's not necessairly the size of the class as much as it is the physical abilities and willingness of the student. If a student is not in physical shape to learn the essential skills nor does he/she desire to do whatever is necessary to learn them, God couldn't teach them. Good equipment and teaching terrain are also pluses. Then comes the time issue. I think that a two to three hour first lesson is essential to a beginner's success. If I were to structure a package, it would be for three days with lesson in the morning, and time for the skier/rider to practice what they learned during the afternoon. Of course by the time a ski school added their profit into the mix, this would prove to be cost prohibitive for a lot of folks.
dcmidnight
January 27, 2007
Member since 11/11/2006 🔗
125 posts
I think we've missed a couple of facts when it comes to beginners being comfortable on the hill and learning to ski on the East Coast.

To put it bluntly - the snow out here stinks compared to decent hills out West as does the beginner terrain. Look, I grew up and skied in NH for 20 years and have skied down here the past 10. So this is in NO WAY a commentary or anti-East Coast bias. But we can all admit, even in our good times, the snow on most hills is nothing compared to what a beginner might see out West. And in our bad years, like this year, most hills are just barely scraping by to remain open compared to what you might see in Colorado or Utah or Canada. For us, its fine. We go to the mountain, find a few runs or two to hammer for the whole day and go home. But for a beginner, having to learn under these conditions can be daunting.

More importanly, most East Coast mountains have relatively little beginner terrain and what runs they do have are jam packed - especially in this area. Have you ever been to say Bryce on a weekend? Sometimes it looks like there is hardly room to move on the green runs. Learning as an adult in this environment is really tough. I mean, learning anything as an adult is tough lets keep that in mind.

But easier to describe with a case study, my wife. 5 or 6 years ago she wants to learn to ski so we go to VT for a long weekend to Killington. During a supposed banner year of snow for them. By 2pm or so, I can see that the beginner runs are really getting all chewed up. Typically icy runs that I have come to expect in 30 years of East Coast skiing. My wife had a horrible day. It wasnt her instructor, it was the fact that whatever runs they went on, the snow just wasnt good. How can you learn to turn on bad snow or ice thats getting chopped up? The runs were crowded and the snow was bad - even in a good year. It was miserable. And Killington has a damn good ski school.

A year later we go to Whistler. Something like 24 feet of snow by the time we got there, ten foot base. Incredible amount of beginner terrain and again a great ski school. Totally different story. My wife was going top to bottom by the end of the day, and we're talking 5280 from top to bottom! It was so cool! The quality of snow and quality of beginner terrain is a huge contributor to how well people learn to ski.

Hell with my wife, I remember *my* first ski trip out West. I went to Kirkwood/Tahoe for a week after having skied for over 20 years in New England. I was freaking lost! I didnt know what "powder" was and I sure as hell had no idea how to ski it. I was a black diamond skier back East but I felt like a noob on my first trip out West, it was crazy! I skied green and a few blue runs the first few days just to get comfortable in the snow. Even after a full week of skiing I hadnt adjusted to the conditions. I can only imagine what an adult who has skied once on the East Coast felt like getting dropped out West.

Look, dont nitpick if you want to say I'm generalizing to some extent, your right, I'm sure all East Coast resorts dont suck for beginners, I'm sure some have a ton of beginner terrain. I'm merely sharing my one experience with a true beginner in hopes that we dont jump to blame the instructors or ski schools. Just my $.02
johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
January 28, 2007
Member since 07/18/2001 🔗
1,925 posts
DCMidnight is right about poor quality snow and lack of beginner terrain at SOME of the resorts, but others have excellent beginner terrain and occasionally decent snow: I'm talking about CV (Timber trail) and Timberline (Salamander). I've taken beginners to Timberline on several occasions and found Salamander (2.5 miles long) to be perfect. Slow lifts also mean fewer people on the trail, which is also good for beginners.
Roger Z
January 28, 2007
Member since 01/16/2004 🔗
2,181 posts
DCMidnight- your point about snow goes double for my experience with beginners. When I took Sandra to Wisp last year, it was during that great, cold December we had. There was 18 inches of natural snow on the ground, we hadn't had a thaw yet and everything- as far as I was concerned- was top quality packed powder skiing. Sandra thought it was icy though, and she thought conditions out west this year- which were comparatively bad to what we're used to out there- were really nice. So I think beginners notice the snow difference a lot more than we do.

That said, the North Camp extension is a blessing for beginner and novice skiers. If you've got a fairly new person to the sport who just wants to ski and doesn't want/need lessons, it's hard to find a better place to take them in the Mid-A than North Camp. Sandra L-O-V-E-D the mile long, wide-open beginner runs back there; they were perfect for her.
fishnski
January 28, 2007
Member since 03/27/2005 🔗
3,530 posts
What we have falling right now on our Western front Highlands is pure light,dry,fluffy Artic Powder...No if &'s or Butts about it! & falling at a very nice clip too.It is what our friend Mr.Chase at Whitegrass calls "Utah Light". The problem is that it gets mixed up with the Manmade & turns into a GENERIC Powder..Plain & Simple.....I think your wife, Mr. Midnight, was toughened up by Killington which enabled her to excell at Whistler. I think this western Snow is Overrated...I skied for a week out west & even though the morning report would state that 1 to 6 inches had fallen overnite every day that I was there (even though I never saw a flake) All I encountered was this unskiable MASHED POTATOE type stuff. Had to keep to the Groomed portions & even the groomed stuff didn't match what I found At Canaan Valley Ski area 2 weeks after I got back in March......I think that this waste deep Powder you all speak about would be a Great Thrill...for awhile..but I think I would begin to Jones for some good East Coast hard packed Powder to Sh.t & Git on!......My Nieces learned to ski at Roundtop 2 years ago with NO Problem.....one day & they were Bookin down the Mtn!..I think the lessons & the type of skiis were the MAIN factor....& talent, I will so proudly add ...........& as far as the Slow Lift Comment by Johnf...I will have to respectively disagree. You arn't letting TL Mang get to you are you John?? I think with a fast lift running it will wear most skiers out faster..sending them to the lodge to spend MONEY..While the lift lines thin out!
bawalker
January 28, 2007
Member since 12/1/2003 🔗
1,547 posts
I couldn't agree with Roger more when it comes to the new North Camp area. When Wisp went from having 2 narrow, flat, and and fairly repetitive beginner runs that turned into ICY bowling ally's really quickly, the North Camp is a blessing. While Wisp Trail is still the main way to get to the lodge for all the North Campers... when I was there on Friday, the north camp REALLY let people spread out in a comfortable setup. In fact 'Big Dipper" is so HUGE it's almost as empty as a blue/black at times. It's a wonderful addition. In fact I saw a map that shows future expansion in the next 2 years to add another 10-15 more trails that will branch off to the skiers left of Ace's Run.
WilburW
January 28, 2007
Member since 12/15/2006 🔗
4 posts
Well, OK, my $.02 as a beginning-level skier:

The season is too short; as are the mountains and runs; and the population is too large. We just don't have the ratio of snowy mountains to people necessary for skiing to become big.

I know many (in fact most who read this board) will disagree. But 12 million people heading to about 100 unique runs on 1-2.5 thousand foot hills for 10 weekends a year just don't add up.
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