The next time you think about volunteering to teach a friend or family member how to ski, remember this true story.
It was a snowy winter evening in the mountains of Colorado. We were sitting in a hotel hot tub when a couple joined us. It was their first vacation without kids and her first ski trip ever.
When he asked us where to find the best terrain for beginners. We answered “at the ski school.”
He thought we were joking, but we weren’t. The next day, when we saw her on crutches, we learned that she had skipped ski school, only to end up in the clinic with a broken leg.
How Hard Can It Be?
When you already know how to ski or snowboard it’s tempting to want to teach your friends, your partner or your children how to ski or ride.
You might be saying to yourself, “I know how to do this! How hard can it be to teach someone else?” The answer to this question is “pretty darn hard,” with broken legs being less common than broken relationships.
There’s a reason why resorts offer discounted “learn to” packages each winter. They know that if you let a friend or family member try to teach you, you and they may not have a great experience.
But if you begin with lessons, the likelihood of having an enjoyable first day on snow, with many more fantastic days to come, is much higher.
Three Advantages Professional Instructors Have Over You
Certified Skills. Skiing and snowboarding are evolving sports and the techniques for teaching them evolve as well. In the U.S., Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) and American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI) ensure that certified instructors are up-to-date with the latest teaching methods, including training in how to make learning pleasant and fun.
A Full Tool Box. in addition to providing the most current instruction, professionals also know how to adapt their teaching to meet individual student needs, even in a group lesson.
“Instructors are trained in the art of listening to their student’s goals and identifying what and how to help the student move toward their goals,” says Jennifer Simpson Weier, a PSIA Alpine Team member and ski instructor at Aspen Snowmass. “Simply from a physical and teaching skill viewpoint, instructors have more tools to help you learn.”
An Objective Outlook. While the quality of instruction is important, the neutrality of a professional instructor is equally critical. It is hard for us to teach our loved ones, because even when we try to be calm and objective, our emotions are bound up with our friends and family.
Ann Schorling, a ski instructor at Jackson Hole, who is also on the PSIA Alpine National Team explains. “With loved ones, any coaching is inherently loaded. It is too easy to read too much into any instruction and have a much more significant emotional reaction. It’s also easier to stop when you’re tired, overwhelmed or scared. I find people push themselves more with a neutral coach than they do with someone they are close to.”
How Many Lessons Does One Need?
The answer depends upon many things including budget, personal goals and distance from a ski area.
As mentioned above, many resorts bundle beginner lesson packages, combining rentals, lift tickets and lessons at a more economical price. Often these packages include three lessons.
The thinking here is that after three lessons, most children and adults feel confident about continuing to ski or ride, and are ready to enjoy time on the mountain with their friends and family.
In our experience, and the experience of a friend who learned to ski as an adult last season, this is true.
But this doesn’t mean you’ll never need or want another lesson.
Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, advanced or expert skier, taking at least one lesson every year, or every few years, will increase your enjoyment of snow sports.
Becoming a better skier or snowboarder is a matter of setting goals and working to meet them. For this, you’ll want the support of family and friends, just not their instruction.
We want to hear from you! Comment below. Share with us your experiences – from a frustrating time you tried to learn skiing or snowboarding from a friend, to the time you loved your ski lesson.
I have skiied for 40 years and am a highly skilled skier and had three days of group lessons/coaching last year. Thanks to those three days I had the most fun ski season of the 40. Any level of skier can have more fun after spending a day or days with a professional ski instructor. Don’t forget to tip them after your lesson – worth every dollar paid.
That’s awesome, James! I bet being highly skilled already also gave you a newfound appreciation for the lessons. Love your note about adding a tip and completely agree.
-Amanda, from the Liftopia team
I support this article 100%!! My boyfriend took me skiing for the first time, he was a seasoned racer and said he could teach me no problem. It was a fun day up until the point that I broke my fibula and tore a ligament!! As a distance triathlete those 6 months in a cast and a boot were rough. If I try again will definitely take lessons! On the bright side we are very much still together, so broken leg with a wonderful relationship…haha guess we beat the odds!
I instructed snowboarding for about 10 years and watched so many relationships end on the bunny hill when (usually) the boyfriend would teach his girlfriend to turn by saying “Turn!” and stop by yelling “Stop! Stop! You need to turn and stop!”. Also, because he didn’t provide bottom of the hill instruction first and instead opted to take her straight up the chair (or, God forbid, rope-tow) she ultimately ended up walking the majority of the way down the bunny hill while he scooted down one boot in one boot out beside her, carrying her board.
I learned skiing at a young age, on ‘white asphalt’ in Pennsylvania, skied a bit in Colorado, was prone to ‘yard sales’.
Took-up snowboarding in early 90’s, first Vermont then the west. Worked 7 years in a Tahoe Snowboard camp.
You would not believe the number of newbies I have had to help off the top of the lift (many mountains) because their ‘friends’ were going to teach them: “just follow us & do what we do” & then they’re all alone (some cases crying, others intent on walking down) at the top of the mountain. I get them down, slowly, no stress, just ‘stitching’ the runs until we arrive at the base.
“Can you teach me?’ No, you need a professional because quite honestly they are trained & certified to cover all the basics, that I may know, but it is unconscious motor-nerve response that I have forgotten, now just auto-response to conditions.
Please take a few lessons until you feel confident in you auto-motive muscle responses to create a lifetime of enjoyment, rather than suffer a few days of frustration.
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You are right on. I taught my wife 15 years ago, she had been 3 times as a kid. We went “ALL the way to the top” on her first run at a 400 vertical rise resort in Michigan and she was in tears within 15 feet of the unload station. She’s a solid skier now, but it should have a better road!