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Making the most of ski lessons.

Skiers of all levels can benefit from lessons--if they know which kind to take

YOU'VE NEVER SKIED before but want to learn. No? Okay, then you took lessons years ago, but you haven't gotten any better and think it would be nice if you could at least keep up with the kids.

Let the kids ski by themselves, you say? What you really want to do is learn how to tackle bumps, steep terrain, or powder. Confidently. Fearlessly. Flawlessly.

Whatever your motivation or skill level may be, you've decided to take ski lessons this winter. But not so fast--a lot has changed in ski instruction in the last few years. To get the best value for your money, you need to know the pros and cons of the many options now available.

To help you out, we first spoke with experts throughout the West: Olympic skiers, ski school directors and instructors, and examiners of ski instructors. Then we went skiing. We took private lessons, group lessons, super clinics, race clinics, bump seminars, powder clinics, and performance camps.

Here's what we learned.


Private lessons are great for learning the piano, but they tend to be a drawback on ski slopes, particularly for kids and beginners.

Why? There's no useful reference point with private instruction. There's only the instructor--who is very good and can do things you can't--and you. "You'll be convinced in a private lesson you can't do it," says Jace Romick, a former member of the U.S. Ski Team who runs the Billy Kidd Center for Performance Skiing at Steamboat Springs in Colorado. "In a group lesson, you have other people making mistakes, struggling. You'll end up learning quicker by watching them as well as your instructor."

Also, private lessons are far more expensive than group lessons. You'll usually pay more for a 1-hour private lesson (about $50 to $60) than for a full-day group lesson ($40 to $50). Unless you just can't learn in a group situation or you want to work only on a specific skill, it's seldom worth it.

Group lessons are great for learning comprehensive skills. They're also the best kind for children, who make new friends and acquire skills quickly in a group situation.


Although longer lessons will cost you more, you'll get more out of them. "It's very frustrating teaching a 2- or 4-hour class," according to Kris Hagenbuch, clinic leader for Professional Ski Instructors of America. "You can teach one or two skills, but you don't really have time to work them. For better value, take an all-day lesson."

Or, better yet, sign up for a multiday lesson--if only for two days. "The only way to move from one level of skiing to another is to take multiday lessons, preferably where you can have the same instructor each day," says Victor Gerdin, ski school director at Snowmass in Colorado.

Our own experience led us to conclude that two-day programs are good, three-day better still. Four might be too much (we wanted a break after three days). Jack Copeland, ski school director at California's Mammoth Mountain, recommends planning to ski five consecutive days. "Take three days of lessons, practice everything you've learned on the fourth, then ski just for fun on the fifth. You'll be a much improved skier."


Billy Kidd, one of the first American men to win an Olympic skiing medal, doesn't understand why intermediate and advanced skiers don't take more lessons. "Good golfers take lessons. Tennis players take lessons. But skiers reach a certain level of ability, tell themselves they can ski, and never take another lesson."

Many ski areas now offer advanced clinics that are often the best deal on the mountain. Mammoth Mountain, for instance, has a little-known super clinic: 3 hours of intense instruction with a top instructor for $32. The maximum student to teacher ratio is 5 to 1, though the two days we took it there were never more than three students. In addition to providing instruction in skiing bumps and the steeps, our instructor consistently found the best skiing on the mountain--and we never had to wait in lift lines.


All our experts agreed that more important than the type of lesson is the attitude of the skier. As Kidd told us, "To improve your skiing, you first need to learn how to learn."

What does that mean? It means using your senses and not just your intellect. Our instructors noted that some of the toughest students to teach are lawyers, doctors, and business executives. "They intellectualize too much," says Romick. "Often they've forgotten how to learn. My best students are cowboys and surfers who rely more on their senses for learning." His advice to skiers of all abilities is to forget what you think you know about skiing and learn the way a child learns: "Listen. Watch. Feel."


For children:

* Don't put kids in lessons when the weather is bad. They won't learn.

* Look for programs with a variety of activities--games, obstacle courses. Kids get bored just taking instruction.

* Check your children in at the meeting location, then go ski. They'll do better if you're not around.

For adults:

* Unless you're a beginner, do take lessons in bad weather. It's the best way to learn how to ski difficult conditions.

* Look for programs that videotape classes, so you can see how you really ski.

* Have a specific goal, and make sure your instructor knows what it is.

* Not all instructors are certified. Ask for one who is. There are four levels of certification; in general, instructors should be "fully certified" (the third level).

* Challenge yourself. If you can't ski bumps, take a bump lesson. You'll end up being a better skier (even if you never master moguls).

* Inundate your instructor with feedback. Tell him or her what is working for you, and what isn't.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes ski school tips
Author:Lansing, David
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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