Next time you flip on the TV to watch your favorite sport, pay close attention to the sidelines. Whether you’re watching college basketball, professional gymnastics, or NFL football, you’ll notice one thing all the elite athletes have in common: They’re being coached. That’s because athletes can always use another set of eyes to keep improving, even when they’re at the top of their games.
Most of us won’t be flying down the giant slalom course or winning trophies anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean the average skier or snowboarder can’t hire a coach to improve their skills. That’s one of the best things about ski and ride schools—they’re open to snowsport athletes of any age and ability, whether it’s your first day on skis or you’re looking to hit up the terrain park.
Ski schools are great for beginners, but these days they have so much more to offer, even once you’ve mastered the falling leaf.
The Best Way to Learn to Ski
According to Colorado-based ski instructor Elizabeth Williams, there’s really no better way to teach someone to ski than to leave it to the professionals.
“If you’re a parent, put your kids in ski school,” she says. “We’re trained to teach children to ski.” We’ve all seen it: When kids fall and scrape their knees, they’re way more likely to burst into tears if they have an audience. It feels safer and easier to cry or give up when your parents are watching, but kids can often push through challenges when they’re around a teacher or a group of other kids.
That doesn’t end after childhood. “If you’re considering teaching your significant other to ski, don’t!” Williams says with a laugh. Some couples can manage to teach each other new skills without ending up on the verge of tears, but for most people, learning a new sport—especially when it’s cold outside and you’re out of your comfort zone—is really challenging. In other words, Williams says, if you want your loved ones to keep skiing with you for years to come, let an expert teach them to do it.
To Intermediate and Beyond
“I think everybody reaches a point in their skiing or riding where they need an outside perspective again,” Williams says. Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s probably time to check in with an expert again.
Like most skills, skiing and snowboarding require some combination of expert instruction and diligent practice. At some point, you’ll want an instructor to watch you ski so they can help you break bad habits and take your skiing or riding to the next level with much better habits.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of entry-level skills, it’s easy to get complacent and ski the same blue runs over and over again ad nauseum—or to get frustrated and give up the sport, or even to push your limits too soon and get hurt. A little expert instruction can go a long way for an intermediate rider or skier.
Even Experts Need Lessons
“Lessons are for everyone,” Williams says. “I’m a certified ski instructor, and I try to take a lesson every year, or at least ski with another instructor.” There’s a reason many of us are required to keep up with professional development in our workplaces—we can always learn new skills and find ways to do things more efficiently.
At a certain skill level, Williams points out, instructors are really looking to their students to drive the lesson. “As an instructor, I’m really psyched when a student comes to me and says, ‘This is what I really want to work on today,’” she explains. “So if you’re the student who speaks up, the group will be working on the skills you want to learn.”
Group or Private Lessons
There’s a vast range of lesson lengths and types available, depending on where you’re skiing or riding. From two-hour private lessons to full-day group lessons to weekend-long clinics, many ski areas run the gamut of lesson possibilities.
“The big thing is getting into the right lesson,” Williams says. Chat with someone at the ski school to make sure you’re signing up for the appropriate level of instruction. “A good instructor can tailor pointers to you throughout the day, so even in a group lesson, you should be getting some individual instruction.”
“Private lessons are really going to allow you to hone in on whatever skills you’re focused on for that day,” she says. If you’re someone who learns best from one-on-one instruction, by all means, sign up for a private lesson.
If, on the other hand, you’re just looking to practice some skills under an instructor’s watchful eye—and particularly if you learn well in a group, when you can watch others and learn from them, too—Williams says there’s nothing wrong with taking a less expensive group lesson.
Wherever you are in your skiing or riding progression—whether you’re looking to ski harder and more technical terrain, switching from snowboarding to skiing, or hitting the slopes for the very first time this season—even taking just one or two lessons a year can improve your skills infinitely.