At some point, most skiers and riders give up on lessons. “Lessons?” we ask. “Why would we take lessons? We’ve been on snow for years. We’re pretty good and we just want to free ride.” While many of us may recognize that we’d like to improve our skills, we don’t necessarily want to admit it. Or spend the time or money to actually work on improving. Ski school is just for beginners, right?
Wrong — Ski School Is For Everyone
In the past two years, we’ve had the opportunity to take ski lessons with some of the best instructors in the country. Last year, at Aspen Highlands, we hiked and skied Highland Bowl with Sheila. It was a great experience. This year, under great duress, our boys skied with Alan at Alta. They didn’t want to, but when it was over they were believers. Even good skiers can learn something from a pro.
So, if you, or someone in your family, has been reluctant to take a “lesson,” but would like to improve your ski or ride skills this winter, here’s some encouragement.
1. The “Pros” Take Lessons Too. When I asked Earl Saline of PSIA/AASI (Professional Ski Instructors of America/American Association of Snowboard Instructors), if anyone is too good for lessons, he laughed. “PSIA/AASI instructors train all the time,” he told me. I noticed he didn’t say “take lessons,” but I understood what he meant.
“Clinics are part of the culture of teaching snowsports,” Saline elaborated. “We take clinics for personal improvement, and to learn things like how to teach a better lesson or connect with kids. I can’t think of an instructor out there who doesn’t take lessons throughout the season.” There, he said it. The “L” word. Even the pros take lessons.
2. Always Room to Improve. Just to be sure, I asked Alan Burriss, an 11 year instructor, who is currently with the Alta Ski School, the same question. He laughed. “If you take a run with Lindsey Vonn or Bode Miller, or any of these professional freeskiers,” he said, “they’ll show you how much better you could be. There is always room to improve.” But that made me wonder, are these pros themselves “too good for lessons?”
A quick call to the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) confirmed that no, they are not. Doug Haney, the Alpine Press Officer for USSA answered my question this way: “Our athletes are absolute professionals, which means they have to train and practice on a near daily basis. Whether on snow to tune their technique or in the gym to improve fitness, they work with the some of the best coaches in the world.” In other words: lessons.
Know What You Want
So now, if you’re convinced (or you’ve convinced your kids), that lessons are a good idea for everyone, you need to decide what you want to learn. What holds you back? Is there terrain you want to tackle? Do you want to learn a new skill, such as running gates and racing? Do you want to learn in a private lesson by yourself or is a clinic more your style?
The lesson our boys took at Alta was really about reading the mountain and exploring terrain off the beaten path. These were the things they wanted to learn. Yes, Alan gave them tips to improve their skiing, but he also introduced them to new skills that moved them well beyond sliding downhill. And, he got them excited – excited to duck rope into the sidecountry (which is allowed at Alta) and excited to take bigger jumps off bigger rocks and land them. It was nothing like the lessons they remembered. And it shouldn’t have been, for they are nothing like the skiers they were then.
Earl Saline suggests that whatever you want to learn, “Be clear about what you want to learn and communicate this to the ski school. There are instructors out there who dedicate their lives to teaching the best lessons possible. Ask for what you want and most ski and ride schools are more than happy to pair you up with the right instructor.”
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