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The First-Timer’s Guide to Ski School

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Your New Year’s resolution: Learn to ski as a family. You’re in luck, as January is Learn to Ski or Snowboard Month at Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA) member ski areas offering special promotions and programs.

Now what? Navigating ski schools at a Colorado resort is easy when you know what to expect. First, suggests Copper Mountain instructor Mike McFarland, go online to buy ski passes and make reservations for lessons, which often sell out. You’ll most likely get a discount by purchasing in advance. If you’re renting equipment, avoid any possible delay by renting skis close to home, picking up gear during off-peak times or the evening before your lesson.

Choosing between group and private lessons comes down to your comfort in social, interpersonal lessons and your ultimate objectives. Group lessons typically cost less and deliver a fun, interactive experience while private lessons can help meet specific goals. “Often times, private lesson customers find themselves forging lifelong friendships with their instructors,” says McFarland, “and this is another added benefit that makes the increased price tag worth it.”

Either way, you’ll want to arrive at the ski school at least an hour before the scheduled lesson time—well-rested, well-hydrated and well fueled with a hearty, wholesome breakfast. Chances are, your expectations include staying safe, having fun, becoming comfortable on your equipment, learning to stop and turn, and riding a lift. Colorado ski schools design their programs with these expectations in mind.

Most first-time skiers, says McFarland, will learn not only straight gliding on skis; and making and stopping with a wedge; but also making slight direction changes and how to ride a surface lift. Most new snowboarders, meanwhile, will discover how to make a slight J-turn and side-slipping on the heel edge, among other key skills.

Naturally, frustrations can set in, as can chilly temps. No problem. At Ski Cooper, instructors in the children’s Panda program ensure regular breaks for water, snacks and hot chocolate. At Copper, McFarland reminds families to communicate with their instructors about any mental setbacks. Simply stepping away from the task at hand for a moment or two can reset the emotional paradigm.  

As you progress through the lesson, you’ll start to gain the confidence to eye more challenging trails, but remember to trust the teacher. “In order to successfully navigate more advanced terrain,” says McFarland, “skiers and riders need to incorporate solid fundamentals, and few environments cultivate these fundamentals as well as a lesson with a certified, trained instructor.”

And feel free to pull out your smartphone during the lesson, as it just might make this snow sport a lifetime sport. “For families and beginners looking to keep their own learning momentum, nothing jogs the emotional memory like a few fun videos or pictures of your most recent snow adventure,” says McFarland. “Just looking back on the exciting times had in lessons, or recounting stories about your instructor-led adventures, can be great stimuli for the next planned outing.”

Sarah Tuff Dunn recently moved to Louisville, Colorado, with her husband, Carlton, and their two children, Dillon, 12, and Harper, 10. They’re looking forward to exploring the world-class skiing in Colorado, aided by the Colorado Ski Country 5th and 6th Grade Passport Program. Sarah has been writing professionally for nearly 25 years and her work has appeared in The New York Times, SKI, Skiing and Powder, among other publications. Read more of Sarah’s stories here and follow along with her Colorado skiing journey here