A great lesson is probably the fastest, safest and least expensive (no fooling...read on) path to becoming a skilled, playful and happy skier or rider. The information here is ski-centric, but the general ideas apply to snowboarding, too.
Ski schools typically use a level or zone system to describe skier skills, e.g. new to skiing, beginner, intermediate, advanced, expert. PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) uses a system that describes 9 levels in which certain skills are to be acquired via drills, adventure and discussion.
Note: although there are many similarities between the systems used by different ski schools, it is best to focus on skills rather that levels when deciding what kind of class best fits a student.
Skills in the beginner phase can be acquired relatively quickly. To consistently ski with the skills common to the intermediate zone requires many days/weeks. And to consistently ski with advanced skills requires many weeks/months, and in truth, many seasons of practice.
It is common for a skier to be able to show progress in multiple levels, i.e. skiing with skills common to the level below and sometimes the level above the current level.
Just remember, it's not a race (unless you are learning to race), so take it easy and focus on getting the skills one by one into your bones. Be safe, have fun and you'll have a much easier time learning and progressing.
If you have a go getter kid who wants to ski in a Level 4 class one day, be in a Level 5 class the next and then a Level 6 the day after, please help them understand that it takes real time to acquire real skills. And practice is a journey measured in many miles.
In the graphic below (Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced) I've laid out how progression might typically be followed (based on PSIA standards). The skills I've highlighted in yellow are what I would call gate keeper skills, i.e. unless the skier owns that skill without being coached to use it, they are not ready for the next level.
Why are lessons the least expensive path to becoming a skilled, happy skier? The answer is actually pretty simple. Many, if not most accidents that happen on the snow are a combination of a skier/rider being in the wrong place with the wrong skills and a lack of understanding about the Responsibility Code.
Accidents are costly in physical, financial and emotional ways. A visit to an ER to get a tweaked joint checked out is often much more than the cost a good lesson. Making an investment in learning skills is always less expensive than paying for injuries. Plus, a great lesson is FUN!
Remember to come well rested!
When you take a lesson you should clearly communicate to your instructor what your goals are, what limitations you might have, and how you feel about the day ahead of you. Your instructor should be able to help you identify ONE skill that you can play with in different ways that will allow you the freedom to move on to the next ONE skill.
Focus on actually developing ownership of the skills instead of just "being able to ____________________" when reminded or coached to do so. For example, if you need to be reminded when and how to make a proper pole plant, you don't actually own that skill, even if you can "do it" when coached.
Physical Preparation: Come well rested, hydrated (water is best), have some good food inside of you for the energy you'll need. Dress in layers (except for socks—just ONE pair of socks if you want your feet to be comfortable), have good ski gloves or mittens, and make sure you have a helmet for your head (see the Safety page). Goggles or sun glasses are important. Sunscreen is also vital at high altitudes. The UV rays are stronger and are intensified by reflecting off the snow, even with clouds out!
Rental equipment: Whenever possible, if you are renting equipment, see if you can pick up your gear the day before you hit the hill. Make sure your skis are the right size and kind for your skill level, that your boots are comfortable (acknowledging that ski boots will not feel like tennis shoes), and that your bindings are set correctly and fit your boots. If a helmet rental is part of the deal, make sure you know how to adjust it for a proper fit.
Parent taught, peer taught, or Pro taught?
Some parents are perfectly suited to share their love of skiing and riding with their children.
Some are not. The questions to answer are
• "Do I understand the technical and behavioral aspects of guiding a child, youth or adult through
a friendly, fun skill progression?"
• "Do I understand the safety aspects of working with a child in a resort environment?"
• "Can I separate my own ego from the learning curve my child, sibling or friend is experiencing?"
• "Do I understand and live the Responsibility Code?"
If you've answered "No" to any of these questions, you may want to go with a pro. PSIA/AASI instructors are certified, have deep resources and experiences to bring to the game, and know how to create a successful learning experience. They know how to guide a learner on the most effective path that leads to safe, playful sliding skills.
Do I need to sign up with a resort's ski & snowboard school or can I hire a freelance instructor?
Resort ski & snowboard schools are legal, legitimate and part of the resort's organization. Their employees have been screened, trained and tested. Neither they nor their guests need to worry about having a chat with a sheriff.
What? A sheriff, a.k.a. the police, the authorities, the heat? Yup.
Freelance instructors who teach outside of the structure of a resort's ski & snowboard school are committing a crime known as "Theft of services." Their teaching, though possibly competent, is illegal, illegitimate and outside of the resort's organization. When such "underground teaching" is discovered the legal gears start grinding.
So, if you are inclined to go with lessons as your decision to become or create a happy, skilled skier/rider, go with a pro. It's safe, smart and fun!
FOCUS ON ONE THING!
When real learning, the kind that gets into one’s bones, is the goal, figure out what ONE thing to focus on. One. We are able to do more than one thing at a time, but we can only focus on one thing at a time.
Just like how it feels to get one bumblebee in the car while you are driving, one is enough. Put two bumblebees in a car and things go sideways quickly. The ability to identify the one thing to focus on is an entirely different discussion, and also why it is so valuable to engage the skills of a seasoned coach.
That’s our job, to help others identify the bumblebee they need to attend to first. We then help others connect knowledge to action. True for skiing. True for pretty much everything.