If your family is heading to the slopes this season, chances are someone is going to end up in ski school, and we think that's great. Ski school is the place where youngsters meet new friends, learn to ski in a safe environment, and (most importantly, perhaps) usually fall in love with a sport that will last them a lifetime.
After graduating from the Penguin Playground Daycare at Okemo when I was 3, I enrolled in Ski Wee (now Snow Stars) for the next few years, eventually moving on to the mountain race program, collegiate ski racing, and finally big mountain skiing out West as a professional ski instructor. To this day, some of my best memories on skis have been in ski school: as the student and as the teacher. So I'd like to offer some inside tips on what ski school life is really like (awesome!) and what to look for in order to choose the best one for your family members. Read my tips and check our family ski deals
If your child is really eager to get on the slopes and spend most of his/her time there, find a program that offers maximum amount of time on-snow in full day lessons. Most ski schools consider age and skill when grouping kids into lessons, with youngsters 6 and under taking more breaks for coloring and story-time. Whether your child is tentative about lessons or begging to spend all day outside, let the staff know at check-in so they can group accordingly.
Ski school is definitely not the same as it was twenty years ago: you don't have to simply choose half-day or full-day lesson for skiing or riding. There are tons of specialty programs now that focus on specific skills and interests, like park and pipe, steeps, and racing. If your child has a specific interest, check out ski schools that offer single or multi-day group lessons (typically called camps) that cater to those interests. Your kids will love you for it.
Instructor / Student Ratio
Finding out ahead of time how many students are usually in a group lesson may be tough, but it's worth asking about. During vacation periods, ski schools are swamped, and while they do their best to have all hands on deck, some resorts will group 15 kids in a lesson with 1 instructor. If you don't want your child in such a massive group but don't want to book a one-on-one private either, look for programs that offer semi-private lessons, where the maximum group size is about 4 kids. It will cost you slightly more than a normal group lesson, but way less than a private one.
Are there plenty of indoor activities for kids who won't be spending all day on the snow? Are there any special evening events, like a movie night or Kids Night Out? Are there other fun ways the ski school integrates outdoor winter activity, like snow fort building or sledding? Ski school is primarily about skiing, but if you have a child 4 and under who isn't going to be doing gondi laps all day, be sure to ask if there will still be opportunities to go outside, learn, and have fun. It will affect his/her overall feeling towards the sport and desire to return to ski school in the future.
By "overall value," I specifically mean the holistic experience your kids are getting for their time and your money. Prices can hugely vary from major resorts like Deer Valley to smaller programs in Southern New England, so be sure to recognize a) what your child needs in a ski program and b) where the best place is to get this experience. Maybe it's a world-class resort with an award-winning program – and maybe it's something simpler and close to home.
Ski school is a great place for kids to learn the sport and hone their skills, no matter what their age or ability level. Each resort runs things differently, but overall, programs are run in a team-oriented way with great communication among supervisors, instructors, kids and parents, and everything your child needs to have a positive experience is there. So start looking and booking, and always, always contact the program to ask questions if they aren't answered on website!