Expert Advice: Getting the Most out of Your Ski Lesson

Written by Alexa Owen • Oct 07, 2016

Ski lessons are expensive. They're also worth the investment to improve your skills, safety, and overall good times on the hill.

When it comes to the ins and outs of ski lessons, though, we are consistently surprised by how little consumers know about what to expect, how to prepare, and where to go on the slopes with all those new skills. It's not that you won't benefit from a ski lesson if you don't get these insider tips -- your experience will just be, well, better if you show up with some intel. While we've got a few seasoned skiers here at Snowpak, we decided to go straight to an expert to get the details on how to get the most out of your ski lesson. So we asked Tom Owen, a PSIA Level III certified instructor with nearly 30 years teaching experience to share the basics on what ski lessons are all about. We asked the questions, and Tom answered. Here's what the Okemo Mountain Ski + Ride School instructor and staff trainer had to say:

How long have you been teaching skiing?

I have taught skiing at Okemo for 24 years. I coached High School ski racing for 36 years.

Why did you start?

Initially I applied so my family and I could get season passes. Once I started teaching I really enjoyed it. I had a great ski school director, Marty Harrison. The training staff and supervisors were tremendous and very knowledgeable.

What kinds of skiers/lessons do you teach?

I teach all levels and ages, both private and group lessons.

What are your favorite lessons to teach?

I really enjoy teaching all levels. When I get higher level students it's fun to get them around the mountain and experience some terrain they have not discovered. It is always great to help any level client develop new skills and an appreciation for the sport.

Working with new clients, "never evers," is also great fun. In two hours they are sliding on skis, able to control their speed, linking turns, and usually smiling.

Why would you encourage someone to take a ski lesson?

Just like anything else it is best to learn the correct way early. I see to many people out there trying to learn on their own, or from a friend or relative. That can be a very frustrating and sometimes painful experience. In a ski lesson we teach in a certain progression so skills can be learned and retained. The instructor is aware of appropriate terrain selection for each level. Too often I see skiers on terrain that is to difficult where very little learning is taking place.

What should a client wear for a ski lesson?

Technical gear that is made for the conditions is best. The most common mistake I see is guests that wear socks that are to thick, usually heavy wool that cuts off the circulation in the feet. A thin pair of ski socks that wick away the perspiration is much better. The same goes for the base layer. It is worth spending the money for material that keeps you dry. After the base layer, layer up – you can always remove layers if you get warm.

Helmets are highly recommended.

Can a client ask for a specific instructor while booking?

Guests can certainly ask for a specific instructor by name for a private lesson. This will cost a little more. If the guest does not know any instructor by name, they can ask for specific characteristics of an instructor they are looking for. For example: male, female, good with kids, patient, race training qualified, bumps, tree skiing...

What kind of progression would you recommend for a first time skier?

Group lessons are 2 hours. In two hours most guests will be able to ski off the magic carpet which is the easiest terrain. After that it is a matter of getting some mileage in on terrain that is appropriate for their level. Make sure to take breaks and stay well hydrated. If you are up to it, take a second lesson in the afternoon.

If you are there for an extended period of time be sure to not overdo it in the beginning – pace yourself. Doing anything for the first time can be exhausting. The condition of the snow and the amount of people on the hill should be considered when going out to practice.

What's the difference between a private lesson and a group lesson?

In group lessons the guests are receiving the same content as a private. However, they are not getting the personalized attention they would get in a private. Multiple lessons with the same instructor enables the instructor to better know his client's learning style, skill set, background, and level of fitness.

Group lessons can be fun and social. Kids have fun together playing games that help develop skills. Adults will socialize and encourage each other.

What kinds of lessons would you recommend for kids?

In my experience a group lesson with other kids of similar ability can be a lot of fun. The all day classes which include lunch with the group and instructor are a great way to learn, make friends and have fun. Sometimes kids could use a day off or 1/2 day just to rest and hang out. I don't believe in pushing too hard if they are tired. If the kids are better skiers than the parents it is going to be more fun to ski in a group.

If you choose a private lesson it should be at least 2 -4 hours. That will give plenty of time to work on the goals the parent and child have.

Have you ever taught a family private lesson? What is that like?

Working with a family all together can be great and challenging. If they all are close to the same ability it is much easier, we can work on similar skills. If one or more in the family is struggling to keep up, it can be frustrating for all. We have to stay on terrain that is appropriate for the the lowest level of skier.

If the lesson is multi hour or day I can have the parents take a break and I can go ski with the kids for awhile.

How can clients take the skills they learn in lessons to keep developing while freeskiing?

Some of my clients will write down or record key points I have worked on. The place to practice is on terrain that is not to difficult for them. Practice then go on something a little more difficult, but come back to an area where you can practice.

Is it possible to book the same instructor year after year?

Absolutely! If you are coming up during busy holiday weeks or weekends book early!

What are 3 pieces of advice you'd offer for someone to get the most out of their ski lesson?

Let the instructor know what kind of learner you are. Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic.

Be sure to be physically and mentally prepared.

There are 3 levels of instructors, level 3 being the highest. Be sure to ask for at least a PSIA level 2 instructor.