Here’s What The Experts Say.

Olympian Sue Wemyss, instructor at Great Glen Trails, NH, gives a student some tips on adjusting bindings. Credit: Roger Lohr

Let’s say you want to learn how to cross-country ski relatively quickly and easily: How to move with grace and minimal effort, develop endurance, and enjoy what you’re doing from the git-go.

Well, it’s going to take time on skis to develop that self-assurance, balance, and muscle memory (though kids can do a lot of that with amazing ease); but the surest shortcut to becoming a good xc skier is to take several lessons or clinics – not just one – with a professional instructor.

I’ve wondered for years what’s the simplest way to speed up the learning-and-fun process for people of any age, not just us perennials: group lessons or private instruction. Figuring that it would help to ask the pros, I contacted three renowned Nordic instructors/coaches/ski school directors. They all have long strings of credentials, but a quick overview: Emily Lovett is co-director of the famous West Yellowstone Ski Festival’s XC Ski Camp in Montana;and Scott McGee is a celebrated cross country, telemark, and alpine instructor, trainer, and examiner in Jackson Hole, Wyoming; JoJo Toeppner has run two XC areas in California at Royal Gorge and Tahoe Donner. They’re experts not just at technique but also at communication and accelerating the learning curve.

They explain that there can be a bunch of factors involved in your choice, ranging from expense to self-consciousness.

All three experts agree that cost can be a factor. Emily makes the point that group lessons can be really fun and meaningful as you learn from each other and bond through a shared experience. She adds, “I think taking a private sometimes depends on if you like having more of a one-on-one experience and attention.” She adds that a group lesson involves some willingness to be open to others’ abilities, questions, and learning styles, which can be fun and interesting.

In a group lesson, you learn from other students and through repetition. Credit: Jonathan Wiesel

Scott comments, “When your goals are specific enough, or if the price difference isn’t an issue, private lessons give you the tailored experience that is most likely to meet your goals and be targeted at your abilities.” JoJo feels that “It’s much more expensive to take a one-hour private where everything is charged separately (ticket, rental, lesson, as opposed to a 75-minute discounted package). But privates can be customized to what the student wants if there’s a specific need, such as mastering hills, corners, or stopping, while groups cover a little of everything.”

Scott feels that a group lesson is a great way for new skiers to meet people, plus they’re easier to book than privates. He says, “Nordic centers most likely have a beginner lesson once or twice a day. As skiers progress, up through intermediate level, there are many undiscovered breakthroughs waiting to happen. Small improvements to efficiency and effectiveness take time to integrate into technique. So multiple group lessons at a beginner-ish level can provide great value as long as repetition (“Here’s how you put a ski on”) is not an issue.”

It sounds like above intermediate level, the likelihood that a group lesson will meet your goals decreases. One great exception to this is the fall “camps” with multiple groups for different ability levels, like the West Yellowstone Ski Festival or Silver Star Mountain Resort in BC, which see dozens of senior skiers among participants each November.

Fast and happy trails to you!

One Comment

  1. Great points made about taking ski lessons. Different instructors explain things differently and usually something will connect and open up new levels of ability and enjoyment in your cross country skiing.

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