Hello readers, super great comments and questions on my “Secrets for Your Best Ski Season Ever” piece.  Also spoke with two readers in follow up.  I can sense everyone’s excited for this ski season – me too.  Shoot me your thoughts or questions and I’ll reply.

Alta’s Intermediate Breakthrough program help people go from blues to blacks

Previously I mentioned my good friend (60+) who improved bigtime from only four group lessons at Alta, UT last March.  Result: his skiing improved from confident “blue” skier to eager “black” skier.  In just four lessons.  So let’s dig in to what Alta’s program looks like and why it works.

And it’s worth doing even if you’re NOT going to visit Alta.  Here’s why: it’s a great template for asking the right questions of any ski school or instructor.  As a ski instructor, I LOVE when any skier in a group or private lesson tells me what they want to be able to do better/different.

Source: Alta

Now, back to Alta’s “Intermediate Breakthrough” group lessons.  Curious, I reached out to both Alta’s Ski School Director, and to the instructor who led the program my friend had found so helpful.  A few key observations:

  1. They seek decent “blue run” skiers who want to improve.
  2. They want skiers who will put some thought into their skiing, actively thinking of improvements they’d like to make.
  3. And, they want skiers to go out and practice the improvements a lot, and talk about what they’re seeing and feeling in their skiing.

I spoke with both Jonathan Doty, the on-snow instructor who led the Intermediate Breakthrough (IB) program, and with Jeremy Moore, Alta Ski School Director, who helped design it.  IB consists of one half-day group lesson per week for four consecutive weeks; a total of four group lessons. Talk to your ski buddies and try to pull together 3-4 who could join the lesson; next, talk to ski school and try to schedule a half-day morning lesson for four consecutive Sundays with same instructor.Many Sundays are QUIET at ski schools, so you may have better luck creating a special deal.

Jeremy insisted “the IB program is well-suited for anyone who’s skiing at least easy blue groomed terrain comfortably, and also is willing to put some time and energy into thinking about and hopefully improving their skiing”.

Source: Alta

Best preparation?  Here’s Jeremy again, “You don’t have to prepare in any specific way. However, it would potentially help improve your overall experience if you took some time to think and feel your skiing and come up with some concepts of what you like or don’t like about your skiing so you have a baseline to start from with your coach.”

From my friend, I learned that the IB format focuses on several “themes”, specifically one per week.  I asked Jeremy to unpack this a bit for me.  Jeremy: “The Alf Engen Ski School at Alta is a skills-based ski school, and we help students understand the How/What/Why they are doing with their skis.”  He added, “There are only 3 things you can do to your skis: rotate them, pressure them, or tip them on and off their edges”.  Sounds like a little, but it’s a lot!

Jonathan expanded on the “theme” focus: “We want skiers to succeed not only with us but on their own.  Each week we focus on a specific task they can practice outside of IB lessons, and a theme creates a flow to the lesson where the skills build on each other.”

As an instructor mostly doing private lessons, I know many people are concerned about “being judged” by others, particularly their friends.  Jonathan insisted: “This is a common thought, but everyone is putting themselves out there, and are on a personal journey.  This is a judgment-free zone!”

Like I wrote last time, whenever we improve our skiing proficiency…we have more fun!  Try to create this program at your favorite ski area…or just go to Alta.


  1. “There are only 3 things you can do to your skis: rotate them, pressure them, or tip them on and off their edges.”
    Wow! That is good!
    Personally, I need a breakthrough from green to blue!

    • Hi Jeff,
      Thanks for your comment – ya it’s pretty amazing how basic skiing really is, and I’m always trying to convey that message to all the people I teach. The big blob that gets between want-to-improve skiers and the sometimes elusive “improvement “ is…FEAR. And that’s why, starting out with never-evers, I always give them a formula for reducing and/or eliminating fear. Because fear will retard a skier from his/her normal progression, and will also reduce the fun!

  2. Dean Vosler says:

    Stand on one ski at a time, use the inside edge, shift your weight to your new turning ski and start the turn on your uphill ski. Tito Flores changed my skiing forever. Wish I knew this 50 years ago.

    • Scott Jimmerson says:

      Been skiing for 65+ years and learned to “shift your weight to your new turning ski” 2 years ago in a 55+ group lesson. Makes turning so much easier and smoother. Really liked the Rossi Stratos, but LOVE the new Ripsticks. No more weight on the downhill ski for me to start a turn.

    • Yes, Lito Tejada Flores and his videos “Breakthrough on Skis” laid the foundation for our families’ skiing. Hard to believe the videos were released in way back in 1993! (They’re now on YouTube.)

      I’ll add one more tip to your list: Keep your upper body facing downhill.

      • Yes for sure, in ski instructor shorthand we’ll say: “move the legs/skis more than the jacket”

      • The way I keep my body facing downhill is to pick a tree directly downhill below me and keep my shoulders aimed to the tree and let the legs do the turning!

  3. LITO Tejada-Flores! Remember well his dueling columns series with another guy…was that SKI, SKIING, or POWDER?

  4. Thomas Harvey says:

    I took the Advanced Skiers Workshop at Alta in 2011. I believe the instructors name was Doug Miller. We had so much fun that the two hour lesson was extended until the lifts closed. I remember the lesson well. Mr. Miller wrote it out for us: Tall, Wall, Fall, Circle. I practice the lesson every time I go out. I think very highly of Alta’s Ski School.

  5. Would this program work for someone that used to pretty much ski the whole mountain, but due to injuries and now a knee replacement? Skiing used to be really fun, but now I’m back to just skiing blues and only skiing groomed runs. I’ve really gone backwards in my ability. Maybe it’s all mental now. As they say, the thrill is gone….

    • It certainly might. When I’ve had minor injuries (like muscle pulls and such) I always compensate in the worst ways. It couldn’t hurt to take a half day private lesson(when booking tell reservations what your most important issues are). Then Make sure to begin the lesson by making a frank disclosure of any & all issues to your instructor. Explain one or two things you’d like to change. Your instructor will want you to succeed.

      • Hi John,
        Thanks… I am thinking about doing some half day lessons here at my home mtn (Copper) but only after I get a chance to “interview” a ski instructor. Getting the ski instructor du jour would probably be the worst.

        • Hey Liz,
          I agree, you don’t want random! When people ask me how to find a top instructor I suggest doing some basic networking at your “home” ski resort: talk to ski/boot salespeople, bartenders/restaurant servers, friends who’ve taken lessons…and ask them for referrals to best instructors. In any ski town the network is pretty tight – if you ask, people will give you names…try it

  6. It’s difficult for skiers who ski several resorts during the year to arrange for successive lessons with the same instructor. I find that although discrete group lessons have value, they are no substitute for learning a coherent and consistent approach.

    I was an early follower of Lito Tejada Flores and found his three “Breakthrough on Skis” very helpful in transitioning form a “blue” to a “black” run skier. However, my real breakthrough came when I discovered the writings and videos of Harald Harb. He presents a coherent and common sense approach which concentrates on dynamic balance, emphasizes the unweighting of the inside ski rather than pressuring the outside ski to effect a turn, and finally getting on the edges to allow the natural radius of the ski assist the turn.

  7. Hi Marc,
    Very well explained! For many skiers this is topsy-turvy from how they learned, so very tough to teach intellectually…needs an instructor “on site” to observe and make suggestions. Would you agree?

  8. It would certainly be helpful to obtain “on site” instruction in the Harb method. He does conduct clinics out West, but this is not an option for most people. Even without the personal instruction component, I have found that Harb’s consistent and coherent approach is much more effective than taking periodic group lessons with instructors who, although schooled in PSIA methodology, are generally providing “band aid” types of tips that are often contradictory to each other. The gold standard of course would be to take a series of lessons with the same instructor, but that is generally not available to those who don’t have a season pass at one ski area. The combination of reading Harb’s books and viewing his You Tube lessons and proprietary DVD’s has proven to be very effective for me.

    • The “ gold standard “ you refer to is exactly what Alta seems to achieve with their “Intermediate Breakthrough” 4-lesson approach. Wish their ski school could go “on tour” promoting this system – they’ve got a group approach that delivers amazing results from what I’ve seen

  9. Good stuff John! I was reading your article and the first thing that popped into my head are the mental aspects of skiing.
    Then I scrolled to comments you had mentioned the fear aspect of those looking to improve skills. I agree wholeheartedly!!
    I’m a self taught skier of just shy of 50 years of skiing. I would recommend taking lessons from skilled skiers and communicators like yourself. I was blessed with determination and skiing with people who have national champ, Olympics high level skills. Skiing the way I want to ski.
    That leads me back to your point of overcoming fear. As much as skiers want to improve the physical side of skiing, the biggest room for improvement is the mental aspect. Observing good skiers, visualization of oneself skiing like what you see. Practice on the slopes, visualize on the lift rides, in lines at home on the couch. Stay positive no matter the circumstances. Be mindful of the moment while skiing, feel as much as you can. More feeling, less thinking and LESS over analyzing combined with simple lessons and the ski world is your oyster so to speak.
    Thanks for the article!

    • Joe,
      Thanks for your contributions to this thread! Indeed I always talk about fear, but only with teen and older learners. I’ve found it’s so helpful to both those who acknowledge their fears, as well as those who might never bring it up. It exists, and it does no good pretending it doesn’t.

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