Groups For Beginners, Private To Refine Technique.

Group lessons: Fun and affordable. Credit: SkiNH

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. The surest shortcut to becoming a good skier is to take multiple lessons with a professional instructor.

I’ve often wondered 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: JoJo Toeppner ran two of the best-known XC areas in North America, California’s Royal Gorge and Tahoe Donner; Emily Lovett has long been co-Director of the famous Yellowstone Fall Training Camp in Montana;and Scotty McGee is a celebrated cross country, telemark, and alpine instructor, trainer, and examiner.  They’re experts not just at technique but also at communication and accelerating your learning curve.

There can be a bunch of factors involved in your choice, ranging from expense to self-consciousness.

Credit: LL Bean group lessons

All three experts agree that cost can be a factor. Scotty comments, “When your goals are specific enough, or price difference isn’t an issue, private lessons give you the tailored experience that’s 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, and lesson, as opposed to a 75-minute discounted package). Privates can be customized to what the student wants if there’s a specific need, such as hills, corners, or stopping, while groups cover a little of everything.”

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 that group instruction involves some willingness to be open to others’ abilities, questions, and learning styles, which can be fun and interesting.

Scotty says that for newer skiers, group lessons are a great way to meet people and 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.”

Private lessons provide focus. Credit: Peak Performance

It sounds like if a resort offers intermediate group lessons, they’re likely to provide two instructors when there’s a medley of ability levels. Above intermediate level, the likelihood that a group lesson will meet your goals decreases. One exception to this is the organized “camp” with multiple ability levels (Yellowstone; Silver Star, BC; Bend, OR; Crested Butte, CO) which can see dozens of perennials during multi-day clinics.

Maybe you prefer to have a lesson based on your personal learning styles and goals, in which case a private lesson’s tailored attention and feedback may be more valuable. One-on-one instruction can also include video analysis on a phone. Group lessons can be especially fun if they’re on-going sessions (for instance, a weekly lesson or training), where you progress together over multiple sessions.

One filter you can use to help find the highest quality instruction is to inquire about certification with the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) or Canadian Association of Nordic Ski Instructors (CANSI). Qualifications include both skiing and teaching ability, and a mechanical understanding that helps frame the journey from where you are now and where you want to go. 

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