Over 11 seasons I’ve probably taught 500-600 kids and adults as a part-time instructor at Stratton/VT & Butternut/MA. “Never-evers”, experts, 4-yr olds to 80-yr olds. Me: flipping through trail names like a deck of cards, choosing the best run for the task at hand and my eager, anxious learner. 

Here’s the huge thing I’ve learned:

Anyone can become a better skier, if the skier has both a desire and determination to improve…simply by taking a few ski lessons at the outset of ski season.  

Why at the beginning?  

Because each season, starting out, we’re all squirming and thinking, trying to put our skiing back together again.  So instead of once again reinforcing some of the “bad” habits carried over from last season, you can trade them for one or two new/better ideas that will help you ski with more skill.  

But wait, there’s more: any improvement in your skiing proficiency ALWAYS leads to enjoying skiing more!  (Shoot me your questions at the end and I’ll reply.)

As an instructor, I’m lucky.  In early December we do OUR training.  We take refresher lessons with the best instructor “trainers” at our resorts.  We’re brushing up on our skills.  It helps me a lot.  But it took me a while to accept the fact I still needed to be in “learning” mode.  

This season try this… either by yourself or with a friend who’s at a similar ability level.  Sign up for a private lesson of 2-3 hours on your second day of the season. On the first day, ski around and get a feeling for what’s working and… what’s not.  Think about what you’d like to change, what’s confusing or difficult, what you’d like to ask questions about, then write it down.  Now you’re ready for that lesson on Day 2.  Because now you’re engaged in being an “active learner”. Real progress as a skier doesn’t just “happen” to you.  It comes as a result of efforts you make to change what’s not working, in favor of more useful approaches.

I witnessed this approach in action, in Utah, last March.  One of my best friends, with whom I’ve skied for 40 years, took a short program of four group lessons at Alta.  Called “Intermediate Breakthrough” it seeks skiers who truly desire improvement.  My friend wanted to improve, and was ready to do what it took.  He explained what he wanted from the lessons, and he worked hard to use the skill tips offered by his instructor.

And he not only improved…he made a quantum leap in his overall skiing proficiency, and in his ability to ski more challenging terrain while enjoying it.  It was remarkable to see, and it was the result of only four lessons, but four lessons in which both student and instructor were invested in producing real results.  Alta’s “Intermediate Breakthrough” is awesome.

Believe me, you can do it too… It’s totally worth it.

Ski class


  1. I suffered a serious ski injury – hit a patch of ice and skied off 9′ cliff breaking my tib/fib on one side and 3 broken ribs on my other side. I am 72 and am not ready to give it up but I am anxious. Any recommendations on how to diminish my anxiety and do what I love without hesitation/

    • Hi Pat,
      Wow that’s a tough bunch of injuries. I would feel tremendous anxiety also had I sustained those injuries. My best suggestion: just go out, dial it down a couple notches, and have FUN. Be happy to be skiing again and don’t knock yourself for taking it a bit easier. You’ll feel better and better as you build up confidence and get your ski legs back. Hey, we all adjust: I never look for opportunities to “get air” these days – doing that was a long time ago. But now I’ll get my kicks linking carved turns on really steep terrain. Just have fun!

    • Gordon Oliver says:

      HI pat, I am glad to hear that you are ready to continue skiing after your injuries. After I had my knee replaced in Aug a few yours ago,
      I was cleared to ski in Dec, since I live in Pa, I waited until we had a good snow day in Jan, only a few inches. I slowly skied the greens in the morning just to get my legs back and to get comfortable with my repaired knee on skis. After lunch I went out, was relaxed and had fun. Good Luck.

  2. Here’s one factor to consider. Getting an early season lesson is a great idea, if you are in good skiing shape. For me, a lesson on the second day out would be unproductive because it takes me three or four days to get my ski legs. I find it hard to focus on learning when my legs are screaming STOP!!

    • Peter, excellent point. Just being in overall good aerobic and muscular condition will make everything easier right!? And at my age, conditioning is nothing to skimp on. Thanks for your comment.

  3. I’m always puzzled by folks who say they don’t “need” a ski lesson. I’m a longtime ski instructor at Breckenridge and I take instructor training clinics all the time. At age 70, my skiing continues to improve. Caveat, to quote Warren Miller, “If you are a better skier at 40 than you were at 20, you sure weren’t very good at 20.”

    • Everyone can learn and improve, but some skiers don’t have a goal to improve they just like to get outside and be with their friends. If they can get down the hill in one piece they are satisfied. There is nothing wrong with that. I think ski schools might consider marketing their lessons as a way to have more fun, rather than just “improve.”

      • Peter, also a great point. Skiing with friends makes it tough to say “hey guys I’m going to take a lesson this morning “. Peer pressure tough to buck – helps to have 1 or 2 specific things you want to work on

    • Rich, very true. I was one of ‘those guys’ for years. Fall/early winter training so helpful to my skiing…thanks!

  4. Great message John.

  5. Richard Kavey says:

    Excellent advice – all of it. The beginning of the season is the best time. Anyone who makes the effort and seeks competent instruction can improve – at times greatly. I say this as a ski racing coach with over 4 decades of experience with juniors and adults.

  6. Arlene okun says:

    Way to go John gelb! I enjoyed the read.
    From your old stratton compatriot!

  7. Richard, appreciate your comment a lot. I wish I’d seen the light in my 30s-40s!

  8. Thomas Harvey says:

    I took the Advanced Skiers Workshop at Alta in 2011. It was a great refresher. The lesson was to go from 1pm-3pm but we had so much fun that we skied until the lifts closed. Our instructor gave us a note card summarizing the lesson. It said, tall, wall, fall, circle. I practice this ever time I go out.

    • Hi Thomas,
      Love hearing that! And the code words too. Best, John

      • Hi Thomas,
        Would you mind filling me in on the bigger meaning indicated by each of these: tall, wall, fall, circle? I have an idea but would love to hear your explanation – thanks!

  9. George McKenna says:

    Do you have any recommendations for senior 70+ on where to get lessons from “seasoned”
    Ski instructors ?

    • Hi George,
      Most resorts can accommodate, it’s just a matter of connecting with the right/appropriate instructors. And the right instructors don’t necessarily need to be 70+ , just talented and willing to listen to your needs. Feel feee to text/call me at 203-249-3008. I may be doing instruction at Butternut and Stratton this winter. Regards, John

  10. My husband and I are advocates of taking lessons, and we did for years. Don’t know if you remember a ski resort in the Laurentians, Gray Rocks, whose specialty was ski weeks. We’d spend our early season at Gray Rocks, and noticed definite improvements each year. We also took lessons on our out-West trips each year since living on the East Coast and learning on ice was so different western snow. Now that we have permanently moved to our ski mountain, I also believe we could benefit from a lesson here…..and after two total knee replacements, I feel I could learn a lot! Thanks for a timely reminder.

  11. Hi John,
    I was curious as to what the code words Thomas meant with tall, wall, fall, and circle. Thank you, Bill

  12. I’ve watched the Alta skin instructors getting lessons…from a Master instructor? It involved having them ski slow turns on a beginner hill with the uphill ski completely off the snow. Seems like a good thing to practice.

  13. Hi Jeff, haha I know! I used to hate that drill, but now realize it’s just meant to give one the feel of 100% control over each ski. Helps to overcome any anxiety involving turns in one direction vs the other.

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