That’s the simple question, would you like to improve your skiing and enjoy it more?

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When was the last time you took a lesson? Perhaps a mid-season lesson might boost your skill. Credit: Breckenridge

Would you love skiing as much if you were a wedge skier?  Probably not.  What about a pretty good parallel skier, but anxious on the more challenging black diamond runs?  Maybe you’d avoid them, stick to the corduroy and feel great.

My point is this: The more skilled we are, the more we love our skiing days!  It’s that simple.  And when I began as a part time ski instructor in VT eleven years ago (my kids had moved west, and so had my ex-wife), I got myself hired at Stratton.  First thing I learned while doing “clinics” with the best instructors: There was a lot to learn about technique that I DID NOT KNOW.  I thought all my expert skills learned in the 1960s-1970s were enough.

Wrong.  Skiing techniques have changed, because ski design has massively morphed.  Back in the day, longer skis meant you were a better skier.  Today, not so much.  And ski shape has changed dramatically: One shape for all-mountain, and something very different when you’re going into the deep pow.

Here’s what I see the most among my own “senior” skiing friends, and those I teach:

1. Many skiers forget about the importance of maintaining the “athletic stance” on skis, but it’s so important because it’s what brings us forward into our boots, and gets us over our skis for maximum edging and  balance effectiveness.

2. Skiers like to look straight ahead over their ski tips, when much of the time they should be facing more downhill than their skis, such twisting thus keeping the hip into the hill and edges carving.  This is where the saying “move the skis more than the jacket” comes from.

3. Skiers get lazy and stand up too straight and tall, and by doing so, lose control and confidence on more challenging terrain.

These are all little things that can easily be fixed, but it’s easier to “show” the error to skiers and then have them fix it in their own skiing than to simply “tell” them to do it without any demonstration of what’s being done incorrectly.  And with some focus and concentration, any skier can correct these bad habits and see/feel their improvement so quickly,

So what if you could instantly take a step up to a higher level of skiing with one or two short private or semi-private lessons?  Remember the way we used to hop at the moment of turning in order to cause the weight change from one downhill ski to the other?  We don’t do that with today’s skis, because the skis are much more effective, and they have the ability to be moved from one edge to the other almost magically with subtle movement. All it takes is a little new knowledge.  It’s called carving, and it works.  But even as an instructor, I thought I didn’t need it.  Now that I’ve got it worked into my skill set, I would never get rid of it.

And don’t you hate it when you get to a run (usually a black diamond), and you don’t feel confident enough to turn your skis downhill on that run?  A single lesson or two at the beginning or middle of the season could set you on a glorious path of improvement enabling you to ski previously daunting black diamond runs you’d avoid.  Or enjoy them much more!

Let’s face it, we’re not getting younger, but as Mike’s recent piece pointed out, getting more skilled and proficient at the sport we love is just one more way of “keeping the old man away” (or “old lady”), so we can still feel young plunging down the trails we love. And there’s nothing like improvement to make us feel younger.

When you think about all the money you’ve spent (and still spend) on ski clothing and equipment, don’t you owe it to yourself to spend just a fraction on actually getting better?

One lesson each season, that’s all it takes. Just find a great instructor. I’ll tell you more about doing that in another column.

Group or private, a lesson opens new capabilities. Credit: Vail Resorts


  1. Patti Farkas says:

    There’s the rub – finding a great instructor! Good luck with that, because that’s what it takes – luck.
    I’ve only had three lessons in my skiing life, one as a 50-year-old never-ever during an ice storm in VT, one with an instructor at a world-renowned resort who ignored my emphatically stated lack of experience in deep snow to concentrate on the other (much better) skier, and one with the great Billy Kidd in a group with, to put it mildly, varying levels of expertise. I learned lots in the first (starting from nothing), including how difficult it is to get up after falling while trying to get on a J-bar; nothing from the second except how frustrating it is to be ignored and to pay for it; and a great deal from the third, including how to manage and encourage such a diverse group while actually imparting useful knowledge.
    The rest of my days on various ski hills have been spent with my husband (an expert skier) giving me tips and demonstrating proper techniques. In this manner, I have been able to become a competent, safe skier, able to still enjoy myself at age 80 accompanying my 88-year-old “old man”.

    • Good news-bad news, but the good news is great: you’re still skiing! Hearing your story of woe with ski instructors is very upsetting to me, and a sad reflection on the state of supposed “customer service” that all ski areas talk about, but do little in reality to provide. I’m working to change that. What I usually tell friends and acquaintances is the following: “Wherever you’re going to ski, do your best to find someone who’s been there, and ask him or her to give you a lead on someone, almost anyone, at the target resort to reach out to…and reach out. Tell him/her you want a lesson for x, with an instructor who’s good at y, and doesn’t do the things you hate. And see what happens. I give out my ski instructor biz card to everyone I teach and tell them to call me or text me any questions they have. Skiing is too much fun to have bad experiences trying to get better! Best of luck and keep turning. Check this out: go to YouTube and search: “gordon precious heli-ski”, you’ll find a video of a guy who recently set record as OLDEST HELI-SKIER IN USA at the age of, I think, 94 !!

  2. Patti’s comment above is instructive. For background, I am a 70 year old ski instructor at Breckenridge. I have skied for exactly 60 years. But this year alone, I’ve taken 23 ski-instructor-level ski lessons, including many for which I have to pay. Patti has skied for 30 years, in which time she has taken three ski lessons, along with tips from her husband, who likely has never been taught how to teach skiing. This is a fairly typical story. I wonder whether any of you have ever skied in Japan? It is not the Japanese cultural style to go out and ski poorly; most Japanese take ski lessons very often and, as the result, the average Japanese skier is far better than the average American skier. Unfortunately, skiing just is not an activity which humans can teach themselves effectively, and sadly, Patti had bad experiences with people who were great skiers but perhaps not great instructors. She wonders how does one find a great instructor? A good start would be to find a PSIA-certified instructor (or in Canada, CSIA), as that person has had training in how to teach skiing. A good lesson will focus on you; where you are in your skiing, what you want to accomplish, what you want to do, help you get there, and set you up for success to continue to enjoy skiing for many years. Patti, I urge you to not give up and make an investment in yourself. Good luck and have fun!

  3. Rich, thanks for your comment. So true. Can’t speak about the Japanese situation as I’ve not had the pleasure to ski there, although I’ve heard great things. Totally agree with you about meeting the student “where they are in their skiing”, and then trying to add one or two things that help them do better in one way or another. The more someone’s been skiing, the less I try to do a total “ski makeover”. If I can help them fix one or two little things, it’s often a great start, and if they also have fun, then we’re way ahead of the ballgame! J

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