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Terrain Based Instruction for Beginners - Is it new? Why is it important?

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 

The point of the questions below is to help adult beginners, or parents of beginners understand the concept of "terrain based instruction."  The idea is to help them learn about ski school options.  In particular, when they are choosing a destination ski resort partially on the basis of the ski school.  They may need to choose a place for a ski vacation week or to select a "home mountain" that is one of several possible ski areas that require driving 1+ hours.  

 

In early Nov 2014, a Boston newspaper ran a piece about "terrain based instruction" for beginners.  The title is "New ski instruction gains momentum and students."  When I looked around, I quickly found several ski resorts that mention the idea on their websites including Killington, Sun Valley, Brian Head, Camelback, and Snowshoe.  I assume the comparison is to the more typical beginner area that is a dedicated beginner area on a more or less flat slope with just enough pitch to allow a beginner to slide at a slow (hopefully) speed.

 

Snowshoe in WV is making a big deal of the transformations made to their beginner area for 2014-15. They put a 2 min video on their webpage specifically about terrain based learning. 

 

 

Camelback in PA says this on their website about adult lessons for skiing and snowboarding:

* * *

Learn Here Learn Right! We take the fear out of sliding downhill with Pennsylvania’s only Terrain Based Learning. At Camelback you’ll slide on shaped snow features that will help you progress faster than ever before. 

“I learned to snowboard with this new program in no time. When I took a lesson previously through traditional methods, I had a tough time and wanted to give up; with the learning system at Camelback I am now an avid snowboarder who loves the winter!" John Age 49

* * *

Looking for comments related to the following questions based on remembering what what I didn't know 10 years ago as an adult intermediate and parent of a potential skier.

*  Is terrain based instruction for beginners really new?  If so, what prompted it?  If not, what is not new?

*  How does terrain based instruction help a beginner?

*  How much extra value is dedicated beginner terrain features worth?  Is it enough to sway the decision of where to go, even if the place with the special set up costs more?

*  What is an important question to ask when talking to a ski school about beginner lessons on the phone?

 

 

post #2 of 21

*  Is terrain based instruction for beginners really new?  If so, what prompted it?  If not, what is not new?

In my experience is it not really new. Ski Schools who had, and have, the good fortune of having leadership that was sensitive to what it is like to be a beginner, always made arrangements with the grooming crew to build most of the “new” features. Unfortunately a lot of ski school directors have forgotten what it is like to be a beginner. Except for those medieval individuals, the more sensitive management that has had its act together has always made sure there were, for example,

1) a berm at the end of a runout so that the skier would stop due to the uphill slope;

2) a couple of ridges or spines, some of which could be the berms, above;

3) a few dips or rollers or “mini-pipes”, to activate fore-aft balancing and edging skills;

What Prompted it? The lawyers and risk managers. Believe it or not, a lot of resorts have done, and do, little to separate the beginner area from faster traffic. Separation from traffic and distracting noise are important. Secondarily, the more enlightened ski school directors know that the quicker they grow confidence in beginners, the better off the school, and by extension, the resort will be. Then the marketing people decided to call it “new”.

*  How does terrain based instruction help a beginner?

It raises confidence by reducing the element of fear, not just for sliding on a flat one-dimensional surface, but also on the panic-inducing two-dimensional surfaces of dips, spines, etc. Consequently, beginners will advance more quickly because their brain spends much less time in survival mode. In terms of skills, they get acquainted with their edges much more quickly on two dimensional terrain, which gives them the competence to advance more quickly. Practicing balance while moving in two dimensions is an added benefit of the irregular terrain.

*  How much extra value is dedicated beginner terrain features worth?  Is it enough to sway the decision of where to go, even if the place with the special set up costs more?

If you have beginners in your group, the extra value is immense.

*  What is an important question to ask when talking to a ski school about beginner lessons on the phone?

At a minimum, verify 1), 2) & 3) above plus, of course, a dedicated conveyor belt or slow moving chair lift.

Hope this helps.

post #3 of 21

"Less fence, more fun" pretty much answers your first question. But like a lot of debates here on Epic, the answer is yes and no. When I first started teaching at Whitetail 20 (cough) plus years ago there was a little mini half pipe that was in between the lift lines for the U-Me double and the EZ quad. That was one of my favorite places for a beginner group. A lesson taught there looked like what was shown in the video above. Now we still have some places where beginners learn to stop by running into a fence, but we also have many places on the mountain where slopes have been graded to create ideal beginner practice areas or specialized grooming occurs to set up features like rollers and banked turns for beginners (and mogul areas for more intermediate skiers and riders to enjoy). Some of this has been going on for years. What's new is the "label", the creation of terrain versus what was available naturally, the combination of things as a coordinated plan, and the percentage of beginners going through some or all of the features as part of a lesson. Success is what prompted terrain based teaching. It works better.

 

Terrain based learning works better for many different reasons. For example, a straight run is much easier to learn when the student can see that they don't have to anything to stop (e.g. a 20 foot run that flattens out). Removing fear removes tension and that enables effective movements. A banked turn naturally encourages riding on the inside edges. Rollers are valuable as a speed control for slow skiers because they can get a little bit of speed then almost come to a stop and reset before repeating. For faster skiers, rollers enable more fun by creating launch points for jumps, steeper landings for a softer landing followed by a relative uphill zone for recovery.

 

Your value may vary. One important question to ask is "what deals are available"? At the SnowTime resorts (Whitetail, Liberty and RoundTop) in the Mid-Atlantic we have an early season "learn to" deal that provides lift, rental and a lesson for $49. The SnowTime resorts also offer a "Mountain Passport" deal to first time skiers and riders that provides huge discounts for return visits. The quality of the first time experience may or may not be the most important criteria for deciding where to go. The availability of terrain based teaching is just one factor impacting the quality of the experience.

post #4 of 21
Thread Starter 

Thanks, @TheRusty and @McEl .  That helps put the idea of terrain based instruction into context.

 

Good point about conveyor loading.  Add that to the base lifts made much easier at Massanutten for beginners, especially kids who were with parents who were either beginners themselves or at best intermediates.  I much prefer a place with conveyor loading than one with a sloooow lift or J-bar for beginners.  The lift at the dedicated beginner area at Whiteface is so slow, even for someone used to relatively old lifts in the southeast.  I would imagine little kids get colder that much quicker on such a slow lift given the usual temps in the NY Adirondacks.  Found the same situation at the Smuggs beginner area.

 

I wonder how many potential skiers ever hear about the fact that January is Learn To Ski Month.  I don't see that much marketing beyond a mention on a ski areas website.  But haven't really been looking that hard either.

post #5 of 21

I've thought for 30 years, and said out loud, for 25 years that if I put people on the right terrain most people will eventually teach themselves to ski.

 

Afton Alps was experimenting with some of this stuff in the late '80s. Sugarbush has used it for under 6 kids more or less intensively for a decade. Midget rollers, quarter or half pipes and spines are great things to help keep things in control. Being terrain challenged makes use of formed features a big plus. The problem is that for them to work properly also calls for the labor (and machine) intensive maintenance of those features. And even when the right features, properly maintained, are available you still need to train instructors in how to set people up to learn what the feedback from their skis is trying to tell them.        

 

I will disagree on lifts. I've taught on hills with rope tows, Poma and chair lifts, as well as conveyor lifts. My favorite, by a huge margin (for teaching skiing) is a poma lift. It lets people ski up hill with no chance of going too fast, and just feel the sensation of how the skis slide while standing with their shins on the tongue of their boots as nearly everyone does as soon as they face uphill. 

 

Teaching snowboard I was driven nuts by those insisting that beginners ride the Poma the "right" way and put the disc between their legs thus spinning them sideways to a powerslam. If I had to stay on the Poma hill I had students put the disc in their rear armpit as it made it somewhat easier to point the board uphill while the lift torques their upper body. More often I took them right over to the chair where they only had to fall once and they were at the top.      

post #6 of 21
Yup, nothing new here, just corporate branding & some standardization. I hope this is a boost to let it go beyond the beginner stage & put some of that groomer energy into something more than the traditional terrain park.


JF
Edited by 4ster - 11/12/14 at 7:20pm
post #7 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave W View Post
 

I've thought for 30 years, and said out loud, for 25 years that if I put people on the right terrain most people will eventually teach themselves to ski.

 

Afton Alps was experimenting with some of this stuff in the late '80s. Sugarbush has used it for under 6 kids more or less intensively for a decade. Midget rollers, quarter or half pipes and spines are great things to help keep things in control. Being terrain challenged makes use of formed features a big plus. The problem is that for them to work properly also calls for the labor (and machine) intensive maintenance of those features. And even when the right features, properly maintained, are available you still need to train instructors in how to set people up to learn what the feedback from their skis is trying to tell them.        

 

I will disagree on lifts. I've taught on hills with rope tows, Poma and chair lifts, as well as conveyor lifts. My favorite, by a huge margin (for teaching skiing) is a poma lift. It lets people ski up hill with no chance of going too fast, and just feel the sensation of how the skis slide while standing with their shins on the tongue of their boots as nearly everyone does as soon as they face uphill. 

 

Teaching snowboard I was driven nuts by those insisting that beginners ride the Poma the "right" way and put the disc between their legs thus spinning them sideways to a powerslam. If I had to stay on the Poma hill I had students put the disc in their rear armpit as it made it somewhat easier to point the board uphill while the lift torques their upper body. More often I took them right over to the chair where they only had to fall once and they were at the top.      

My comment about the advantages of conveyor loading is in comparison to a standard chair lift that is used by beginners after they have progressed beyond the teaching area.

 

A Poma would certainly beat a rope tow for a little kid.  The magic carpet is the most popular approach for teaching areas in the southeast.  Great for kids under age 6 as well as nervous never-ever adults.

post #8 of 21
Thread Starter 

PA ski resorts are certainly pushing the terrain based instruction concept.  Two of the largest, Camelback and Seven Springs created features for beginners that are new for 2014-15.  Also at Hidden Valley, which has the same owners are 7Springs.

 

The description on the Seven Springs website:

"Seven Springs partnered with Snow Operating and Snow Park Technologies to develop a new experience-based learning program for adults and children who have never tried either sport.

The overall goal of experience-based learning is for the newcomer to have fun! Inside the learning area, newcomers are introduced to the sensation of skiing or snowboarding right away, as the focus is on “going,” rather than “stopping.” The contours of the controlled learning area do all the work for the newcomer from learning range of motion, balance, edge pressure, steering, traversing and initiating turns. The experience-based method has a successful retention rate resulting in more guests developing a lifelong passion for winter sports."

post #9 of 21

"Terrain Based Instruction" for beginners is illustrated on pages 49-51 of a book I have: "The New Official Austrian Ski System" (translation by Palmedo) published in 1958.  Yes: 1958.  What took everyone so long?

post #10 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by crudmeister View Post
 

"Terrain Based Instruction" for beginners is illustrated on pages 49-51 of a book I have: "The New Official Austrian Ski System" (translation by Palmedo) published in 1958.  Yes: 1958.  What took everyone so long?

 

So the US is only 56 years behind Austrian ski teaching... seems about right. Lol. :duck:

post #11 of 21
Thread Starter 

I think I figured out what's new in the last year or two.  Does not have much to do with teaching methods.  There is a company that is offering a turn-key solution to ski areas who want to add terrain features to their teaching area specifically designed for beginning skiers and riders.  The consulting company Snow Operating LLC has a very clear mission: ""To increase industry-wide conversion rates by working with inspired resort employees to design a process-driven guest experience through leveraging Terrain Based Learning™." The President and CEO was the GM at Mountain Creek in NJ. He built beginner features there for the 2011-12 season. The list of resort partners numbers 16 in North America so far, including Whistler-Blackcomb and Killington, as well as small places like Cataloochee in NC.

 

What may make the services of Snow Operating of interest to ski area management is that they not only design and build the features, they also train staff about use and maintenance, help with marketing, and help monitor and evaluate metrics to see if the conversion rate actually changes in a meaningful way. The goal seems to be to provide a turn-key solution for bringing in new skiers/riders in a way that increases the likelihood they will return on a regular basis.

post #12 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by marznc View Post
 

I think I figured out what's new in the last year or two.  Does not have much to do with teaching methods.  There is a company that is offering a turn-key solution to ski areas who want to add terrain features to their teaching area specifically designed for beginning skiers and riders.  The consulting company Snow Operating LLC has a very clear mission: ""To increase industry-wide conversion rates by working with inspired resort employees to design a process-driven guest experience through leveraging Terrain Based Learning™." The President and CEO was the GM at Mountain Creek in NJ. He built beginner features there for the 2011-12 season. The list of resort partners numbers 16 in North America so far, including Whistler-Blackcomb and Killington, as well as small places like Cataloochee in NC.

 

What may make the services of Snow Operating of interest to ski area management is that they not only design and build the features, they also train staff about use and maintenance, help with marketing, and help monitor and evaluate metrics to see if the conversion rate actually changes in a meaningful way. The goal seems to be to provide a turn-key solution for bringing in new skiers/riders in a way that increases the likelihood they will return on a regular basis.


Guess enough ski school directors think spending money on a consultant is worth while.  The list of resorts working with Snow Operating has grown to 28 for 2016-17.  I was reminded of this thread by an announcement that Winterplace in WV is going to work with Snow Operating.  Cataloochee in NC and Snowshoe in WV are continuing to work with Snow Operating.  The largest ski resorts involved are Whistler, Aspen, Snowbasin, and early adopter Killington.

 

My understanding is that Snow Operating has been working actively with NSAA, PSIA, AASI.

 

When I had a lesson at Snowbasin with friends (3 advanced skiers) with a very experience instructor (PSIA Examiner), he made use of the terrain features as we headed toward the gondola.  The goal was 1-ski skiing over the rollers.  One of my friends (over 50) had never tried to ski on one ski before.  By the last run, he could do the sequence of rollers without falling.  Pretty interesting to observe how much he learned in a 3-hour lesson with the help of an instructor and the terrain features.  Our instructor also actively showed us how to the natural terrain to practice skills.

post #13 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by 4ster View Post

Yup, nothing new here, just corporate branding & some standardization. I hope this is a boost to let it go beyond the beginner stage & put some of that groomer energy into something more than the traditional terrain park.


JF

 

Holy CRAP! that is a badass GS (training) course! This video goes into the permanent keeper file for me. My home race slope in high school had a rhythm of knoles built into the slope that, while not nearly as close together, if you missed your timing waiting too long for one to arrive, even if you where to stay on your feet and even stay in the course, your goose was fully cooked before your reached the finish line.

 

This type of specialized terrain has incredible value for not just this type of race training but also adult freeski technique development and, more than all that, fun to rip once your body starts to figure it out. You just have to remain very careful as you get comfortable because with comfort comes speed and add that to a split second delay or distraction and you were launched in the air mostly hopeless to land on your feet.

 

I love skiing fast through jump parks just for pre jumping/absorbing the convex jump bases and sucking up the concave rolls in a rhythm similar to that of above and just much less steep overall. In a manner of thinking that many will follow, skiing has, itself, always been a terrain based development activity from day one and is a truth that supports the use of terrain features and variety in any and all teaching and training.

post #14 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rich666 View Post
 

 

Holy CRAP! that is a badass GS (training) course! This video goes into the permanent keeper file for me. My home race slope in high school had a rhythm of knoles built into the slope that, while not nearly as close together, if you missed your timing waiting too long for one to arrive, even if you where to stay on your feet and even stay in the course, your goose was fully cooked before your reached the finish line.

 

This type of specialized terrain has incredible value for not just this type of race training but also adult freeski technique development and, more than all that, fun to rip once your body starts to figure it out. You just have to remain very careful as you get comfortable because with comfort comes speed and add that to a split second delay or distraction and you were launched in the air mostly hopeless to land on your feet.

 

I love skiing fast through jump parks just for pre jumping/absorbing the convex jump bases and sucking up the concave rolls in a rhythm similar to that of above and just much less steep overall. In a manner of thinking that many will follow, skiing has, itself, always been a terrain based development activity from day one and is a truth that supports the use of terrain features and variety in any and all teaching and training.

Looks like a study in pressure management.  YM

post #15 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by yogaman View Post
 

Looks like a study in pressure management.  YM

 

 

Yes, perhaps one day a ski area will decide to make an original decision that makes sense and make parks and terrain features for real skiers and adults who actually wear their pants over their buttocks.

post #16 of 21
I think terrain based learning is really cool. I wish it was around when i learned to ski. We use it at my mountain in western Massachusetts and its fabulous. Its really made the learning experience fun whenever i have beginner students. Ive also seen it when I ski in Vermont (bromley, killington )
post #17 of 21

Back when the alt.ski group on usenet was active, there was one guy who was always advocating something that sounds a lot like terrain-based instruction for beginners.

post #18 of 21

Crotched Mtn,  a local hill in south NH placesd rollers, iirc, about 3-5 sets, a couple of banks turns,The ski school would make a run or two on that section..It was fun and sometimes you have a little wait cued up up make that section. Wish more places would add those features in. 

 

 

post #19 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by jack97 View Post
 

Crotched Mtn,  a local hill in south NH placesd rollers, iirc, about 3-5 sets, a couple of banks turns,The ski school would make a run or two on that section..It was fun and sometimes you have a little wait cued up up make that section. Wish more places would add those features in. 

 

 

 

This is one of my favorite features of our TBL area.

 

I'm very excited we have our returning instructor fall meeting in 2 weeks and Joe Hession, President & CEO of Snow Operating will be our guest speaker.   

 

What I like so much about TBL is it the features are designed to get the student's body moving so that they can feel the motions faster and feel like they are actually skiing sooner.  Takes some of the fear out and it gets their body doing what its supposed to do without them having to think about it too much.  Plus they seem to have a lot more fun.

post #20 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by surfsnowgirl View Post
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by jack97 View Post
 

Crotched Mtn,  a local hill in south NH placesd rollers, iirc, about 3-5 sets, a couple of banks turns,The ski school would make a run or two on that section..It was fun and sometimes you have a little wait cued up up make that section. Wish more places would add those features in. 

 

[snip video]

 

This is one of my favorite features of our TBL area.

 

I'm very excited we have our returning instructor fall meeting in 2 weeks and Joe Hession, President & CEO of Snow Operating will be our guest speaker.   

 

What I like so much about TBL is it the features are designed to get the student's body moving so that they can feel the motions faster and feel like they are actually skiing sooner.  Takes some of the fear out and it gets their body doing what its supposed to do without them having to think about it too much.  Plus they seem to have a lot more fun.

Do you have any idea of the placement of snowmaking guns was changed after TBL was implemented?

 

At Massanutten, adding a fan gun only for the training area made a big difference in how long it would taken during early season to have enough snow to push around to build features to use for lessons.

post #21 of 21

Summer grooming...with dynamite and bulldozers.

 

I think having safe irregular terrain is very important.  I've used terrain features on the second lesson for helping teach students on how to read the mountain.  I'd point out two (easy) ways down where one had a slightly steeper pitch, and give them the choice of route.  I've stopped on a mound build for a lift base and showed them how they could ski straight down for more speed, across (watching traffic) for less speed, and down off the mound but uphill on the run for max speed control.  How to traverse across steep sections, and how to side slip down sections their friends shouldn't have taken them up on.

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