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What makes a Good Ski School for Beginners?

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
This is a sister thread to this one.
http://forums.epicski.com/showthread...777#post194777

But for this, I am not concerned with which schools are best, I want to know why? Is it the layout of the mountain, the ratio of certified to non certified, Level I, II, III instructors, number of students per class?
Talk to me!
post #2 of 18
A) Terrain that is learning friendly and isolated from the rest of the runs for safety.

B) Quality instructors

C) Layout of the SS and rental area so that it is EASY for the beginner, not frustrating as is the case 90% of the time.

D) Quality instructors.
post #3 of 18
The best ski schools are the ones that are so much fun that you have to go back! Super important for kids, but just as important for beginner adults too.
post #4 of 18

Mangement without Measurement

In management in most industries, you could begin to answer this question objectively by establishing measurement.

The retention rate of skiers - skiers that try a lesson and then continue to ski vs skiers that take an intro lesson and drop sking altogether. This measurement would then point to schools that are doing things right vs schools that are not. Once these emperical differences are known then people can look at what the differences between the schools are.

People have posted in the past some of these retention rates. Are they still tracked? Is any measurement in place?

Circuit City, for instance, found objectively in a trial program that stores that paid their salespeople more and dropped commission from the equation outperformed stores that were base plus commission. They measured, determined that customers want helpful not pushy salespeople and changed all their stores.

Lisa - your new business - without measurements - like asking and tracking where customers found out about your business as they purchase stuff - you would be guessing on where to spend your marketing dollars. In our software system each customer is asked why they selected our client to see vs a competitor. This drives graphs of patient counts by month (new vs returning) catogorized by referall catagory. With this feedback clients can better focus their marketing efforts.

So, a related question. Is there anytype of measurement of school performance by varied criteria in place to begin to move past subjective answers to Lisa's question. If not, would the ski teaching profession and the ski industry in general be helped with implementation of basic student follow up stats.

I have learned in my 1st 1.5 years of skiing that there is a great difference in how skiing is taught and while the bears are at the top of the game, in the beginner ranks, there are quite different philosophies out there even amongst the bears.

For instance, how does Solvista retention stats compare say with Breckenridge. Is there a difference?

I'm in the Medical field and as part of our software package patients are surveyed and scored in a number of areas after their leg is done being fitted. Many HMO's require a survey system for quality measurement to be in place to get the contract. It is often that one of my clients will run this by practitioner and clearly show differences between the satisfaction of their patients depending on which staff person worked with them. Are ski instrutors students surveyed so the schools know their good vs bad apples? Bad apples may have great people skills but lousy on technique. That can be fixed with teacher training. Bad apples with bad people skills are much harder to fix.

It would be a great boon to PSIA cert schools if to get that cert there was at least a simple student survey and reporting system required.

Then Lisa's question could begin to get answered.
post #5 of 18
LisaMarie, of the ones you mentioned I would say, number of students per class.
I doubt a beginner would appreciate the level of certification.

Overall I think it is much more basic. It does not surprise me that most mentioned rather small areas. In my experience at the "Name Resorts " ski school is pretty disorganized. Long lines, frustrated parents, kids crying. Staff that is ill informed. Then the long wait while they do splits. Carrying your crap from one place to the next. Amazing that anyone comes back.

At a smaller area many of these problems are eliminated just by size and scope of the place. If a student has forgotten gloves hat, the instructor can borrow it from lost and found. Easy to take a potty break without making everyone wait. Easy to find one another after lessons, easy to find your kid. At Keystone we have gone from one ski school area to the next back and forth looking for my Nephews. It can get quite scary. Add to that they have 10+ kids to a class. Most parents would never leave their kid in day care with that ratio.
post #6 of 18
1: I think terrain is a big one for two reasons; one, the terrain goes a long in dictating the comfort level of the student, and two, the terrain guides, in a not so small way, how and what the instructor teaches. Really I think terrain can be huge for many first timers.

1: Quality of the instruction, not nessasarily in certification, but in begginer specific training and progressions, expereince, and the ability to develope the learning partnership.



Why is it that 80% of begginers learn at small feeder hills?

1: It's a more affordable expereince.
2: Jeans and carharts fit in, or rather they don't feel so out of place.
3: Their friends ski there.

Later, RicB.
post #7 of 18
in terms of retention surveys, I don't think it practical accross the board as many larger areas do not have many "program" (multi-week lessons) but more often have private 1 time lessons -> lessons while on vaca, now the flip side to that is my little hill which has probably 99% "program" lessons (lessons once a week for 6 weeks) and very few (but enough) private/vacation lessons. Ski areas target markets, while similar, are simply too diverse to get accurate numbers.

Now as to what makes a good ski school for beginers, most importantly (in my opinion) quality instruction (either through certification or training) and high energy/good instructor attitude. Students can pick up on their instructors attitude, and will undoubtedly learn more from an instructor that wants to teach them than they will from an instructor that is being forced to teach them.

While class size is important, with the right instructors even large groups can do surprizingly well. One of the best classes I've taught was 14 kids (ages 10-14 ish) who wanted to learn and had fun and were easily controlable (no trouble makers or runaways), but the hardest I've ever had was 4 little kids (8ish) that didn't want to be there, and were only there so their parents could get a couple drinks in the bar. So while class size is important, it is far from the end-all be-all when it comes down the quality of beginer lessons.

But quality of lessons also differs when you are talking about adult beginer, child beginers, young learners (as we call em, 3-5 years old), senior beginers, and even female beginers. They need to feel that they can trust, associate with (at least somewhat) and learn from their instructor while having fun at the same time.
post #8 of 18
[quote=Manus]One of the best classes I've taught was 14 kids (ages 10-14 ish) who wanted to learn and had fun and were easily controlable (no trouble makers or runaways).

QUOTE]

Just to clear up a point, my comments regarding class size, I was thinking more of little kids, 5-7 year olds. Though I think 14 is way to many for most of the folks teaching beginners at a large resort. At least at Keystone most of the kids instructors I have meet seem to have little experience.
post #9 of 18
I've had "group" lessons that only had 1 person and some that ranged up into the 20's. The largest group lesson I've seen was 32 non-english speaking foreign nationals - oh so much fun to teach a class like that, not only are numbers problems, but so too is language (sorry but for some reason that does not look like I spelled it correctly).

Little areas, in my experience get swarmed with lessons because we are typically closer to home for denser population centers, and also people come by for "tune-up" lessons before heading out on their vacations. But that also means that we have to have a farily high number of staff, but can also easily get knocked out of balance if a large group shows up unexpectedly.

I remember when I took my PSIA level I and some of the other people there were in shock that I had taught lesson of more than 10 people, there largest groups were typically around 5 people.

But I think the biggest impact on creating a good ski school is having instructors that want to teach students who want to learn (but I think I'm just being idealistic here and not realistic).
post #10 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by John Mason
Circuit City, for instance, found objectively in a trial program that stores that paid their salespeople more and dropped commission from the equation outperformed stores that were base plus commission. They measured, determined that customers want helpful not pushy salespeople and changed all their stores.
Not trying to hijack the thread, but According to who????

A long time ago, I worked for Circuit City (first job out of college in the 80s, when the sales people were all 100% commission). They changed their model, not because of customer retention, but to match the Best Buy model, so that they could keep their costs down. They fired all of their sales people that made over a certain amount of money (something like $30k/yr), and set all of their sales people on straight hourly wages (something like $7-$15/hr). This did a HUGE disservice to the customers, because the sales people were no longer motivated to have any product knowledge (they get paid the same whether they sell something or avoid customers all day long). The problem was that customers were going to CC for the knowledge and advice, the driving across the street to BB to get the item for $.50 less.

Back onto the topic, I think that a lot of the quality of instruction of a ski area comes as a flowdown of the quality of the SS mgt, and what their priorities and motivations are. When my ski area opened up on 90-91, they hired 3 PSIA examiners and 2 other Ed Staff to run the ski scool. We had an amazing ski school. Then, the SS Mgt got noticed, got offers from other ski areas, and one-by-one left. The SAM (ski area mgt) never brought in similar quality replacements, and just paid the next person in line the amount they were already making, and gave them the promotion. This worked for a little while, but once all of our major players were gone, they promoted people into the job that were not capable of being affective and motivating the staff to be professional, get educated and be a happy, healthy organization of people having fun and providing top quality service to the public. And now, our ski school IMHO, sucks. Yeah, you might still get a quality lesson, but the chances are pretty slim. It's sad, because it's by far, the best mountain for skiing in the area. Our customers are day trippers from DC and Balto., and our SS staff if 200 part timers and 10 full timers.
post #11 of 18
How is the 80% non-returns of skiers arrived at, and is that for lessons or for skiing, and how can anyone say that those skiers will give up skiing alltogether if not happy with a lesson, I think there is a great fallacy there.

A ski area can not determine when they sell a ticket IF that skier has skied before, if he is a returning skier and WHERE he skied before, If he took a lesson and if he will take one again, etc.

There is no way skier return rate can be measured in the present situation and if the number of skiers are less this season than last, there can be zillions of reasons including the economy.

Beginners learn best when they are given only enough instruction so as not to confuse them. Often so much is drilled into them that they don't know what drill to do with which maneuver.

....Ott
post #12 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Taylormatt
A) Terrain that is learning friendly and isolated from the rest of the runs for safety.

B) Quality instructors

C) Layout of the SS and rental area so that it is EASY for the beginner, not frustrating as is the case 90% of the time.

D) Quality instructors.
An addendum I would add to "D" is well trained instructors who ENJOY teaching beginners. Personally I love beginners but a well balanced diet requires a variety of food groups.

One other thought, which has surfaced a bit in this thread, is that the supervisors (or instructors) initially sort the classes with an eye to student age/fitness and athletic background. Don't put 17 year olds with 45 year old sedentary adults-your asking for trouble.
post #13 of 18
JohnH is right on the money, so to speak. Terrain and physical layout are important, of course and you may possibly hit on a great experience wherever you go but a consistent quality experience is going to be a reflection of management commitment, management quality. They establish the conditions, furnish the direction, incentives and rewards and insist on the standards, or not, that make the difference. Ultimately its about people and you will find a sprinkling of motivated well trained and talented people most anywhere because these qualities come from within the individuals who will seek out whatever may be lacking in the ski school and transcend its limitations. You may luckout anywhere but you will only find consistently high standards if these are a priority of management.
post #14 of 18
Each situation is a little different. Mostly you will have three types of customers. A single person going for the first time all by themselves. This I would say is rare. The second is a family (either just husband & wife, or with kids too) and none have them have ever skied. Third one or two family members have skied but the balance are trying it for the first time (I would guess this would be the most likely). How many of you when you asked people in your classes why they are there, they responded that their spouse ski's and they are learning too. I took my family for the first time last year and even with a great layout between rentals, school, lodge, and food they still would have been lost! Remember, these new people don't know what a binding is, or that they need a ticket to get on the lift. I would agree with Matt on (C). You can't make this process too easy. I have seen so many people sitting in the rental shops completely lost and have no one to help them. I couple of employees wearing resort jackets standing around the parking lot, rental shop, and ski school would do wonders to help these people out. He11, for a free season pass you wouldn't even have to pay them!!
post #15 of 18
I have had experience with an extremly successful beginner program. Over the past 5 season we have seen 60% or higher of our beginner program graduates return to buy a season pass for the next year. We have found that several things are key to a beginner programs success. First of all affordability, our beginner programs include an equipment lease,4 lessons and a season pass, upon completion. Packaging the rentals,and pass with the lessons allows us to remove some of the hassels encoutered by the first time skier/boarder.We provide interested students with a beginners orientation, indoors a week before their lessons.This orientation is held in town and covers what to wear, how to get to the mountain as well as meeting areas, general information and a question and answer session with ski and snowboard instructors. Students pick up their equipment well in advance of their lessons and keep it for the entire season. We have also found lessons that require a first-timer to return 3 or more times encourages future participation. Class size and the quality of instruction are also very important. We typically have classes of 7 or fewer and group by age. We have also found that by doing verbal splits we are able to group beginners together by ability and interest. We also try to assign more experienced instructors to our beginner classes instead of the first year instructors. The return rates of this program have proven that the first time skier doesn't neccessarily have to be a last time skier as well.
post #16 of 18
Maybe the questions should not be just where, but when. Where I work, we have as many as 450 kids lessons on a busy day (at most 10 of those in the year), and many other days, we will only see 20 or 30 students.
post #17 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by skidder
JohnH is right on the money, so to speak. Terrain and physical layout are important, of course and you may possibly hit on a great experience wherever you go but a consistent quality experience is going to be a reflection of management commitment, management quality. They establish the conditions, furnish the direction, incentives and rewards and insist on the standards, or not, that make the difference. Ultimately its about people and you will find a sprinkling of motivated well trained and talented people most anywhere because these qualities come from within the individuals who will seek out whatever may be lacking in the ski school and transcend its limitations. You may luckout anywhere but you will only find consistently high standards if these are a priority of management.
It starts with the attitude of management, I worked at an area that had incredible instructors, management focus on ski school was to pass as many "students" through as fast as possible, it was liking running a big soda bottling factory. You may have the best instructors, but if management wants to run the numbers up no instructor or guest can be successful.

Time is the element that is crucial.
post #18 of 18
skimc2 I completely disagree with your premise that if management wants to run the numbers up a good/great instructor is foiled. A good instructor, not to mention a great one, will never put managements needs before the clients. In fact I strongly believe, after spending many years in the situation that you described, that even "just" a good instructor will put his cients first and and deliver to the client a product that not only meets the clients needs but also improves there skiing. (I say this knowing that many people come to lesssons seeking something other than they need.) Is that instructors job in jeopardy because he is not on the same page with management, no it is not because he generates too much income by delivering a superior product.
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