Mike, I agree that some part of the decline in lesson-taking is attributable to the "lessons are for beginners" attitude. Certainly, there is no dearth of skiers willing to hand out their favorite advice, magazines pushing their monthly "seven suggestions to supercharge your skiing" and books willing to bring you to the holy grail of skiing (whatever that is). The fact of the matter is that skiing, like golf and so many other activities, is easy to learn and difficult to master. (By learn, I mean learn the most basic levels of skiing.)
With this symphony of voices in your ear, it is easy for the thought of ski school to get brushed aside. Who wants or needs to take a lesson when you've only got a few days to ski or when you've got a dozen pointers in your head and a friend who wants to give you advice on the fly, blah, blah, blah. Then you've got people who stop after taking lessons from five different instructors - each one who sounds like the mechanic saying, "geez, who worked on this last?" - who figure that with everyone saying something different, no one really knows what they are talking about. Combine that with people whose only goal is to say that they made it from point a to point b without falling on their butt and you've got a problem.
Additionally, how many people really realize that their skiing is poor or that they got a sub-par lesson. Sure, the average joe can tell when it's a really bad lesson - but I think it is harder when the lessonis marginal. You know - you think you learned something, but the instructor didn't really understand the root of the problem, fixing one thing but creating another - all you know is something else doesn't feel right. Similarly, a lot of beginners tend to put the blame on themselves - I'm just too dense, or I just can't do this.
This, however, is largely a marketing problem. Let people know that there is more to it than just getting there or just getting there fast. Let people know that ski school can help them resolve those many voices into one. Let them know all of the benefits to good quality lessons - and follow through on it - back it up. Show them what good skiing looks like and how it should feel.
The other problem though, is not the people who stop taking lessons, but the statistic of 85% of first-timers who don't return. These people surely never take anymore lessons. Their failure to return seems to be considered as a significant source of the ski industry's alleged malaise. (I'd be curious to see if retention rates change for those who receive lessons as opposed to those who do not.)
From what Bob describes, this is just a mess with lots of chickens and eggs. Improving the quality of instruction has to come with a committment from the top. However, short term interests of corporations, driven by incremental revenue increases from either stealing skier visits from other resorts or from selling one more condo unit, seem to work into the problem even more. In an effort to make every department more profitable every year, the long-term vision of the sum of all parts is lost.
Unfortunately, it sounds like the only solution is to convince the resorts that greater short-term profits can be had through better instruction. On the plus side, once one resort succeeds, others will follow that profit model - it's just like the opening of backcountry that some resorts are focusing on.
Does the PSIA (or some other organization) certify or accredit the ski schools in some way? Although another level of beauraucracy is not ideal, it would seem that some standards for the schools themselves could work to improve the instruction level and provide a marketing lever for the resorts. I'm not saying that the certification would have to come in the form of what you teach, but would be related to faculty and class size. A certain percentage of instructors need to be Level III, Level II and Level I - classes taught by certain levels or combinations of level instructors. I'm not knowledgable enough to even guess what the structure should look like, but it would be along the lines that a Level I does not teach alone, period, or that a Level III oversees a certain number of beginner classes, etc.
I agree with Bob, change the names so that people can better understand what they mean by the levels. I think a lot of people attribute the levels to a certification of green, blue and black runs. Make it certified or master, associate and assistant. People will have a better understanding when you put it in a context to which they can relate.
Although the idea is probably a political bomb which has already been considered, I don't see a lot of other ways to drive the resorts into action. The short-term profit motive has to be satisfied for most of them to drive funds into the ski schools - create a new organization if necessary (how about association of ski schools) and give it a fancy name that they can market and announce "new for this season, five-star A.S.S. certified ski school" - blah, blah, blah. Finally, is this even possible in the current climate between all of the entities involved?
[This message has been edited by raubin (edited February 15, 2001).]</FONT>