Originally Posted by Pete No. Idaho
50 students in a class - ugh = quitting. Sometimes we have barely 50 skiers on the mountain. I think class size really depends on the different ability levels of the students. If everything is basically equal a good instructor can handle 8-15 but if there is a real difference in ability etc. a real problem can occur. I really like the post by SI, the ski school can be a real draw, ambassador etc. for the mountain instead of a bean counters fodder. Too bad that a lot of people in the ski industry don't see this. Peoeple will come back time and time again if they are treated well and get go lessons etc. A ski instructor is often the most visible person on the mountain. So what do some areas do - no skiing with you coat on. I feel class size should be limited to a max of 8 for a quality experience. The posts of 25-50 for a class size is just ridiculous. Why would a person pay good $ for such a lesson. It seems to me the only lesson is to go somewhere else next time.
A couple of great points here.
It's important to note that a "real difference in ability" can happen in a first time lesson group.
As a part time supervisor, I usually limit first time groups to 10. But I adjust that number up or down based on staffing vs crowd levels vs my assessment of the group (e.g. couch potatoes in blue jeans get a lower student/pro ratio). This year our resort is trying out "on demand" first timer lessons. As soon as enough people come out of the rental building to form a group, the lesson will start. I am certain that this will be a "challenge" to the ability to manage group sizes AND keep staff happy. In theory it should be more efficient and reduce group sizes. We'll see. I'm personally a believer in the "no free lunch" theory.
My record is 45 first timers. It was a Martin Luther King Monday. This is the day when most of our working stiff weekend warriors have to work their day jobs, while most of our skiing public gets the day off. A first timer does not know that this is a bad day to learn to ski. They just know that it's the middle of winter, they've got a freebie vacation day (i.e. no family holiday commitments) - so what the heck. Once they show up, you can't turn them loose. You just try to do the best you can.
Having large classes at a resort on these kinds of days is just like grocery stores running out of milk and bread when snowstorms are coming, except that grocery stores can not ration out their supplies the way a lesson group can be supersized to one pro. It's rediculuous but everyone has gotten used to it. First time skiers don't have any way to know whether or not other resorts or going to be just as busy or that they would be better off having their first day under less crowded conditions. They are simply going to pay the money and not come back. A lot of resorts have simply gotten used to this.
For the resorts that consistently understaff and send out huge beginner lessons - shame on them. They should know better because NSAA has been telling them this is bad and why for years now. But every student of business knows that it is a rare industry that can afford to stock inventory to always meet peak demand. It's simply not cost effective to stock 30% more rental gear and higher 30% more pros and only use them 3 days/year. Some resorts deal with this issue by limiting guests. But a turned away guest is pissed off too. It's a damned if you do and damned if you don't situation. This guarantees that mistakes will be made. The best resorts only miminize the number and size of these mistakes.
The traditional business class solution to this type of problem is to manipulate prices and labor compensation to better balance supply and demand. We've seen what happened when the oil companies did this when the refineries were shut down. Imagine the howling if resorts added a holiday surcharge for beginners! But if resorts charged more for peak lesson times, they could afford to staff more to reduce group sizes. My resort has taken the "easy" route by offering dramatically lower prices (i.e. $19 for lift/rental/lesson) in the pre season to get beginners involved and up to speed before the holidays. With this program we're probably getting more people to try who would not otherwise try skiing than people who would have tried only on a holiday. But for those of us who teach on the busy days, each body "moved" to the preseason is a blessing.
With respect to pay rates, resorts have generally not found it cost effective to raise pay rates to attract more pros. But my resort has tried various incentives to try and game the system. The latest one is a bonus if you teach more than X students in a Y time period. This provides an economic incentive to the resort to keep class sizes small. The size of the bonus is small enough so that pros don't seek out large classes (more, gimme more students man!), and the time period is long enough that single day surges don't trigger payouts. It works out more like an "I'm sorry - thanks for working so hard" message. We often get free food for coming in on busy days (e.g. turkey dinner for working Xmas day). You can't blame the resorts if they are at least trying something.