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Skier Retention; How Can We Help?

post #1 of 58
Thread Starter 
This topic came up in SCSA's thread. It is a topic that really concerns me.

How can we help to retain folks in ski school? Many folks take the first-timer lessons be never come back. How do we intice them back?

There are programs that allude to retention, such as Kim Peterson's Guest Centered Ski Instruction/Student Directed Ski Instruction. But how well do these programs work? And how many pros use them?

post #2 of 58
Skiing is too expensive, too inconvenient, too cold..... for the general public. If it were cheaper and easier to get to the mountain more people would ski.

I don't think its PSIA's problem.

It is the nature of the sport. How many people take one golf, tennis....etc lesson and never go back?
post #3 of 58
I've posted this before, but will offer it up again for discussion -

Bogus Basin runs a Passport Program for the first year skier:
Learn-to-ski/snowboard program. $199
For ages 12 and older-$149 for ages 6-11.
1 beginning session (4 lessons)
Complementary season's pass and
rental gear upon graduation

So for $200 you get 4 lessons, a season pass and rental gear for the year. This season, they are reportedly going to give you leased skis for that price so you don't have to deal with the rental shop every time. Helps with the initial cost.


post #4 of 58
Perhaps the sad reality is that skiing is on it's last legs and may not last more than the next generation.

Can skiing compete with "cyber thrills" that require no physical effort?
post #5 of 58
I think that some of the small areas in the U.S. forget what they are... Small ski areas. This gets dangerous for skiing because I think that most people (who aren't fortunate enough to grow up in summit county) get their first ski experience at their home town mountain. If Teeny Mountain, Anywhere charges the same prices for tickets, lessons, beers, burgers, etc. as its Huge Hill, Anywhere counterpart...Where's the hook???? People might learn to love skiing if it didn't break their checking account to go for one day. I think PSIA could stand to promote the passion of the sport a little more, but I don't think lower skier numbers are the fault of instructors everywhere. I think it's the fault of the industry's management. How many times have you seen lift ticket prices go up and not one single improvement had been made to the ski area? How many times have you seen the price of a cheeseburger go up and the cheeseburger sucked worse than it did last year? Why did the price go up? "Well, um. Aspen raised their ticket price. Maybe we should too."

Until this industry (in general) stops catering to the wallet and starts catering to regular people, skier numbers are going to drop. Period. There are a lot more of us dirtbags out there than there are of those upper eschelon folk. That's for sure. What kind of marketing strategy alienates the people who want to do this the most??? Sorry. Maybe I'm just not supposed to understand.

Spag's quote of the day:
"What in the wild, wild world o' sports is-a goin'on?"
-Slim Pickens in "Blazing Saddles"-
post #6 of 58
That Bogus Basin deal sounds like a charmer.

We've been focusing on ways to influence first-timers to go more than once too.

We have an advantage card that anyone can buy for $50. One free ticket, discounted tickets for the season and service discounts are all part of the card. Everyone taking a first time lesson gets one for free. It works at several other resorts including Whistler.

We also started a 1, 2, 3 guarantee program.
$99.00 = first-time lesson/lift ticket/rentals
2nd time lesson/lift ticket/rentals
3rd time lift ticket/rentals and 1/2 off a private lesson.
The guarantee is to get people at least a run on our beginning-intermediate terrain.
Everyone purchasing a first-time lesson is offered the 123g.

We started it as a spring promo and are going to offer it all season next year.

Whether or not this program, or others like it are the answer I don't know for sure.

I do think improving the 1st thru 3rd time experience is key. It will take more than lessons though. The whole area experience needs to be a welcoming one. I think including decent clothing and accessories with rentals for 1st timers would help.
Nice thread Ric

It is tough being given the Mission to up retention without the backup of facilities/terrain improvements. Especially since our 'beginner' terrain is beginner unfriendly. No surface lift, a long run with a nearly beg-intermediate pitch near the bottom where it can be seen from the lodge.... Yippee!
post #7 of 58
Roto, we have an almost identical 3-pak program. It does decrease recitivism and is well recieved. The NSAA "Best Practices" publication lists at least 100 such programs, including Bogus's groundbreaking one.
Small areas are going down. Checkout the website "Lost ski areas of New England" if you want to be depressed. Of the 1500 areas a decade ago...only aroung 480 exist today in this country. A recent article in SAM, explained the plight of Ski Cooper, a struggling area that used to appeal to the budget minded family niche, now an island within the mega resort season pass war...and losing.
Most areas 150k visits and more are overleveraged and beginner poor. Name the last person you know who, with a naive commitment to the ideal of a "lifetime activity", took a beginner lesson at a mega resort. If so, the desire was not challenged by price point.
But ticket yields are dropping rapidly as well, to steal greater shares of a stagnant market. Although the rack rate national lift ticket was$48.03 this season the yield was only $27.00, a ticket yield ratio that has dropped from 60.1% in 97-98 to 56.2% this season. This, while rack rates increased. Total capital expenditures this season dropped from $411 million in 99-00 to $286 for 00-01. Real estate dropped from $174 mill. to $117 this season and is expected to drop to $97 mill. next year. The "bigs" will hurt as well as the "smalls" decline.
In the early eighties as the ASC, Interwest etcs. where forming it was thought that large areas would pick up small feeders to synergize the system. Creating farm teams and interconnected programs where successfull firstimer programs in small affilliates would earn vacations at the flagship resorts. To my knowledge, Vail was the only attempt after picking up operations at Eldora, but they soon dropped them. That promise seemed to make theoritical sense.
After 27 Northern Hemisphere seasons, 13 as a Director, I have fought too many battles with management along these lines. Even at smaller 150k sd areas with private land, real estate wins out as the panacea.
I have literally had senior mgmt. war, supported by Sno Eng. in master plan development, wresting away flat, low beginner terrain away from condo development.
Spag, you know well how I feel and I have the scar tissue to prove it.
Bottom line, it has always been about the instructor. The conduit, confidient, guide, icon and idol, friend and coach, challenger and model,nuturer and sensi.
I once had a guy come up to me while I was Director a AF and say "Hey, are you Robin?" I was expecting what you would expect, and said yes.
"Well I have a bone to pick with you!" uh-oh!
"I was here at a conference 21 years ago and you taught me to ski...liked it so much I brought back my wife and you taught her...then the kids loved it!...so I bought a condo...after the kids grew up and had children the condo was too small so we put it into management....by then the wife and I learned to golf, so we built a house off the 14th fairway....been coming back every year 3 times a year ever since"
and the bone? "I figure you've cost me at least 1 million dollars!"

Why does management always put the horse before the cart?<FONT size="1">

[This message has been edited by Robin (edited July 03, 2001).]</FONT>
post #8 of 58
What is the consensus as to why ticket yields are down?

I used to work at a mountain where we put on a 'learn to ski free' program in the park pre-season. We got a local ski shop to bring rentals, a radio station to cover the event & we spread some straw on a hillside. It was a station teaching skier mill. The final station was free skiing on the straw. Every person to come through got a voucher for a free lesson on the snow too. We created more than a few returning skiers. I still see them all the time when I go back for visits...that was a lot of fun for everyone.

A few years ago management where I work now started advertising the area as "Washington's Family Resort" without a children's facility or program. We do have concession schools here, so there is some opportunity for people to get kids into programs, but no drop-in program or facility beyond a minimal day-care which would only accept potty-trained kids.

Over the summer SS is taking over the day-care space and creating a children's facility, but as it stands there will be no daycare. Only kids 4+ in kids prog. There is also the possibility the on-snow kids area will not be directly accessible from the indoor area.

I am imagining people expecting the daycare to be operating. Especially the ones we devloped as returning clients for the daycare lesson product. Many of them will be old enough, but we did have some 2 yr. olds who came up 6 or seven times apiece. I just don't know what to think.

It's almost continual..the "yes we have to reach goal 'A' but milestones 1, 2 & 3 are out of the question, you have to get to the goal some other way."

Nonetheless, when I get out on the snow with people, be they first-timers, regular clients, racers, instrucutors in training, it's all good (I put that in for you gonzo).

Solving the retention problem through focus on first timer could help another age-old ski teaching dilemma...developing upper level business. Here in the NW ski schools suffer from an image problem. (go to the powder boards, check this out. www.forum.powdermag.com/ubb/Forum1/HTML/002460.html There is very little business beyond the beginner. Create the ski school culture and they will come.

<FONT size="1">

<FONT size="1">

[This message has been edited by Roto (edited July 04, 2001).]</FONT>
post #9 of 58
Ott made a point many moths ago that there are only a certain number of people that are going to be regular skiers/snowboarders no matter what happens, and that we may have reached that saturation point.
Also, isn't the new/occasional skier (who will buy a full price ticket, rent gear, take a lesson, buy lunch/drinks, and quits after 3 hours of skiing) actually alot more profitable for a resort than the avid skier ( who gets a deep discout, season pass, or clips tickets, brown bags lunch, drinks beer in the lot, buys gear off the mountain, skis all day, and doesn't take lessons)? I would think that a resort could get as much as 5 times as much $ out of a newbie, wheras they might actually lose money on the avid skier. So maybe retaining them is not such a good idea.
post #10 of 58
quoth the Nororious Spag: <BLOCKQUOTE>quote:</font><HR>I think that some of the small areas in the U.S. forget what they are... Small ski areas. This gets dangerous for skiing because I think that most people (who aren't fortunate enough to grow up in summit county) get their first ski experience at their home town mountain. If Teeny Mountain, Anywhere charges the same prices for tickets, lessons, beers, burgers, etc. as its Huge Hill, Anywhere counterpart...Where's the hook???? <HR></BLOCKQUOTE> At least in the east, the problem is that the small ski areas have the same, or even higher, costs. They have to make snow. They're low elevation so they usually have to resurface frequently so their $-per-acre-per-year cost is probably higher than the mega resorts. Insurance costs the same even if they have a shorter season. They have to pay to maintain lifts. They buy electricity. They're closer to "the big city" so they often have to pay higher wages and proportionally higher real estate taxes. That's partly why there's a web site at http://www.nelsap.org littered with lost ski areas in New England. The small places have to charge almost as much as the big ones to make a go of it and, as you say, "Where's the hook"?

The death of inexpensive local ski hills is very bad for skiing. Just like drug dealers, you want to hook 'em when they're young. The core problem with skiing, at least in the Northeast, is that transportation dwarfs all other costs. The IRS says it costs $0.33 per mile to operate a car and that's a pretty close estimate. (My eco-disaster SUV is closer to $0.40/mile) If you're doing a 2-hour 125 mile day trip to the closest larger resort, you've just shelled out almost $100 in automobile expense. The lift ticket could be free and skiing would still be very expensive for most families.

As far as learn-to-ski goes, in my industry we talk about the "out of box experience" for the buyer. I don't think most ski resorts deal with never-nevers very well. The novice gets the big checkin lines, the low-skilled clerk in the ski rental center, and usually pretty large class sizes with, often, the least trained instructors. If you're trying to rope somebody in, wouldn't you want to put on your best face?
post #11 of 58
Aha. I fixed the link!
post #12 of 58
In moving to Southern California from New Mexico (I know, I know where's the logic in that?...still got the home in NM), and from a desination perspective to a day market, I have noticed a shift in the level of commitment of our guest.
Destination guests who utilize ski school programs, still dominate beginner lineups, though there is a greater percentage of levels 4 and up than day areas. But as a gross and unscientific generalization, the destination clientele have, at least in my mind made a time, money and collective family commitment to embark on that "lifelong passion".
The day area clientele, in contrast seem experimental, experiential and more curious than committed. We "expose" school groups, and attract weekend "whaddya wanna do today" types through heavily discounted BEG. PAK's.
In NM we had a 10,000 sq ft, purpose built children's center (highly regarded program) which would consistently handle 175-250 full day destination kids. The parents went skiing. In SoCal the parents frequently don't ski, are not interested in skiing and sit and watch from their beach chairs at the fence. We lovingly refer to these lessons as "pony rides"....the parents insist...we just wanted them to see snow.
We all know what "sticker shock" exists after the first lesson. I hate to say this, but this is an elitist sport. Some children may someday remember the fun and be inspired to return in adulthood.
When I moved to SoCal, the Newport yahting club did no offer me a $29 introductory sailing trip...cause they knew I wouldn't be buying and storing a 54 footer in their slip!
Marketing efforts do a shotgun attempt to drive those introductory lessons, subject to all the negatives listed in earlier posts.
Day areas still do staggering amounts of never evers, typically in large, assembly line groups. In areas with large populations, trying to appeal to anyone, it's almost as if "they'll breed faster than we can piss'em off"!
post #13 of 58
I work in a day use resort school. We try hard to keep the student-to-instructor ratio at 7-to-one. Often this is difficult since we cannot 100% predict the group & private lesson loads. We frequently get overrrun and end up with groups of 15 to 18. Every so often more. It can be like civil war footage.

I remember the days when it was the norm. Big groups may mean a certain level of depersonalization, but a good teacher CAN remember 18 - 20 names and teach a fun, successful lesson with very good group techniques. This goes a long way toward personalizing the group experience.

We have one instructor who draws spectators and uses everyone's names no matter how big the group is. They love it and frequently compliment en masse after.

Not everyone is going to come back even if they do have the time of their lives. We will never retain everyone, that wouldn't be good anyway. The goal is just 6% more per year. This will negate the decline as people leave the sport while keeping growth manageable.

On the other hand. In the early 80's the homebuilding industry was subject to a study similar to the NSAA study on the ski industry. Citing statistics, demograpohic changes, the growing number of retirees, etc. the report said these conditions would create a a surplus of homes eclipsing the need for new homes. A host of unanticipated future social & economical developments proved the study to be totally inaccurate.

Everything runs in cycles. The weather. The economy, your significant other's sex-drive. Everything wanes, everything comes back. The industry as a whole will survive. It may change and become something wholly different. But it will not die.

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro...
post #14 of 58
Thread Starter 
Robin: I understand the some of the issues at Mountain High; I was a race coach under Benno Nager in the late '70s.

The reason that I started this thread is there are very few skiers coming to SS for uper level lessons. They seem to be content to stay in a partial wege forever. I just feel that these "terminal intermediates" can really benefit from upper level instruction. I would ventur to guess that SolVista had no more than 100 upper level students this past season. I feel that is unacceptable.

post #15 of 58
Sorry to take your thread off on a tangent there Rick!
I am suprised that with the focus of the programing in Sol Vista and the marketing I have seen that continued coaching is not more popular. In Angel Fire, a resort of similar circumstance, a good 35-40% of our buisness during certain cycles was 4 and above.
To me, one of the more obvious benefits of the PMTS would be its appeal to chronic intermediates disenchanted with what they perceive to be the standard ATS approach.
post #16 of 58
This is from a essay I had to write last year I thought was relevant.
Resort mergers have, in some ways, created a challenge in trying to keep new people coming to the sport while not losing existing ones. Growing up I learned to ski on a local rope tow that was FREE. Because of the lack of expense many people got introduced to the sport and had the opportunity to get hooked. As skill levels improved and participants became more excited, they were willing to bite off more cost for more fun. But with the small feeder areas closed, the only option now available for people to learn to ski is to go to big areas. Many times at these large areas lessons are understaffed and overcrowded. This can be intimidating and make a beginner's first experience their LAST. The loss of the more personal experience at a smaller area and the high cost of tickets at the large resorts have caused some to seek other winter activities. In comparison, as a novice golfer, I would not play my first round of golf at Pebble Beach, however I would love the challenge and experience of playing such a course as I progressed in the sport. We in the ski industry need to find a way to provide a smaller more intimate start for first time skiers while still offering the grander experience.

The third trend is born of the first two. Niche teaching. People are demanding value for their money. Some resorts and individuals have tried to distinguish themselves from others by offering specialty clinics or repackaging their lessons. They have also tried to provide better value with smaller group sizes, special use of video training, and celebrity appearances. This translates to better results when students are more involved and share their learning with people who have mutual goals and objectives. We need to work to foster this creative branding while maintaining our presence as the leaders in teaching snowsports.

Overall there is great opportunity and challenge for snow sport coaches. We can lead the way in creating exciting ways for people to learn, provide the ropetow feel with the big resort amenities and help give clarity to the many equipment choices available. We will have made skiing once again achievable, rewarding and provided the opportunity for people to invest more in the sport we love.

As everyone has mentioned we need the buy in from the top, and the top wants to see the performance first so it is at a stand off.
post #17 of 58
Thread Starter 

The major grumble around SV was where is the marketing? Last I heard was the MD was leaving in the late spring. We were all cheering! We are getting a new SSD, Mike Gaddy. The former SSD was Rich Messer and he is going to be the trainer. Rich is also going to be working with HH and the PMTS camps. The demand for camps was getting to much for HH and Diana Rogers, his partner.

I sincerely hope that something positive is done to promote and retain our students.

post #18 of 58
In making the world a better place, I think there are two solutions.

1) Build huge mass transit infrastructures, and make them free to use. It's the only way people will tolerate the inconvenience of not using their cars.

2) Pay ski instructors a living wage, and, for two years, treat it as a loss-leader, and don't charge the student for the lessons. Do this every 10 years. The money they bring in in food and lift tickets will make up most of the loss. And after the two years, you'll have a LOT more lifetime skiers.

The problem with both is that it takes major infusions of capital. However, both would make the world a better place, and one would create big future profits for the ski industry. If only the share holders would be willing to wait. But no, they (we?) are blinded by greed and can't see the forest (glades) for the trees.

**Due to the power shortage, the light at the end of the tunnel will be turned off indefinitely.
post #19 of 58
The last time I took a group lesson was in 1990 or so in Jackson Hole. Maybe it was '89 as I think it was the year Blizzard of Aahhs came out. My brother and I went up to the meeting area near the top of the Apres Vous lift, and skiied down in front of the instructors who placed us in the most advanced group. 3 or 4 other guys were added to our group. The instructor cam over and asked what we wanted to learn. Our answer was, "extreme skiing". Not Corbet's, but Tower 3 Chutes, etc., the other guys enthusiastically agreed, and we set off for the Thunder lift. As we went off the first catwalk, it became apparent that we had a problem. The other guys couldn't ski bumps. So we ended up skiing bumps the whole time. It was fun and all, ut at the end of the lesson the instructor took us aside, and apologized to us, saying something like, "You guys didn't learn anything today, you should ask for a private lesson". I would like to try some clinics now though. Perhaps offering more of them would bring skiiers like myself back into the fold. My point, privates can be a little pricey, and in a group lesson, you may not match up with the group. I guess that is what has kept me away.
post #20 of 58
did the instructor you were with also tell you go talk to the SSD and ask for a refund or voucher for another group lesson, maybe even a semi private with the same instructor?

This may be part of the problem. Instructors may not offer this kind of advice and should. or SSD's don't encourage their instructors to do this sort of thing. I can tell you if it had been me as the student the SSD would have heard about it right away.
post #21 of 58
I really don't remember. But I did not end up having another lesson at the time. I was 18 or 19 at the time, and probably wouldn't have gotten too far asking for such a thing anyway.
post #22 of 58
actually epic it was a retorical question.
My point was that if the SS's want to help with skier retention they need to start doing that and encourging their instructors to be more tuned to their student's needs. A satisfied customer is more likely to come back. You eluded to this in the fact that you have not taken a lesson since. If they had made it right, and you got a good lesson out of the deal would you have been more likely to try a lesson again sooner than 10+ years later?
post #23 of 58
Probably not.

It's not like I was bitter about it or anything. The fact is, I am (and have been for some time) pretty happy with my skiing. In most of the 10 years since, I have been skiing with college buds and what not who for the most part are as good as or better skiiers than I am. If I fly out to JH for 4 days, it's to ski with them, and unfortunately I have a lot less time to ski than I used to. In fact last time we were in JH, I tried to recruit everyone into hiring a guide for going OB, but nobody else was into it. I'm making a lot more money than them now (they are living in ski towns, while I went "real world"), so next time maybe I'll just pay for it.

Same thing applies when I ski at Okemo with friends who are not as good skiiers. They came to ski as a group, and though they NEED lessons (God do they need lessons), they don't want to be ejected from the group even if it's only for 2 hours.

I wonder what the ski school would think of hiring us a private instructor to work on getting Karen out of her wedge, Pete out of the backseat, my wife making rounder turns and using her tails, and me doing whatever I need to do better. I don't know what their PSIA levels are (I don't think they had this 1-10 thing back in the day), but I wonder how they'd feel about instructing a 4, a 6, a 7, and a 10 all at the same time.
post #24 of 58
that sounds like a interesting private. When I was at Alta last year we hired Lyle (level 3 cert) for a whole day. He basicly skied with the whole family. My sister level 5-6, My wife level 6-7, Brother inlaw level 7-8 No previous formal instruction, my dad level 7-8, and myself Level 8-9. Of course it was a Whole day private but everyone improved a great deal and I felt it was well worth it. Doing some of the lower level drills I think help me realize where some of the upper level skills are based in. I learned a lot about Movement Analysis and I also learned alot about why certain things I do are good and bad.... You have to go into something like this with a very open mind however which may be a problem for many people.

So it's not out of the question but you are right it's a tricky juggling act.
post #25 of 58
I think I left out one other thing about skier retention and instructors. I was really pretty happy with my skiing for a long time. I have a feeling it had to do with
1. EGO
2. A lack of someone to really push me.

The turn around for me was when I finally skied a full day with someone that was way beyond my scope and ability. Watching them just float down a field of moguls or make a very steep hill look effortless. Then a 2 hour lesson with an instructor that starts to address these things in your skiing and show you it's possible for "yes even I can get there" makes you want to come back for more.

So to answer the thread's question,
JohnH I think is on to something re loss leader/free lessons.
But add one thing, Make sure that if it's a "level x" lesson, that instructor better be a "level x + 2 more levels" with a passion. instead of an instructor that skis just a little bit better than the students.
post #26 of 58
I can think of two reasons why people don't keep coming back to ski lessons:

1. Skiing is a VERY easy sport to get good enough at to just have fun. An athletic person with good balance can be skiing a good portion of any mountain after a few days of lessons. This is a credit to the instructors, the gear, and the groomers but is also killing return lessons. Why should I spend 4 hours of my precious skiing time and $55 when I can go out and ski most of what I want to ski already?
2. Recreational skiing has no quantifiable measurement of skill. A golfer may have the goal to get under XX strokes (I don't know golf) and may be obsessed with taking lessons until he's there. However, few skiers set goals like "I want to ski Gunbarrel from top to bottom and stay in the fall line the entire time" and will take lessons until they can.
3. (I know I said "a couple" of reasons but I thought of another) Skiers than can't handle a specific kind of terrain (powder, bumps, steeps, etc.) may be inclined to take lessons but it's far easier and cheaper to just avoid that terrain. Most major areas have so much terrain that there's really no need to ski stuff you're not good at if you don't want to.

So, putting my business hat on...making the price of lessons cheaper (or free) isn't the solution. You can't sell a product that no one wants or needs. If the industry REALLY wanted to increase repeat lesson business, they would have to create a need for the lessons. Programs like NASTAR probably did this...I'm sure more than a few Gold medal wanna-be's pluncked down their cash for race clinics.
post #27 of 58
I think the reality is that we need a good ice age and some bigger mountains around more populated areas.

Look at last season. Especially in the NE. Why did they have a record winter? Because they had record snow. It's that simple.

And we do have the technology to alter the weather. Let's nuke some small countries and create us a good nuclear winter. Next thing you know, the old folks in Dade County will be buying X/C skis to walk their dogs.
post #28 of 58
Or one big country. Like Texas.
post #29 of 58
JohnH, Milesb

I think I mentioned this over at hyperchange, but Why doesn't PSIA put more bite in the use of their logo/branding. Most other industries require a minimum of x% of the employees be certified to a certain level before they are allowed to display an organization's logo. I think the instructors are allowed to display the pin regardless if the school is qualified? The public needs to know what the logo stands for too for it to be a selling point. If HH had not burned so many bridges, I suspect most of his schools could display PMTS and PSIA side by side just by the virtue of how many instructors added PMTS to their skill set.. I would see more cert's as a positive. It means the instructors have that much more available in their bag of tricks to teach,<FONT size="1">

[This message has been edited by dchan (edited July 06, 2001).]</FONT>
post #30 of 58
Please ignore my ignorance, but on the topic of protecting the PSIA, you could be onto something. The problem being that all instructors are equated by the general public with the PSIA. Whether the instructor is certified or not.

My wife is an ARICP certified Horseback riding instructor, and has found that the certification process has immensely helped her riding and teaching. However what it has not done is helped her to get or keep students. The reason being that all "instructors" are painted with the same brush. She is the only ARICP instructor that I know of within 30 miles (some locals went down to the clinic when she did and failed). Backyard hacks that can barely ride themselves are seen by the non-riding public as being just as good as she is.

To a non-skier, anyone that can stand on skis and get down the hill probably qualifies as an instructor whether they can teach or ski or not.
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