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Raw Beginner - Questions on Private Lessons

post #1 of 27
Thread Starter 

Hey Everyone - I recently found this site and have learned a lot by going through old posts.  I moved to Colorado this past May and am eager to hit the slopes and learn to ski.  I am basically starting from scratch (has a group lesson YEARS ago) but am motivated to take full advantage of living near some work-class resorts.  

 

As far as background, I am 32 and like to remain reasonably active with some of the typical Colorado activities like hiking/mountain biking and things like that.  Thanks to my fiance, I have a Colorado Pass and picked up some shiny new all-mountain skis and boots at Sniagrab this year after spending a few hours talking to several of the salespeople to get different opinions.  The skis are beginner/intermediate 'tweeners' that several different salespeople said are forgiving enough for me as a beginner yet I can grow into them as my skills progress.  The boots are supposedly the same and reviews online seem to back up stories for both the skis and boots.  

 

In any event, I have gone back and forth about doing group and private lessons and based on what I have read on the various postings, the consensus seems to be to go private due to the individualized attention and not being held back by one or two people who don't pick up on things as fast as the rest of the group.  

 

Since I have the Colorado Pass, I am most likely going to take lessons at either Breck or Keystone. For someone who is a stone cold beginner, do you think that half-day or full-day private lessons would be the most beneficial?  Also, what are everyone's thoughts about getting a ski instructor from some place other than the resort?  I have seen some people post ads on Craigslist advertising personalized ski lessons and a few email exchanges later, the prices are significantly less than what the resorts charge.  If I did go that route, is there a central place to look to find these freelance instructors?  I did not find anything on the PSIA site, or maybe I didn't look in the right spot?

 

Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated!

post #2 of 27

Welcome to Epic and welcome back to skiing. We have some great instructors that reside in the Summit County area with Bob Barnes being the first name that comes to mind. I would suggest shooting him a PM and he will either be able to help you (there are few better) or direct you to someone who can. There are few people in the ski world that their words might as well have come down on tablets from the heavens above...Bob Barnes is one of those people. 

post #3 of 27

 

Hi CODiver,

 

Here are some things to chew on:

 

Lessons:

 

Private vs. Group:  Really this comes down to the instructor.  I can pretty much guarantee you that I and many others are capable of providing the same quality lesson in a group as I do private (provided the group size is say no more then 6-7).  Conversly a bad lesson is a bad lesson regardless of group numbers, a private is no guarnatee of anything.

 

The best option is to request certified instructor.  For a "never ever lesson" (ie first time skiing)  I would reccomend a Level 2 or above.  It is your money, and you wont be charged more.  Also look into "semi-privates" which is really just a small group lesson...cuts down the costs.  Personally I believe these semi-private packages offer the best value, group sizes are typically 3.

 

 

Free Lance Instructors:

 

In Canada and the USA the hill effectivley owns the rights to teach at their hill.  Freelance "pros" do exist, but what they are doing is technically illegal.  If caught they get tossed off the hill, and you look stupid.  With a freelancer then the other lesson perks such as cutting lift lines, access to special teaching areas etc obviously dont exist, so buyer be warned.

 

 

Half Day vs. Full Day

 

Hard to say, depends on your fitness and budget.  Obvioulsy full day is better...but if you are likley to be exhausted after a half day, no point in paying for the full day.  You wont likely get taught "new stuff" in the afternoon...likley that time will be used to develop miles and ingrain what you learnt in the morning.  But dont underestimate the value of having a watchful eye on your moves in that period to keep you on track...

 

 

Good luck with it....

post #4 of 27
Thread Starter 

 

Thanks for the replies.  Yes - it seems like as with any sport or activity, the quality of the instructor makes or breaks the experience for the beginner.  I was initially torn between the group/private lessons due to the pretty substantially price difference (Keystone for example has 3 days worth of adult beginner lessons for $218 vs. $595 for a single full day lesson).  

 

The freelance explanation makes sense and the advantages of using one of the resort's instructors probably outweighs the additional costs.  I will definitely hit Bob Barnes up - he seems to have a pretty stellar reputation around these parts, so I am sure he can help me make my decision. 

 

One other thing that I was thinking about… is it worth going to some of the Colorado resorts in the early season and taking lessons?  I am talking about basically this weekend through Thanksgiving.  Realistically, the soonest I would be able to head out would be next Friday (Nov. 12),  but would the snow conditions be so bad and so far from what I would expect to be skiing in January that taking lessons would almost be a waste?  

 

At the end of the day though, I just want to get the best bang for my buck and be able to make steady progress throughout this season and the next and the next...  I have no illusions of being able to bomb down a double black this season – but I would like to be able to ski down some blues from top to bottom without injuring myself or others… oh, and have fun doing it!

post #5 of 27

There probably won't be any really good beginner terrain available on the Summit Pass until mid-November if Keystone gets to make enough snow.  The beginner stuff is up on the mountain reached via the gondola.  You ride up, ski, ride back down.

 

Best beginner area at Breck is the base of Peak Nine.  Long, wide, easy terrain right out of the base.  But Breck opened on Peak Eight last year and didn't have Nine open for a couple weeks.  I think that's the intention this season too, but won't know that for certain until I go to orientation Nov. 6.  Peak Nine is scheduled to open November 25.

 

A-Basin has a nice, easy beginner area with its own lift that looks like it should be open soon.  It's really short, though, and the next step up in beginner terrain there can be fairly challenging.

 

Best bang for your buck will be a lesson on appropriate terrain, conducted by a certified instructor.  Most class lessons you get what the supervisor has available and you cannot specify instructor training/experience/certification.  If you know an instructor in the lower lever lineup (Levels one through four), you sometimes can convince the supervisor to assign that person to your class, but there's no guarantee.   You CAN specify when you are asking for a private lesson.  You can do a half-day in the a.m. and, if you're up to it, upgrade to full day.   It's a few bucks more for the full day lesson when you upgrade, but if you're whipped by noon, you save on the full-day cost.

 

This time of the year, most of the instructors working will be experienced full-timers, especially on week days.

 

As far as next season and beyond, one of the best lesson deals anywhere is the Breck season lesson program.  It's for Level Five (parallel on blue) and better skiers, and they limit somewhat the number sold, so it would be something you might consider investing in next spring for the following season.  You get upper level class lessons Thursdays through Sundays most weeks (blackouts for some holidays).  Price for this year was something like $250.


Edited by Kneale Brownson - 11/8/10 at 3:23pm
post #6 of 27

I would strongly consider the unlimited adult lesson plan at either Keystone or Breck if they are still available- probably not the case with beginner lessons, but early in the season at KS year, the advanced lessons had few people- I got 2 privates and 1 semi before x-mas. edit- looks to be on sale until Nov 14 http://www.snow.com/passsales/learn%20to%20ski.aspx  By signing up for the unlimited plan, you could try out several instructors early on and still get decent value out of it even if you later decide to go the private lesson route. 


Edited by MEfree30 - 11/1/10 at 1:52pm
post #7 of 27

That plan is a great opportunity to get a lot of lessons really cheaply.  However, they DO begin at Level Five ability (parallel turns on blue terrain), so you'd have to do some prior lesson taking/practicing before you'd fit into the Level Five lesson.

post #8 of 27

This has nothing to do with taking lessons but take your boots to a good bootfitter either in Denver or in the mountains and make sure they fit you.  I lived in Denver for 20 years and am well acquainted with the what used to be Gart Brothers->Gart Sports->Sports Authority.  It isn't an over generalization to say there isn't anybody who works there that knows how to fit boots properly.  Do this ASAP because the chances are good that the boots you got are either too long or too wide or both.  If they are, return them and get boots from a good fitter.  Boots are THE most important gear you buy.  If they don't fit properly, you can't control your skis.  They are much more important than your skis.  Properly fitting boots are warmer and more comfortable than too big boots.

post #9 of 27

(PM reply sent--please check your In Box, CODiver78.)

 

(Thanks, PhilPug--"check's in the mail") 

 

---

 

 

Hi CoDiver78--and welcome to EpicSki. While I can't agree with Phil that anything I might say "might as well have come down on tablets from the heavens above," I'll offer you a few thoughts, some of which have already been raised by others above.

 

First, although I do not know your athletic background other than that you skied once a long time ago, it is likely that you are not, actually, a complete beginner. It's amazing how much tends to stay with you over the years after you've been on skis even just a little. One of the hardest things for most beginners is simply the unfamiliarity of the sensations of slipping around on long feet. But you've done it, and I'll bet you find that you retain more of the experience than you expect.

 

For this reason, I don't recommend that you take your first lesson in a big group of beginners. You've identified most of my reasons yourself--large, impersonal class, more-often-than-not led by a very inexperienced instructor, unfortunately. And beginner classes, especially when the instructor lacks experience, tend to proceed at the pace of the slowest student. With your prior experience, minimal though it may be, I doubt that you'll be that person!

 

Private lessons are very expensive, as you know. But they offer the personal feedback and pacing you want, and more importantly, you can request a particular instructor. In any ski school these days, the staff will range from very part-time "hobby" instructors with little or no experience and training, to full-time, certified pros who have dedicated their talents and careers to the profession. It's like comparing a first-grade student to a PhD. The problem is that in most group lessons, especially at the lower levels, you'll have no choice--but you'll probably NOT get one of the top pros.

 

On the other hand, group lessons can be worthwhile and productive experiences. If the group is well-matched and not overly large, and the instructor is a good one, you can have a great time. 

 

Here are some suggestions.

  • For your first lesson, take a private half- or full-day lesson, if you can afford it. (Locally, Copper Mountain may offer the best prices, since they reduced their private lesson rates substantially last season.) If you have an instructor in mind, request him or her when you sign up. If not, request that you ski with no less than a current PSIA Full-Certified (Level 3) instructor. Ask around--and inquire here at EpicSki--for instructor recommendations at any resort you plan to ski.
  • After that first lesson, you may get great results, and have a great time, with a few group lessons. The multi-lesson packages you've mentioned at Keystone and Breckenridge should be good. Of course, you will still do well with more private lessons, but I do understand that the cost can be prohibitive.
  • Although as one of its coaches and founding director I am surely biased, I cannot recommend highly enough our own EpicSki Academy. There are two in Colorado this season--first at Arapahoe Basin for three days, December 3-5 (Friday-Sunday), and then at Aspen-Snowmass in January. The cost is considerably less than private lessons, and the coaches are the truly elite--trainers and mentors of other instructors from across the country. Groups are small--generally six or less. I strongly encourage you to come to the Arapahoe Basin event, at least. It's early in the season, so it will get you off to a great start, building the fundamentals that you'll continue to develop throughout the winter. It would be fine to start out at the ESA, but if you could get in a day or two on snow first, especially with a half- or full-day private lesson, you might get even more out of it (particularly if you take that private with one of the ESA coaches). You can learn more about EpicSki Academy here. I won't go further with this, lest it sound too much like a commercial, but I cordially invite you to the EpicSki Academy.

 

Regarding your other thought about "underground instructors" from Craigslist or elsewhere, I don't recommend them. As others have noted, for starters, they are completely illegal. It's a long story, and frankly, I'd love to see the legal environment change to allow private instruction and competition, but the way it is now, it cannot be done without breaking the law. More important (perhaps), the instructors who do it are rarely worth skiing with. Rarely do they have any real training as instructors (instructor training comes largely from ski schools themselves and from PSIA, which requires employment at a ski school for certification). Indeed, the only way they can succeed at all is to fly under the radar. Any reputable instructor would be quickly recognized, kicked off the mountain, and probably arrested. For substandard instruction (especially at the early "formative" stages), it's just not worth it!

 

So, please join us at an EpicSki Academy, and best of luck with your goals. I think you'll have a great season, and I'll bet that you'll go well beyond your objective to ski blue runs (comfortably) from the top of the mountain (although I'd never promise that you won't fall--falls are part of learning and skiing, at any level!). Please keep in touch, and don't hesitate to ask any questions and to share your experiences with the rest of the EpicSki community so we may all benefit.

 

Have fun!

 

Best regards,

Bob Barnes

post #10 of 27

Bob is too modest to say this so I will. Do yourself an enormous favor and ski for three days with Bob. At the end of this time period you will have a rock solid foundation on which to build a life long enjoyment of the sport.

 

Then come ski with me next year and I'll get you all screwed up! 

post #11 of 27

I think Bob offers a good plan- although I haven't been lucky enough to take a lesson from him, he is a nice guy and excellent skier. 

 

I am not 100% sure, but it seems like the unlimited group lessons are offered on all levels, at least at Breck where they say that afternoon only are available only to levels 1-4 (and imply that anyone can take a class beginning in the morning).  Based on my experience at Keystone, I thought most of the instructors were good, but that was in the advanced level groups.  It seems like, mid-week, early in the year when there is not much demand for lessons, you are more likely to get full time, experienced instructors teaching group lessons while many of the top pros will end up giving fewer group lessons and more private lessons when demand is higher (with the less experienced instructors Bob is talking about teaching the lower level group lessons).  I am sure that Copper has some top level instructors also, but the group lesson my daughter took there was more along the too big, geared towards the slowest student that Bob was referring to.

 

Jeff Bergeron in Breck is a good boot fitter.  When I went to him, he was charging $100 for a fitting consult that could latter be applied to a custom foot bed.  He is not a boot salesman and will give you an unbiased, professional opinion.  You could bring your boots to him and he let you know if they are right for you or not.

post #12 of 27

 

Quote:
chances are good that the boots you got are either too long or too wide or both.  If they are, return them and get boots from a good fitter.  Boots are THE most important gear you buy.  If they don't fit properly, you can't control your skis.  They are much more important than your skis.  Properly fitting boots are warmer and more comfortable than too big boots.

Very, very important.  I've taught beginners who try hard, make the right movements, and nothing works right.  I send them back to the rental shop for boots at least a full size smaller, and wonder of wonders, they start to ski right!  If the boots you bought are comfy, they are too big and cannot be made to work right for you.

 

For me, I prefer half day morning lessons and the rest of the day to practice what I was shown in the morning.  Again, for me, I like to visualize what I was shown and told, then give it a try and again and again.  You may have different preferences.

post #13 of 27
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by SoftSnowGuy View Post

 

Very, very important.  I've taught beginners who try hard, make the right movements, and nothing works right.  I send them back to the rental shop for boots at least a full size smaller, and wonder of wonders, they start to ski right!  If the boots you bought are comfy, they are too big and cannot be made to work right for you.

 

For me, I prefer half day morning lessons and the rest of the day to practice what I was shown in the morning.  Again, for me, I like to visualize what I was shown and told, then give it a try and again and again.  You may have different preferences.


Thanks for the sage advice everyone.  I ended up going to see Larry Houchen and he quickly informed me that my Sniagrab-sourced boots were 1.5 Mondo points too big!  I kind of figured that this would happen as the Sniagrab associate spent a grand total of 15 minutes fitting my boot.  As a result, the old "lets see how the shell fits with the liner removed" test resulted in me having enough room for my whole hand at the base.  Long story short, I ended up getting a new (properly fitted) pair of boots and custom footbeds.  The cost was a bit more than what I paid at Sniagrab, but having the knowledge that my gear fits me properly allowing me focus exclusively on my technique is well worth the cost of admission.

 

With that being said, I have decided that I will do a private lesson as my first lesson and then look into those unlimited group lessons at Breck/Keystone.  I think having that individual attention to set my foundation and correct my mistakes will help set me on the right path.  Depending on how well I do with that first private lesson, I may do another private or just drive right into the group lessons.  

 

Thanks to everyone for their advice and input!

 


Edited by CODiver78 - 11/8/10 at 1:35pm
post #14 of 27
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by CODiver78 View Post

With that being said, I have decided that I will do a private lesson as my first lesson and then look into those unlimited group lessons at Breck/Keystone.  I think having that individual attention to set my foundation and correct my mistakes will help set me on the right path.  Depending on how well I do with that first private lesson, I may do another private or just drive right into the group lessons.  

 


To this point - if anyone can recommend a solid Breckenridge or Keystone instructor for a private lesson, it would be very much appreciated.  

post #15 of 27

Any Level III cert

post #16 of 27

 

Not to steal this thread away from CODiver78, but I will be in a similar situation.  My wife has decided that she wants to learn to ski so we will be heading out to Squaw Valley for 3 days of skiing the last weekend of february/first week of march.  She has already agreed to take lessons and currently I had been thinking about her taking a group lesson the first day, followed by half day private lessons the second two days, but reading the post by Bob Barnes he has really good points why the reverse is better.  I'm now maybe leaning towards doing a full day private lesson the first day followed by two half day private lessons, would this be overkill?

 

Anyone have any thoughts on how they would handle this?  It would be next season before she would go again, assuming she likes it, obviously the fact that I enjoy skiing is a big part of why she wants to try.

post #17 of 27

Good job seeing Larry for those new boots, CODiver78. And first lesson learned: the only thing good about buying boots from a bargain basement sale is that the money you waste is probably not too awfully much.

 

Enjoy the new boots!

 

Best regards,

Bob

 

post #18 of 27

Alg0280--

 

First, warmest welcome to EpicSki! 

 

That first lesson may be the most critical lesson anyone will ever take. In it, new skiers not only get a taste of the critical skills and sensations of great skiing, but it's also often their first impression of the sport, the mountain environment, and their own ability to learn something entirely new. I assume that you want your wife to have a great first experience, and to fall in love with the sport and everything that surrounds it, right? 

 

The first lesson sets new movement patterns and habits in motion. New students are sponges for new learning, so it's especially critical that they get on the right track to great skiing. It's equally easy to learn "bad" skiing movements and bad habits, with shortcuts that may seem right at first, but inevitably lead to the dreaded plateaus of the "intermediate rut." 

 

So you should find the very best instructor you can find for the first lesson. It will be worth it! You are far more likely to ski with "that" instructor in a request private than in a standard group lesson. Indeed, you are extremely UNlikely to find a top instructor teaching a beginner group lesson (although it does happen). 

 

I have recently heard of a major destination ski resort that expects to hire 200 NEW instructors this season--representing about half its staff. They will all receive a few days of training, then be put to work, mostly conducting first-timer lessons. Unfortunately, this is pretty much the norm in US ski schools these days. It's no wonder so few people ever return for more skiing, much less more lessons, after their first experience. Buyer beware!

 

So it's primarily to ensure that you ski with an experienced and dedicated pro that I recommend that the first lesson be a private. If you could take a group lesson from the same pro, it would also be a great experience (although still without the personal one-on-one interaction and pacing you will get with a private lesson). But your odds are not good!

 

Best regards,

Bob

post #19 of 27

Thanks Bob.

 

That all makes a lot of sense, I appreciate the response, especially the insight into the state of the industry.  I think it will be well worth it for her to have a good first time experience.

 

Also I like your suggestion you made earlier about the EpicSki Academy.  If she finds skiing interesting and wants to try a second time (fingers crossed) we might consider doing that next season.

 

Thanks,

Anthony

post #20 of 27

CODiver78:   Here's the Epic Ski instructor list:  http://www.epicski.com/wiki/epicski-instructor-and-coach-listing

post #21 of 27


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by CODiver78 View Post

With that being said, I have decided that I will do a private lesson as my first lesson and then look into those unlimited group lessons at Breck/Keystone.  I think having that individual attention to set my foundation and correct my mistakes will help set me on the right path.  Depending on how well I do with that first private lesson, I may do another private or just drive right into the group lessons.  

 

Thanks to everyone for their advice and input!

 


I wasn't sure if I was going to do it again, but ended up signing up at Keystone again for the unlimited lessons on Sunday...the group was me and one other guy who lasted until 11.  I am not positive how many students were in the beginner group which I think was the only group with more than 2 students in it. 

 

Was reminded that I have a tendency to drop my hands, but not a lot of input otherwise.

 

Last year, they assigned early season lessons based on an instructors point rating (which tends to favor veteran instructors) from the year before, but I am not sure how they are doing it now as there is (another) new ski school director.  Bob- Found out you are no longer at Keystone- where are you now? 

 

I think the lesson deal prices are only guaranteed until Nov 14 or until supplies last.

post #22 of 27

Yes, yet another new director at Keystone this season. And another new resort general manager as well. Although it's early to predict, these changes may ultimately bode well for the resort, in my opinion, especially since the GM comes from a skiing and instruction background (he's been the snowsports school director for a number of years at Breckenridge before this promotion). But change always presents challenges, and poor Keystone has had a hard time recently gaining traction and keeping momentum, with five different SSD's and four GM's in the past six years. Keep your eyes on the resort, though, especially if you are a younger family. Keystone's current stated aspiration is to become a top-rated family resort, catering particularly to younger children and teens (with its acclaimed A51 terrain park). 

 

 

 

Quote:
Bob- Found out you are no longer at Keystone- where are you now?

 

Thanks for asking, MEFree30. After working again for the past five years at Keystone, I have decided to teach at Copper Mountain this season. I worked for four seasons at Copper before spending time at Vail and then returning to Keystone. I am looking forward to skiing again at Copper Mountain, with its great and varied terrain, awesome scenery, and typically abundant snowfall, compared with the other Summit County resorts. It's a tough decision, though. I had considered a return to Breckenridge, where I worked for five seasons a long time ago, and to Vail, where I spent an incredible season before Keystone. 

 

So, give me a call at Copper Mountain. I look forward to skiing with the Bears of EpicSki! (With a bit of advance notice, I can usually arrange to ski with you elsewhere as well, but it takes time to make the arrangements with the various ski school directors.)

 

Best regards,

Bob

post #23 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by CODiver78 View Post




Thanks for the sage advice everyone.  I ended up going to see Larry Houchen and he quickly informed me that my Sniagrab-sourced boots were 1.5 Mondo points too big!  I kind of figured that this would happen as the Sniagrab associate spent a grand total of 15 minutes fitting my boot.  As a result, the old "lets see how the shell fits with the liner removed" test resulted in me having enough room for my whole hand at the base.  Long story short, I ended up getting a new (properly fitted) pair of boots and custom footbeds.  The cost was a bit more than what I paid at Sniagrab, but having the knowledge that my gear fits me properly allowing me focus exclusively on my technique is well worth the cost of admission.

 

With that being said, I have decided that I will do a private lesson as my first lesson and then look into those unlimited group lessons at Breck/Keystone.  I think having that individual attention to set my foundation and correct my mistakes will help set me on the right path.  Depending on how well I do with that first private lesson, I may do another private or just drive right into the group lessons.  

 

Thanks to everyone for their advice and input!

 


Ah..the ole "one fist fit", the standard fit method for all ski swaps. 

 

You were smart to cut your losses and get into the RIGHT boot right away. 

post #24 of 27



 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Barnes View Post

 I have decided to teach at Copper Mountain this season.

 

 

You need to change your Epic instructor listing, Bob.

post #25 of 27

Thanks for the reminder, Kneale--done!

 

Best regards,

Bob

post #26 of 27


 

Quote:

Originally Posted by Bob Barnes View Post

 

Quote:

Bob- Found out you are no longer at Keystone- where are you now?

 

Thanks for asking, MEFree30. After working again for the past five years at Keystone, I have decided to teach at Copper Mountain this season. I worked for four seasons at Copper before spending time at Vail and then returning to Keystone. I am looking forward to skiing again at Copper Mountain, with its great and varied terrain, awesome scenery, and typically abundant snowfall, compared with the other Summit County resorts. It's a tough decision, though. I had considered a return to Breckenridge, where I worked for five seasons a long time ago, and to Vail, where I spent an incredible season before Keystone. 

 

So, give me a call at Copper Mountain. I look forward to skiing with the Bears of EpicSki! (With a bit of advance notice, I can usually arrange to ski with you elsewhere as well, but it takes time to make the arrangements with the various ski school directors.)

 

Best regards,

Bob

 

Been to Copper twice so far this season and have really enjoyed my days there...snow quality and visual aids (very good skiers on mnt with race training going on) were much better than Keystone and A-Basin.  Good luck to you Bob!

 


 

post #27 of 27
Thanks, MEfree30--I'm looking forward to it. Copper has some great terrain, and usually gets the best of Summit County's snow. It's a good mountain. I hope to see a lot of EpicSkiers there!

Meanwhile, in case anyone hasn't heard, we're in the middle of an all-out blizzard in the Colorado mountains right now. I-70 is closed in both directions from Vail to the Denver foothills, along with many other roads and mountain passes. The skiing should be "Epic" tomorrow!

Best regards,
Bob
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