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January 7, 2009 5:46 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible for an advanced intermediate adult skier to become an expert (at Whistler, specifically) without shelling out $400 a day on private lessons? If the best answer is to simply keep practicing on my own, please augment with direct experience and words of encouragement.

I learned to ski at age 19 and have skied an average 10-15 days a year since then (I'm now 38). I have a blast on the blue runs and I'd probably be content with that for the rest of my life if I had to. I can do some black diamonds but it is much less fun and there have been several times when I've taken off the skies and walked down which sucks. The problem I have is that most of my friends who are willing to go up with me far exceed my ability, so I do a lot of skiing alone.

I have a 5 day trip to Whistler planned next week and looked into lessons but the only group lessons offered on the official Whistler-Blackcomb website are for beginners and private lessons are probably out of my price range, although if that is simply the only practical answer I am open to it.

My theory on skiing is that if you don't learn as a child, you have a much harder time conquering the fear that encumbers a rational adult who stands at the top of 45 degree slope. I think my brain understands well enough how to make those turns, but I lose confidence and get flustered with the loss of control on steeper slopes or narrower tree lined trails.

I am in reasonably good shape. I have reasonably good equipment though I am buying new boots this week.

1. Does anyone know of any group lessons for intermediate adult skiers at Whistler?
2. Does anyone know of a less expensive way to get good private lessons at Whistler?
3. Is it possible to simply try harder to challenge myself and learn as I go on my own (or with friends)? This hasn't worked so far, but quite honestly, in the past I've been more focused on having fun than working to get better.
4. Was there any particular piece of knowledge or skill that helped you make the leap?
posted by Slarty Bartfast to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
a few comments here

-- you are not an advanced intermediate skier if you have to walk down black runs. you are a solid intermediate skier. Don't kid yourself. You sound as though you are realistic about your abilities, which is great, though.

-- there is no point in spending $400 a day on lessons. A single 1-hour lesson per day is more than enough. If you do more than this you will get overwhelmed. The key is one good lesson + mileage every day.

-- if you try to push yourself harder, you will almost certainly crash and burn, especially somewhere like Whistler

what you need here is a GOOD teacher who is appropriate to your skill level. The problem with most ski lessons is that the instructor deals with beginner skiers day in, day out and probably does not have the skills to take a reasonably good skier to the next level. You need to talk to the instructors and find one who understands what you need and want
posted by unSane at 6:12 PM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

I started skiing at 10 or 11, but I didn't ski during my last year or two of high school, or my first year of college. The next time I went though, I felt like I skied better than I ever had in my life. I used to hate moguls, but found myself seeking out steeper and longer bumpy runs.

Two things seemed to make a huge amount of difference for me. First, I spent a year doing casual bouldering and rock climbing. It made me much more aware of moving my center of gravity over my feet, which I think helped.

The other thing is I spent spending about 6 months going down and sometimes up most of the stairs I encountered as fast as I could using a hopping motion, both feet parallel, switching the direction my toes pointed for each landing. It helped with both my strength and coordination.

Anyway, that's what helped me, no lessons or slope time required. Oh, better boots helped too.
posted by Good Brain at 6:21 PM on January 7, 2009

There are definitely group lessons at Whistler - see here or directly here. I've taken a couple and they're pretty good and definitely helped me when I was in your position. What I found helpful was to take a lesson and then spend the next day or two focused on applying what I learned to my skiing.

My situation was somewhat similar to yours, I only started skiing at 21 but I had a lot of hardcore skier friends who I really wanted to ski with so I was really motivated to get better. It also helps that I'm very goal oriented - in fact I find skiing less fun now that I'm not so motivated to improve.

Another thing you could try would be to get one of your friends to give you advice. This only works if you have the right relationship with your friends so that it won't be frustrating to either of you and it helps if your friend is a good teacher. I have been fortunate to get tips from friends of friends who were former ski instructors.

I think you are also correct that fear and getting flustered at the top of the slope is getting in your way. I think pushing yourself can help here - find a slope at the upper end of your ability and work on your form and making your way down cleanly. I felt like my skiing improved a lot as I felt confident about my ability to stay in control even on steeps or when things got hairy.

It's totally worth getting better - as fun as those blue runs are, skiing Whistler Bowl is awesome. When the snow's good its some of my favorite skiing. Good luck and have fun.
posted by pombe at 6:45 PM on January 7, 2009

I am a CSIA Level 3 ski instructor (Level 4 is as high as you can go). Skiing is a very technical sport -- you need a solid theoretical understanding as well as physical talent and coordination to progress beyond mediocrity. To all those who claim that you can learn on your own, I say fugghedaboutit. You will build bad habits that stick with you for life, the most common being skid turns instead of carving, the second being poor fore-aft balance (which becomes most obvious on black runs)

Pssst, wanna know the industry's best kept secret? Take the CSIA Level 1 ski instructor's course. An intermediate like yourself can definitely handle it, the quality of instruction is a step above even private lessons and at $400 for four full days the value just cannot be beat. You get a huge manual with scores of drills, complete first-principles explanation of the underlying of biomechanics, daily debriefing with video analysis and a very competitive environment where everyone pushes each other to excel.

The only downside might be that the majority of Level 1 students are rich teenagers. If you can put up with that, go for it.
posted by randomstriker at 6:54 PM on January 7, 2009 [8 favorites]

Sorry, it seems direct links don't work, but go to, choose CSIA (CASI is for snowboarding), and click on the "Level 1" tab.
posted by randomstriker at 6:56 PM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

BTW, if you do jump into the CSIA courses, make sure you've done enough pre-season fitness prep. Don't neglect your plyometrics unless you want torn tendons and ligaments. You will be pushed hard, especially skiing with kids half your age. I injured myself during my Level 3 course, and will need knee surgery soon because of it.
posted by randomstriker at 7:00 PM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

pombe's second link does show more advanced lessons available...and at a discounted price too! If I were you I'd look into doing a half or full day on your first day of skiing. W-B is a loads of fun and has tons of great terrain for you to explore at your level and lots of "aspirational" terrain. That's what great about getting over this hump. So much more of the mountain will be open to you once you get comfortable (moguls, steeps, tree skiing, powder, etc.) Of course each of these disciplines require lots of practice as well.
posted by mmascolino at 8:04 PM on January 7, 2009

As linked to above, there are indeed group lessons aimed at all levels at W/B. I ski Whistler on a regular basis, but have only taken a private lesson once and that was a while ago. I felt it was well worth it, but then again I didn't pay for it. However, W/B must be one of the largest ski schools in North America, and I would expect a pretty high quality session no matter which program you choose. Even luckier, many lessons are 40% off during the time you're there, which makes them much more enticing.

I'm an advanced/expert skier and I can nth the point that skiing W/B is much more fun when your skills are high. The amount and quality of terrain is mind blowing, but much of it is unavailable to a timid intermediate skier.
posted by sinical at 8:29 PM on January 7, 2009

Being that there are only three types of slopes (circle, square, diamond), there some slopes that will be right on the edge. Experienced ski resort workers, or at least ones that have been there for a while, will know if there are typically easier black diamonds. You could also just practice and test yourself by going down black diamonds when conditions are perfect - not too icy, fresh and packed snow, etc. Good luck!
posted by jay.eye.elle.elle. at 9:31 PM on January 7, 2009

I have reasonably good equipment though I am buying new boots this week

That may help significantly. When I got quality, custom fit boots I went from my seemingly-permanent state of "comfortable on intermediate", and went to "comfortable on advanced-intermediate" in just a few days. And I was able to progress a bit more from there quite rapidly.

But don't cheap out. I'm talking custom fit boots, with custom made insole, by a real professional bootfitter, not some random guy at the sporting goods store.

In the long run lessons are your best bet though.
posted by Spurious Packets at 9:46 PM on January 7, 2009

For your trip: I've never been to Whistler, but if it's like most U.S. ski towns, there are a few independent ski shop/rental joints.
Often there is a bulletin board chock-full of people offering side lessons for much cheaper than resort prices.
Find a shop with the vibe you like, then chat with the counter folks to find someone that fits you.
If certifications are important to you, choose someone with a CSIA level as referenced above.

For your ski life in general: If you happen to live in(or near) a town with a smaller local mountain, volunteer for ski patrol.
Not only do you get the benefit of lots of runs, but you are often going out of bounds and into rougher terrain or off slope.
Since you are doing a lot of interacting/stopping/turning in tight spaces, etc, you become really comfortable on your skis, which translates to confidence on your runs.
It likely won't help you develop your technique for perfect powder-8s, but if the thing holding you back is "conquering the fear", then it will help.
You are simply too busy guiding the sled, helping up the old guy who dug his 70s woodens out of the garage and yelling at snowboarder to worry about mechanics of skiing.

Also, to answer #3, on your first day, ski a variety of runs and get a feel for the mountain. The next day, pick the run that a) made you feel a bit outside your comfort zone or b) just made you feel like if you found the groove, you could just bomb the heck out of it.
Then, just make the runs on that trail. Find the right line, dig into the turns, perfect your mogul field exit. By the end of the day, you'll find yourself ripping down the slope without even thinking about it.
For double-bonus points, keep your more-advanced friends off that slope, then challenge them to a "loser pays the apres-ski bill" run. Use your carefully won knowledge of your chosen hill to humiliate them.
Then enjoy your Irish coffee while listening to them make excuses.
posted by madajb at 11:57 PM on January 7, 2009

As a new instructor (ASIA Level 1, not PSIA yet,) I think randomstriker is right on.

The biggest thing holding most skiers back, even advanced skiers, is fore-aft balance. Mastery of balance is key to skiing right. Next-biggest issue is being stuck in the skidded turn. I put balance first because until you get your balance straightened out you will be stuck in skidded turn land. You will be working on these two things the rest of your life (at least I will.) Getting the inside ski involved correctly is probably the next big thing and what I'm working on now. Figuring that inside ski out has to happen before you can start thinking about calling yourself an expert. And you need instruction to get these things sorted out.

If you can ski parallel, you are good enough for an instructor clinic. The teachers will break down your skiing and get you sliding right. They will help you understand that skiing effectively means getting on top of your skis and surfing the hill, rather than standing behind your skis. And, assuming the Canadian system works similarly to the American one, the folks teaching an instructor clinic should be Level 3 or higher, which means your teachers are among the best at both skiing and teaching.

For folks reading this in the Eastern U.S., the best-kept secret is the ASIA clinics -- it's only $25 to join the organization, and then clinics are real cheap (my instructor clinic was 4 days for $280, including lift tickets.) I was 41 years old and sure I'd be stuck in intermediate land for life. 4 full days of instruction through ASIA got me from low-advanced to just short of expert, and now I'm skiing the whole mountain, even trees and bumps, all day, faster but in control and without getting tired.

Don't worry about not being good enough for an instructor clinic; about half the skiers in my class were not as good as me, and probably about where you are skills-wise. We all passed the course and improved tremendously. I liked it so much that I took 4 more days of ASIA classes last year (they have general improvement clinics as well,) and became a paid instructor this year to take advantage of the clinics the mountains make available for free to instructors (instructor pay is lousy, but you get tons of free lessons from Level 3s and Examiners.) I am taking at least two hours of free lessons a week and plan on keeping up with lessons as long as I keep skiing.
posted by Opposite George at 12:12 AM on January 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

I ride pretty hard. Granted I've never been an instructor, but I guess I've always found the idea of actually working on skis when you could be playing on them to be a bit arduous.

I probably went from the level you are at to the one you want to be at when I was about 15 or 16, and the primary thing that happened around that time was this: I went from riding 10-15 days a season to 30-50. I was still riding with the same expert friends, and I was constantly pestering them with questions - primarily about technique, but also equipment, mindset, etc.. It didn't take any expensive lessons, just enough days on the hill in enough different conditions with enough different expert riders to pick up the subtleties. Remembering to push the shins into the top of your boots when you turn. Putting that weight on the big toe for the extra bite on the inside edge. Hands up and in front of you like you're carrying a tray. Etc. Pretty soon you're doing all that stuff without thinking about it and you can start to tweak in / out other stuff as necessary.

The instructor school is probably a great idea, but honestly if you do instructor school and then only get 2-3 days in the rest of the season to practice that stuff on the hill, I question how much its going to actually shift you towards expert level skiing. The absolute best thing you can do for your game is to move to a mountain town, get a job bartending or groom-cat driving, or something else at night that frees up your days, and buy a season pass. If one full season of day-in, day-out riding, on quality gear, with expert friends doesn't take you up one full step, nothing ever will.

Oh. And eventually you'll want to quit looking at trail-maps and trail markers to tell you about a run / your ability level. Start looking at the run itself and let your brain tell you if you can handle it or not. Really study the runs from the lift - you should be plotting out your lines before you ever get there. Focus on the nuances of the mountain and envision yourself carving through that patch of powder nobody hit yet, or down that sketchy mogul line. Think your way down a slope, then do it. Stop at the bottom, turn around, check it out, and note what you did right and wrong. Take the run a second time and do all the right stuff again and try to get the wrong stuff tweaked out. Skiing is half about you and half about the mountain. Pay more attention to it.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:30 AM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Opposite George has a good point about the inside ski - its probably a huge one for you to figure out considering your current ability level. One thing you might want to consider is taking a day getting beginner's lessons on tele-mark skiing. Hell if that isn't a fast-track course to figuring out the importance of the inside ski.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:33 AM on January 8, 2009

Response by poster: There are definitely group lessons at Whistler - see here or directly here.

pombe's second link does show more advanced lessons available...and at a discounted price too!

I don't know why I didn't find that. That's probably what I'm looking for. This is all good, helpful advice, thank you all. Keep it coming if you got it.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:54 AM on January 8, 2009

And, assuming the Canadian system works similarly to the American one, the folks teaching an instructor clinic should be Level 3 or higher, which means your teachers are among the best at both skiing and teaching.

The Canadian and American systems are almost identical.

Anyway, Opposite George makes a great point. When you take a group or private lesson at most resorts, the reality is that you usually are assigned a Level 1 or Level 2 instructor. Level 3s and 4s mainly focus on race coaching or training other instructors.

E.g. in recent years Whistler/Blackcomb employed about 1800 instructors at the peak of each season. Probably less this year because, frankly, tourists are not showing up because of economic woes. Anyway, out of these 1800, about 800 are Level 1s that teach kids, another 800 are Level 2s that teach adults, another 150 or so Level 3s that teach instructors and really advanced skiers, and only a couple dozen Level 4s that ONLY train other instructors.

In my experience, the difference in quality of instruction that you receive each level of instructor is huge. 90% of Level 1 instructors suck at teaching, frankly. That's why a reputable resort only lets them teach kids. Most of them are kids themselves, anyway. Level 2 instructors are usually good skiers, but it can still be hit-or-miss with their teaching skills. It depends mostly on their personality.

Level 3 (the minimum required to train Level 1 instructors) and Level 4 instructors are a breed apart. I'm constantly amazed by their ability to watch you ski 100 feet and be able to pinpoint exactly what you're doing wrong, and prescribe a USEFUL drill that you can do to correct the error. Usually the drill is so appropriate that you will be able to change your skiing WITHIN ONE HOUR.

They are also very experienced at managing a group of students (which is 50% of being a successful instructor) such that you will NEVER be wasting time -- you will always have something to work on even if the group has students of diverging ability. You will NOT be waiting for 5 other students to do a demonstration. You will NOT be held up coz some other loser who can't put their ski back on or fixing their gloves.

The instructor school is probably a great idea, but honestly if you do instructor school and then only get 2-3 days in the rest of the season to practice that stuff on the hill, I question how much its going to actually shift you towards expert level skiing.

Agreed, but the OPP said he skis up to 15 days each season.
posted by randomstriker at 12:48 PM on January 8, 2009

Seconding doing the instructor course. I did the Level 1 CASI snowboard course and it was *by far* the best instruction I've ever had. Many people I know have done the instructor course with no intention of ever teaching.

Where it really helps is those days where you feel totally out of control. It gives you the skills to break everything down to basics and get it all back together. It also (very importantly) gives you the lingo to talk to an advanced instructor with, which is half the battle once you are beyond intermediate levels.
posted by unSane at 8:43 PM on January 8, 2009

Also seconding a Level 3 instructor. You probably have to seek them out and ask them to give you a private lesson, but it's totally worth it. You can learn enough in an hour to last for your whole vacation. Often they will give you one totally A-HA!! piece of advice which takes you to the next level.
posted by unSane at 8:48 PM on January 8, 2009

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