Let's make it a great private ski lesson!
March 24, 2011 1:29 AM   Subscribe

Ski lessons! Help him take full advantage of a one-hour private lesson with a pro. His previous attempt at skiing went badly... Read on.

The first time my SO tried to ski, he took a group lesson. The snow was very sticky, and his skis weren't sliding properly. When he tried going down the bunny slope, he would halt all the time. This being a group with 15 newbies, the instructor didn't notice anything. The lesson was over and he had no idea what skis were supposed to do -- but he wasn't aware of that. He thought he had learned and practiced. He thought snow was sticky. He couldn't quite understand what the big deal was about learning to stop. He thought that going down the beginner hill was going to be a fun adventure. Well.

By the time we got off the lift, the sticky snow that was keeping his skis from sliding was gone, and he was full-on skiing. He couldn't use anything he had just "learned," because he was simply too terrified at the discovery that he was not going to be able to start and stop whenever he wished. He was sliding down that mountain whether he liked it or not, and he was as scared as I've ever seen him.

tl;dr He fell down/bailed out all.the.way down the hill. Getting up was torturous, he was bruising, sweating, scared and humiliated. I felt so so so bad about not knowing how to help him up and coach him down the hill. It was only my second time skiing, and even though I was doing well (apparently I'm a natural) I do not have enough experience, or understanding of the mechanics of it, to help someone else.

Being the awesome person that he is, he wants to try it again. He wants to learn enough to be able to ride the green-circles with me, and I couldn't ask for anything more. Three weeks have passed, and I booked him a private lesson this weekend.

I know the equipment needs to fit properly, and we'll make sure it does. We got the helmets and the appropriate apparel. What else?

Is there anything specific he should ask (or tell) the instructor? Is there anything I can do to help him be less afraid? When you were a scared newbie, what was the one thing that you mastered that made all the difference? Is there such a thing?

I don't know what kind of advice I'm looking for, to be honest. I think I'm asking about all the things he and I don't know, that could make the lesson better or worse. Help us, skiers!
posted by Opal to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Lots and lots of beginners are scared. Many are recovering from exactly this sort of knock to their confidence - it's something every instructor will have seen a million times. Some instructors are better than others at dealing with it; you could ask the ski school if they can give you someone who's particularly good with nervous people. Ski instructors come with various levels of qualification; there's no reason you can't ask about this beforehand and try and get lessons with a better qualified instructor.

Your SO needs to explain his situation to the instructor, and explain what he would like to get out of the lesson. If he wants to be able to ski a particular run, he should tell the instructor that, and the instructor should take him out and give him at least part of the lesson on that run. The instructor should also let him know exactly where he should try skiing after the lesson, and where he should not go. If they don't tell him this, he should ask.

An hour is not a very long time, so he'll need a good few more lessons. Always get lessons at the beginning of the day; snow and weather conditions vary from one day to the next, so it's good to start the day with an instructor who knows which slopes are best for your ability level on that day. If you get another group lesson at some point, ask about group sizes. If they run groups over about 8 people, find another ski school.

I don't know where you are, but get lessons from a native speaker of his first language, if at all possible.
posted by emilyw at 2:04 AM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

My four year old is going through the same process.

Basically your SO is starting from zero. He is not going to learn to ski, per se, he needs to learn how to snowplow, control his speed, and stop.

Any decent instructor should be able to teach him that in one dedicated hour. Many more lessons before he can actually ski.

Also the trick is to quit while it's still fun and before he gets tired. Same as with my four-year-old. A few runs and take a break and make it an early day.

At the end of this season she was "skiing" down from the top all by herself and the look on her face of accomplishment and FUN was utterly priceless.

Same with your SO, I bet. Once he can make it down on his own, his entire outlook toward the greatest sport on Earth will change.
posted by three blind mice at 2:33 AM on March 24, 2011

Make sure he does his lesson on the easiest run and not the bunny hill. The bunny hill is useless.
A private instructor should be able to ski backwards and push on him to slow him down if that's any more reassuring about getting down.

He should learn how to stop before going down the slope too. That should easily be accomplished in the first part of the run which is generally pretty flat. If you're right handed it's generally easier to stop leading with your right leg, so keep that in mind (although he'll obviously want to practice both.)

To build up some confidence and put a mental image in his head I think you could probably practice stopping on a slick floor with socks on. Get some speed where you can slide, start sliding, squat down some, turn while taking weight off the inside leg and applying it with force to the outside leg, push down with the outside leg now that you're sideways. You're stopped.
Eventually, you'll push with both legs at the same time but you can slow down from up to 40mph pretty quickly with a one legged stop.

I'd recommend not using the snowplow technique, if possible. It seems to me that it is a bad crutch and slows down the learning process. If you learn how to stop first there isn't any reason to snowplow. You just make more\wider turns instead of snowplowing and stop if you need to stop.
I've taught some friends to ski by not snowplowing and they make it down squares fairly confidently after just a few days.

Try taking up ice skating together in the off season too, if you're at all interested. I was late to the game on learning how to ski (only a few years ago) but was able to make it down diamonds within a day just because I had been skating most of my life.

On preview,
Seconding the quit when you're tired. People with legs that aren't conditioned or strong enough will get worn out quick and then all technique goes out the window because they are fighting to not become jelly. Ends with a lot of unnecessary, confidence zapping, falls.
posted by zephyr_words at 2:46 AM on March 24, 2011

Do a search on YouTube for beginner ski instruction. I think it would help him get his head in the game to get some pre-instruction and may arm him with questions.
posted by amanda at 3:00 AM on March 24, 2011

zephyr_words, your technique may work in the presence of an instructor who likes to teach that way, but it emphatically won't work with a pair of beginners learning together and getting a few lessons with a regular ski instructor.

Instructors teach snowplough because until a beginner has learnt to turn reliably, the snowplough is the only tool they have to keep their speed under control at all times. Without a snowplough, they only have two speeds available: the one they reach by accelerating out of control down a hill, and the one they can get by trying to pull together a hockey stop while zooming out of control down a hill.

Suggesting that this guy shouldn't snowplough is like suggesting that someone with no arms who can't drive should go out with his friend who has had a driving lesson, put the car in neutral, coast down a hill and if things are going wrong, find the brake pedal and slam it on.
posted by emilyw at 3:09 AM on March 24, 2011

it emphatically won't work with a pair of beginners learning together

I've always taught people to stop first and then after an hour or so they were happily skiing the greens the rest of the day without having their hand held. Maybe you are saying that the ski instructor won't be able to teach like that? It seems like they should know how to stop and be able to accept someone saying "teach me how to stop" but you may be right. I just think ski schools at resorts teach the way they do because it's easier and they don't care how fast someone progresses.

If anything, I think learning to snowplow before learning how to stop better fits your analogy. It gives people false confidence who speed up beyond the speed the snowplow control and they fall face first tumbling over. I don't understand why you think someone could learn how to hockey stop without having any semblance of control.
Someone can learn to snowplow without learning to turn and stop but if they learn to hockey stop they already have the first part of making turns down and they have a controlled way to stop at any speed.

If he is paying for an instructor I just think the time would be best spent on learning how to turn and stop, especially since he has already had a traditional lesson.
posted by zephyr_words at 4:35 AM on March 24, 2011

Sorry, last post. I was looking for this free online "book" I read that was very informative.
posted by zephyr_words at 4:44 AM on March 24, 2011

Best answer: To snowplough safely, you need to learn

- how to rotate the skis
- reasonable skiing posture and balance
- how to detect when the posture or rotation is not quite right and correct it gently

To hockey stop from parallel in a safe and controlled fashion from speed, you need to learn

- how to rotate the skis
- very good skiing posture and balance
- how to use flexing and extension of the legs to control pressure under the skis
- how to use lateral balance to control the pressure on the skis independently
- when to flex or extend
- when to change the balance of pressure from one ski to the other
- how to control the amount of edge on the ski
- when to change the amount of edge on the ski
- how to isolate the actions of the legs to prevent over-rotation (and subsequent accidental trips down the hill backwards)
- how to do all this at the same time quickly and at very short notice when you want to stop

This is why qualified instructors will normally prefer to teach snowplough first. It gives the students full control over their speed on all green and most blue runs. It's inherently more stable than running parallel. It gives a foundation for moving around the mountain safely and confidently, while acquiring the other necessary skills one by one in a controlled fashion, learning at their own pace. It means that a class can try a variety of runs during a lesson, and that they and the other users of the slope remain safe and happy. It also means that outside the lessons, if the students end up somewhere slightly steeper where their turning skills let them down, they can still snowplough safely to the bottom. Of course, they can still find themselves on a run too steep for a snowplough; but trust me, a run too steep for a snowplough is far too steep for a beginner trying to turn without a snowplough.

Using the snowplough as a teaching tool, I can teach conservatively enough that it's rare for beginners to fall over during the lesson; certainly they never fall at speed and never into other people. Particularly for nervous people, unfit people, older people, people who are overweight or people recovering from injury, feeling stable and confident is absolutely crucial to enjoying themselves.

Instructors (of beginners) should always prioritise learning safely and learning enjoyably over learning fast.
posted by emilyw at 5:37 AM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

Honestly, just give him some positive reinforcement for wanting to get out there and do it again.

The instructor will take it from there. If the instructor is good, your SO will want to ski again the next day. If he's bad, your husband will probably not ever want to ski again.

The only suggestion I can give is to take a full day lesson, followed by another, followed by another.

Yeah, expensive, I know. Not sure where you will be skiing, or how long you have dedicated to it, but there are some resorts that have lesson passes. Buy a book of them if he is serious about wanting to learn to ski.
posted by TheBones at 6:13 AM on March 24, 2011

I did a two hour private lesson to get started this year, and the instructor made all the difference. I wasn't super scared, but I was nervous and didn't know what to expect. I'm so glad I got an older ski instructor who was very patient. I've since seen other instructors at this mountain, and they've all seemed very patient, but still--he should be with someone he's comfortable with. If he'd be more comfortable with one gender or the other, for instance, he should say so. It's something they asked me before I started my lesson.

I got my gear off-mountain the night before. That helped me feel better about trying on multiple pairs of boots to get a good fit because I had the time and they weren't so busy as the rental place on-mountain was the morning of the lesson. Then I took the gear home, looked it over, put on the boots a time or two, and tried to figure out the physics of the skis (I'm a dork, I know). I understood the edges were going to be important, and the ski shop guys said I'd have a better experience with the mid-level skis that are wider at the ends than they are in the middle, so I paid the extra $10 for those. I guess it's harder to feel the edges of the skis on beginner skis since they tend to be straighter, so that might be a consideration for you, too.

My instructor said that since I had decent balance, it was best to skip the bunny hill, so we did. I was freaked out when we went up the lift and I saw how far I was going to have to go to get down, but I'd also seen the bunny hill and knew I wasn't going to learn much there because I wouldn't get much momentum. Plus, my instructor did a great job easing me down the mountain. Since I was up there, I had to get down somehow, so learning to turn along the way was important. I learned the snowplow method, and after a few times now, I'm still using it. However, the instructor said that after a few days on my own, getting comfortable with the skis and a bit of speed, I should do another lesson to get better and start learning how to do things parallel. It's almost the end of the season, so I don't know if I'll do it this year or not.

I ended up doing three runs down the mountain with the instructor in the two hours, and then I quit for the day because my legs were tired. I've had more experienced skiers remind me that it's easier to get hurt when you get tired. After my lesson, I had lunch on the mountain and thought I might go back up, but in the end, I'm glad I didn't. Since his lesson is only an hour, he may want to do more, but I'm glad I didn't push it too much that first day.

Also, I don't know if you can do this, but I went on a weekday and felt more comfortable about it because the mountain wasn't too busy and I wasn't scared I'd take someone out if I fell down. The weekday morning was how I got my private lesson, actually. I signed up for the group lesson and ended up with a private one since I was the only noob there on a Tuesday morning.
posted by BlooPen at 8:06 AM on March 24, 2011

Best answer: Learning how to sideslip was the most valuable thing I learned my first year of skiing--but I did not learn it at ski school; an older family member taught me. It was the most valuable thing because it gave me an out if I ended up on a slope that scared me or over-skiied my legs and started falling on the challenging stuff because I was tired. Because I knew that if I was on a slope I couldn't handle, I could still get down safely and reasonably quickly, I felt more confident trying things.

Ski lessons, in my experience, are a total crapshoot. Sometimes you get a great instructor who make complete sense to you and helps you advance and sometimes you get a poor instructor who makes you feel bad and sometimes you get a great instructor who doesn't work well with you. Speaking up when the instruction doesn't make sense to you is a really good idea. Taking a lesson when it's not crowded (early on a weekday, for instance) also helps.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:29 AM on March 24, 2011

Best answer: The very fact that he's having a one-on-one with a pro will make a huge difference. Group lessons for beginners are the way most of us learn but I don't know anyone - myself included - who hasn't had that moment of sheer terror the first time they find themselves on a slope that makes the skis really run.

What the one-on-one will give your SO is someone who can really give him full attention and figure out his specific needs. This in itself is most of what he will need. Provided the instructer is good, I can almost guarantee your SO will get more out of this hour than he would on a full day with a beginner's group of fifteen.

I also agree with the person who said he needs to be taken off the bunny slopes. You do not learn to ski on bunny slopes. All you can learn there is very basic stuff like posture and the basic sensation of movement on skis. None of us really start to learn to ski until we're having to work with gravity. That generally means at least a basic blue run. the instructor will know this, of course. He'll have your SO on a blue run from the start, I'll bet.

You ask what really made a difference when I was a scared newbie. Very simple: learning to turn the skis, get the edge in and stop.. You can only learn this on a reasonable slope because - somewhat paradoxically, to a beginner - you can't learn a decent side-stop until you're going at a reasonable speed. Once I understood this and figured out how easy it was to bring myself to a screeching halt about 80% of the fear vanished.

Also, kudos to your SO for hanging in there. Tell him that this is something all of us had to do. We all had moments of terror. We all had days when it went so badly we felt like crying and giving up. Tell him that this will happen to him for a while. But most of all tell him it is worth it. It is absolutely worth it. because once you get through that stage you get to SKI. You get a thrill and a joy like no other, one that has to be experienced to be understood.

Damn, I hate the fact that i didn't get to the mountains this year...
posted by Decani at 8:33 AM on March 24, 2011

Best answer: > feeling stable and confident is absolutely crucial to enjoying themselves.

Just repeating emilyw's excellent comment for for emphasis. Skiing is all about fun. There ain't no other reason to ride up the lift than to have fun (safely) coming down the mountain.

Skiing is the most fun you can have standing up. The problem is that it is no fun at all if you are not standing up.
posted by three blind mice at 9:09 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your SO's first time skiing sounds like my first time skiing, almost exactly. I had the bunny slope down pat and thought the easiest green run would be no problem. HA. In no time at all, I was pointed straight downhill and could.not.stop. I tried snowplowing like the instructor taught me, but to no avail. I was blowing downhill at a terrifying rate of speed, and I was convinced I was going to die until I bailed out. Got up and tried it again - same result. I was on a three-day ski trip with a group, and I very nearly just stayed in the cabin the next day. But I did go back out, and it was so much better, and I had an absolute blast for the rest of the weekend. So take heart! Here are some things that helped me:

- DO NOT point straight downhill. You might think this is self-explanatory, but I can tell you it is not. On the sticky shallow bunny slope, pointing straight down the fall line is the only way to get moving. On a real run, that will get you way too much speed, and you need a new tactic. Really emphasize that you want to pretty much go straight across the hill instead (at least at first). You want to point downhill only the very slightest bit, just enough to move, and if you start getting too much speed up you can point slightly uphill. (Not too far, or you'll start sliding down backwards which is bad, but just a little bit can really help you kill your momentum.) This does mean that you'll be aiming straight for trees or other obstacles, which adds a new type of scary. This leads to my next point...

- I was typing out a giant paragraph of my own, but then I thought to reread the upthread responses, and I think in the zephyr_words vs. emilyw debate I'm coming out on the side of zephyr_words. Snowplow worked just fine for me on the bunny slope. But with any sort of real slope, even just the greens, it wasn't enough. I don't know if I failed to learn some essential weight-positioning for the snowplow or what, but I didn't have control until I learned to turn and hockey stop. Like emilyw says, there are a whole bunch of little pieces of that to learn, and you kind of have to feel when to do them all at once. But crush-onastick has a good idea with sideslipping - in addition to being a pretty controlled way to get downhill if you've got nothing else, it also helped me figure out what to do with my weight when trying to turn while in motion. After turning and hockey stops clicked for me, everything was a lot more fun.

- Also possibly useful: if you find a good slope, practice on it several times in a row. That way, you get to know it, and for instance if there's a steeper section where you might start to build up a little fear, at least you know when the shallower section is coming up so you'll be able to reset yourself and pull it back together. Then you know where you can be a little adventurous - maybe try turning a bit faster, or building up some more speed - with a place to recover yourself afterwards if you need to.

- There's sort of a second-day effect when learning a new physical activity, and that really kicked in for me. It was amazing how much better the first run of my second day was as opposed to the last run of my first day, although I didn't really practice or learn anything new between the two. I'm not sure whether it was just that I was well-rested for the second day, or if my brain did a massive round of memory reinforcement in my sleep - probably a combination of the two. But everything really did get so much better on the second day...so encourage your SO to stick with it!
posted by sigmagalator at 9:15 AM on March 24, 2011

Haha that sounds like my first TWO YEAR'S experience skiing! Then I took a lesson, and now skiing doesn't suck.

I ended up in a group lesson that started out with a group of 8, and the instructors split in half, by adventurous/conservative skiing style. I had already mastered the snow plough. (And as an added bit of anecdata and apologies to zephyr_words, but I am SO glad I learned it. I still use it when I'm surprised by my muscles being too fatigued to do a proper stop- it's the emergency brake of skiing, imo.)

I really liked having a group lesson with 3 other students because I could see what the others were doing. We skied one at a time and the instructor would correct us. Due to a white collar/couch potato lifestyle, even in childhood, I have no ability to translate words into body movements. If someone says, "lean more to the right, and twist your torso" it will take 30 seconds of processing to implement and will probably turn out nothing like what you'd envisions. However, if someone says "press your shins into the front of your boots and you'll end up looking like that guy over there" I can handle it. Fortunately, my group's teacher was that sort. Also, I get worn out and need to process things. Having a 5 minute sit-out-and-watch while the others in my group did their turn was really good for my learning style.

I guess I'm coming in here to say that group lessons can be great-better even than one on one- if the group is tiny and your instructor is good.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:22 AM on March 24, 2011

Oh, and getting up. Also a problem for me. All I can say there is if you're having a lot of difficulty, don't be afraid to pop your skis off and stand up in your boots alone. Way more efficient than wasting all of your energy trying to stand up in your skis. You just have to be careful with your footing when getting back into the skis, especially on a slope.
posted by sigmagalator at 12:06 PM on March 24, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all so much. SO had a great lesson; thoroughly enjoyed the day after that. His words at the end of the day were "I can snowplough my way back to NY."

That's not all. A week later he asked me to book a hotel near the lodge so we could spend the whole weekend on the mountain. During that weekend he learned the basics of parallel skiing, and parallel'd down the easier slopes. I suspect he might like skiing more than I do, even. We got ourselves a new hobby, and the only thing bothering him now is that we won't find a snowy hill anywhere near us before November.

The man is addicted, and so am I. Awesome.
posted by Opal at 7:20 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

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