Pizza and French fries? So old school. Start learning the key buzz words like 'experiential' and 'biomechanic' for the 6 latest methods of ski instruction in North America
Say 'Ski School' and most of us think of snaking beginners following their instructor down the pistes. Well, that's old school now especially in North America where new techniques are taking over the lessons. Anyone for Guided Tuition Tours put your hand up...
1) Experiential Learning
We all know you need to experience a technique in order to feel it and take it on board. But the Canadian Ski Instructors' Association (CSIA) has scientifically researched how people best learn athletic outdoor sports. 'The idea is that the instructor can design tasks that target specific skills, the learner then reflects on the result,' says Ron Betts, Technical Coordinator for Sun Peaks Sports School, (below) BC, Canada. Using various drills to experience the right feelings, instructors try to create that 'Aha' moment, one sensation at a time, in an attempt to establish muscle memory as well as understanding. For this type of hands-on instruction, smaller classes are vital and Sun Peaks caps theirs at 3:1.
2) Terrain Based Learning™
Patented by SNOW Operating, TBL uses purpose-built snow features to assist beginners with speed control, making it easier to move, play and have fun without fear of losing control. The Ski and Snowboard Schools of Aspen Snowmass launched TBL three winters ago, with a prescribed set of specifically shaped snow features designed to enhance the first time experience of skiing and snowboarding. Within the safety of the learning zone, these features replicate conditions and terrain variation from around the mountain at large. Learning snowcraft from the outset makes it easier, in theory, to graduate from the bunny hill to mainstream pistes. Snowbasin and Brian Head in Utah and Killington, Vermont are also pioneering the TBL system. Other resorts are replicating the idea, including Northstar, California, which has a similar set up right outside the luxurious Ritz Carlton – very handy for popping in for daily Marshmology S'mores.
3) One Stop Shop
Newbies have it so much easier now with the latest trend in separating beginners from other skiers and riders – works well for everyone. Providing novices with their own lifts, restaurants, and rental facilities, the 'One Stop Shop' takes confusion - and rookie embarrassment - out of the equation.
Jackson Hole is synonymous with expert terrain and gnarly couloirs to experienced skiers, but nearly a third of its winter clientele consists of families, half of these at never-ever level. To make their experience seamless, Jackson Hole has launched Solitude Station, a new all-in-one learning facility which centralizes tickets, rentals, lessons, dining and lockers at the mid-station Sweetwater Gondola, reached via private liftline. For beginner adults and children aged seven and up, classes are maxed at five. Groupies who just want to watch get to ride the Gondola free up to the designated viewing locations or the two grand dining rooms.
A similar set-up launched this December at Beaver Creek where the Haymeadow Park Learning Area focuses on facilities for beginners of all ages, with their own gondola and lift, plus adjacent magic carpets, and various restaurant options – they've even got an ice cream parlour. The terrain-based learning area has a race course, 'Bumps and Berms' area, 'Smarte Terrain' mixing manmade and natural snow features, and an environmental learning zone. Blue Mountain's Newbie Program is unusually flexible. Designed for ages 13-plus, it includes all the usual rentals, lift ticket and tuition including race techniques and freestyle (below), but instead of the typical one or two hour format, it runs on a circuit from 10am to 8pm, with participants able to drop in and out as they like.
4) Ski University
Ski & Ride University was first conceived in 2013 by Copper Mountain, which offered beginner adults a four-lesson course with a free season pass as their 'graduation' gift. Since then, similar courses have been set up at other resorts including Snowbasin's Learn and Earn for kids and adults. Squaw Alpine launched the Perfect Progression Program this season, an express path to intermediate skills for skiers and snowboarders. The $499 package includes three half-day small-group lessons with lunch, season-long rentals, and a 2018/19 season pass. Throw in sports shop discounts, an accessories package of goggles and gloves, and 50 percent off further lessons, and these beginners are set up for a seamless season of improving piste performance.
5) Guided Tuition Tours
In order to progress into intermediate territory, increasingly more North American resorts are providing guided tour tuition. Taking out the whole orientation hurdle of being at an unfamiliar resort, SkiBig3 Guided Adventures (below) helps skiers and riders navigate the slopes of Mt Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise, while imbibing the necessary skills for the varied terrain.
Same guide for three days, a day discovering each resort, and the same group to have fun with. Local's tips about the area's history, wildlife and contemporary pleasures are a few of the reasons that this adventure has been designated as the latest Canadian Signature Experience by Destination Canada.
Kicking Horse offers a menu of guided terrain tuition through its Big Mountain Centre including anything from 1.5 hour terrain tours, half and full-day lessons, to two-day camps. Its 'Mastering Steeps Course' was filmed for Ski Magazine's AIM Adventure U programme. Vail focuses on 'lifelong learners' with its all-mountain experiential lessons, dubbed the Masters' Degree of skiing.
And Aspen Snowmass is spearheading adventure programmes for children aged 8-12. Their Kids Mountain Explorers (below) carve up all four mountains, riding everything from greens and blues to steeps, bumps, and park depending on each group's ability level.
6) Ski Biomechanics
Another way to get to grips with groomers and off-piste, is through biomechanical learning. Telluride's Dr Kim Hewson is both an orthopedic surgeon and a ski instructor, cannily combining the two in his Ski Biomechanics Camp. Combining scientific-based anatomical biomechanics with intermediate and advanced instruction, it explores the 'why' rather than the 'how'.
'Body awareness makes skiing easier,' says Dr Hewson, a former Director of Sports Medicine at the University of Arizona. 'Our students are very receptive to the 'why,' leading them to learn the 'how' much faster.' His "feet first" mantra encourages skiers to get boots custom fit to foot, ankle, leg variations and skier level. Held every January from the Madeline Hotel & Residences in Telluride's Mountain Village, the pro-level camp is even attracting other ski instructors keen to expand their knowledge.
Words: Louise Hudson, Co-Author Winter Sport Tourism