By ski journalist, author and blogger Louise Hudson

Ready for some creative Christmas carving? Not the turkey though – it’s time to get your ski skills sharpened for the winter season. Vast numbers of skiers and snowboarders monopolize the mountains over the holiday season, overloading instructor services in resorts everywhere. It’s no good just turning up on the day during this peak period, plan to book ahead. Note, too, that teaching winter sports has morphed from the “follow me” style of the 70s to a much more diverse offering. With so many different options around, here’s an outline of some of the newer categories to help you choose the right instruction approach.

Experiential Learning:

The latest teaching philosophy in Canada revolves around experiential learning, says Sun Peaks Sports School Technical Coordinator Ron Betts: “Broadly, I’d say that people learn much more by doing, as opposed to standing around listening to a ski or snowboard pro-drone on with a bunch of technical jargon.” The Canadian Ski Instructors’ Association (CSIA) has utilized scientific research to understand how people learn athletic outdoor sports. “The idea is that the instructor can design tasks that target specific skills, the learner then reflects on the result,” Betts explains. “An example might be the instructor setting a task of having the student traverse the hill trying to get the inside part of their boot to touch the snow, they would then ask a leading question: ‘Did you feel how much the ski bit into the snow?’, or something to that effect. The reflective part of the equation becomes the student’s concept of  ‘if I do A, then B happens’. That reflection is what helps hardwire a movement pattern into the student’s muscle memory.” Sun Peaks caps group classes at 3:1, making a considerable difference to the 10 or more you might have expected in the old days.

“It allows our pros to connect with guests in a way that used to only be possible in private lessons,” says Betts. Recognizing that people are on holiday when at a ski resort, they have savvily timed children’s lessons for 8:30 am and adults for 9:00 to give them time to manage both. Other innovations include new boutique products mixing ski progression with challenging environments such as ‘Intro to Backcountry’ and ‘Beyond the Groomers’.

Terrain-based Teaching:

Terrain-based teaching is taking the terror out of transferring from bunny hill to freeskiing a resort. The Ski and Snowboard Schools of Aspen Snowmass launched this method three seasons ago with Terrain Based Learning™ (TBL). It involves a prescribed set of specifically shaped snow features designed to enhance the first time experience of skiing and snowboarding. Features include ‘Flats’, ‘Mini Pipe’, ‘Rollers with a Return Wall’, ‘Banked Turns’ and ‘The Perfect Slope’. With the assistance of the ski pro, these features, available at both Snowmass and Buttermilk, create a variety of sensations and sliding opportunities to help first-timers find independence and success quicker and easier. Many resorts now have similar programs including Northstar, California.

Snowboarding Innovations:

In the early days of snowboarding, children were encouraged to ski first and then progress to snowboarding later on. However, nowadays, kids are taking up snowboarding earlier due to improvements in equipment and instructor training. Terrain features such as Riglet Parks developed by Burton are helping kids as young as three get to grips with snowboarding. The parks utilize terrain-based features, easy-to-use equipment and learning tools with instructors, trained by the Burton Resort Team, incorporating guided discovery and play. Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows has embraced the concept, also adding a ‘Rivets’ lesson for ages 3-4 and ‘Grommets’ category for ages 5-7. In Canada, there are Riglet Parks and events this season at Mt Tremblant, Whitewater, Blue Mountain, Crystal Mountain, Wilmot Mountain, Lake Louise, and Whistler Blackcomb.