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.
Teaching and Terrain Tours
Once skiers attain the coveted ‘intermediate’ status, they are often anxious about tackling the whole mountain without a trusty instructor. Ski Big 3 Guided Adventures has taken this into account with guided tuition tours of the slopes of Mt Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise, designed for intermediate and upward skiers and snowboarders. Participants are grouped into same-standard, small classes with the same instructor each day who tours them around all three resorts, giving tips and techniques for tackling the specific terrain of each. Attracting both domestic and international skiers, it’s a seamless way to figure out the layout of the three sister resorts, gain new technical skills, get the local’s point of view of both skiing and après ski, and meet up with other visitors. It was just announced as the latest ‘Canadian Signature Experience’ by Destination Canada.
For guided terrain exploration around Kicking Horse, BC, there’s the Big Mountain Centre which offers an all-terrain program around its steeper and more complex descents. Options include anything from 1.5 hour terrain tours, half and full-day lessons, to two-day camps. A major advantage of this program is that it taps into local knowledge, maximizing the best snow for newcomers to the resort as well as giving them the confidence and tactics to enjoy areas they might not have dared try on their own. The BMC was part of Ski Magazine’s AIM Adventure U program, filming a ‘Mastering Steeps Course’. The centre also provides Avalanche Safety programs.
Aspen Snowmass is spearheading adventure programs for children aged 8-12. Their Kids Mountain Explorers carve up all four mountains, riding everything from greens and blues to steeps, bumps, and park depending on each group’s ability level.
One size doesn’t necessarily fit all when it comes to skiing, so resorts are increasingly developing age-appropriate and gender-specific learning environments. Silver Star has the Masters Academy, with programs built specifically for the 50-plus age group. Big White hosts a Masters’ Week which has evolved from its popular Masters’ Monday program. Running three times during the season, it is tailored for the over-50s with top instructors, exclusive après and activities.
Focusing on off-piste skiing longevity, BUMPS FOR BOOMERS, was launched in Aspen in 2003. Founder Joe Nevin decided to focus on baby boomers due to sheer numbers and lack of dedicated facilities. “Boomers want to continue skiing into their later years and continue to make memories with their family members,” says Nevin. “It turns out the skills required to ski moguls are the exact same set of skills required for skiing longevity: Better Balance, More Control and Smart Tactics.” Via three and four day clinics, his aim is to teach techniques that emphasize controlled skiing, increased efficiency, less fatigue and do not require fast reflexes.
Elevate Women’s Camp is one of the longest-standing women-only ski camps in North America. Based at Jackson Hole, it attracts over 60 participants annually. With mentors including Pretty Faces stars, Lynsey Dyer, Kim Havell, Jess McMillan and Crystal Wright, Elevate is intended for intermediate and advanced skiers who aim high. Ski With Kim women’s adventure camps run throughout the season in Aspen, Vail, Alta, Crested Butte and Big Sky, focusing on personalized attention in small, ability-compatible groups. In Canada, Rippin’ Betties is a two-day clinic led by women, for women at Kicking Horse. The affordable program, led by a Golden local, imparts tips, tricks and confidence to female skiers looking to improve skills on off-piste terrain. Kimberley has the Ladies Play Day Camp and Blue Mountain targets women 18-plus from beginners to advanced with its 8-week Women’s Alpine Experience. Sun Peaks reflects this trend with its Ladies Clinics. Every Wednesday from Dec 12, Big White runs its Ladies Day, a two-hour tuition package for skiing, snowboarding, cross-country or snowshoeing, including lunch, wine-tasting and prizes.
For men only, there’s a social-focused learning opportunity with the Bumps & Brews All Mountain Ski Camp at Kimberley. “This not just another ski lesson, but a guided mountain experience with some learning thrown in,” says Powder Matt Mosteller, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies. “This is a new ski camp that began last ski season enabling participants to ski powder, trees, and groomers with tips and tricks to improve skills while exploring new terrain on the mountain.”
At Telluride, an orthopaedic surgeon is spearheading the Ski Biomechanics Camp, combining scientific-based anatomical biomechanics with intermediate and advanced instruction. Dr Kim Hewson, a former Director of Sports Medicine at the University of Arizona and one of Telluride’s top instructors, explores the ‘why’ rather than the ‘how’, teaching anatomy and body movements and their unique application to skiing technique. “Body awareness makes skiing easier,” says Dr Hewson. “Our students are very receptive to the ‘why,’ leading them to learn the ‘how’ much faster.” The instruction starts with “Feet First”, an emphasis on having correct – often custom-fit – boots specific to foot, ankle, leg and skier level. Until recently, this kind of in-depth training was only available to athletes and has been used for internal ski instructor training at Telluride for a decade. 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.