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.
Trending in the States, mindful ski instruction is still in its infancy in Canada with the occasional course popping up resorts such as Lake Louise, Mt Tremblant and Blue Mountain. However, it’s going mainstream at Jackson Hole which launches a new Mountain Mindfulness Ski Retreat this season. The four-day camp starting Jan 31 – also for snowboarders – will consist of two-thirds tuition and one-third indoors activities including lectures, meditation techniques, massage, and mindful yoga.
Pop Up Private
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is pioneering ‘Pop Up Private Lessons’ this season. Aimed at skiers and snowboarders looking for a quick refresh on their technique, the new Pop-Up private lesson offers on-demand instruction by the hour with priority lift access, daily after 10 am on a walk-up basis only. Blue Mountain’s Newbie Program is unusually flexible. Designed for ages 13-plus, it includes all the usual rentals, lift ticket and tuition, but instead of the typical one or two-hour format, it is run on a circuit from 10 am to 8 pm, with participants able to drop in and out of the circuit as they like.
For World Cup wannabees, there are lots of opportunities to learn from the pros. Panorama Mountain Resort hosts a Ski with the Pros Improvement Workshop every December with a team of Canada’s top Level 4 instructors. The group of 120 participants descend on the resort for three intensive days of coaching, après and events. Several resorts have “Ski with an Olympian” classes – some costing thousands of dollars like Deer Valley’s ‘Ski With a Champion’, others free like Squaw Valley’s Ski/Ride with Jonny Moseley. Steamboat’s Olympian Program features full and half-day paid experiences as well as a free meet and greet with Billy Kidd. Aspen has the Click-In with Chris Davenport Ski Camp. Sun Peaks has ‘Ski with Nancy Greene’. Technically more a free tour than a class, Greene gives pointers and ski tips along the way. Whistler Blackcomb also has a Ski and Ride with an Olympian program and the Four Seasons Resort Whistler also sports its own Olympic options.
Ski & Ride University was first conceived 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.
Over the past few seasons, uphill skiing has come into the limelight with programs such as Kirkwood Expedition at Lake Tahoe and, in Canada, Fernie’s Backcountry Basics which introduces ski tourers to rescue equipment, touring gear and uphill travel techniques over two days. Aspen’s Ascent Weekend has turned the concept into a festival with gear demos, vendors, uphill clinics and a mountaintop party, scheduled for March this season.