It was the boots that called to us. After a long, fun and particularly cold day of skiing, we started the trek back to the car. My daughter and I hobbled along, our legs in agony, our feet screaming to escape the torturous latches of our ski boots. Meanwhile, my snowboarding husband and son practically skipped down the road, their feet cushioned and comfy. Something is wrong with this picture, I thought.
Don’t get me wrong—I love skiing. I grew up skiing in Colorado, and my teenage daughter has been on skis since preschool. But it was time to take the challenge and try something new.
Despite the comfy boots, we’d heard tales of pain and soreness experienced on the front side of the snowboarding learning curve. “Sure, you can pick it up on your own,” my husband said. “But you’re going to be sore.” A snowboarding lesson sounded like less pain, more fun and a perfect mother-daughter adventure. So the two of us set our skis aside, signed up for a first-timer snowboard lesson and headed for Copper Mountain.
Our private lesson instructor’s smile would put anyone at ease. Clearly an expert at surfing the frozen snow, Callie was patient, informative and kind. We started on an area that looked completely flat but had just enough slope to help us learn where to place our feet, how to slide and how to push ourselves forward without much influence from gravity. After a few slides up and down, she said we were ready for more—on to Green Acres, Copper’s gentle beginner area. Invigorated by warm sun, blue sky and soft snow, we were ready too.
Halfway through our half-day lesson, Callie had us traversing the hill on our own. She taught us techniques like the falling leaf for movement and control. “You can do this all day long on any slope,” she told us, emphasizing the importance of developing a foundation to build from. By the end of our time with her, we could ride and dismount (without falling!) from the beginner lift and make a few, slow, wide sweeping turns down the hill. She encouraged us, but never pushed, and always offered just enough instruction or correction to take us to the next level.
By the end of our lesson, we certainly couldn’t claim to be carving the mountain, but we were feeling the stoke. No body-slams. No whiplash. Just fun! And more important, we felt equipped with the foundational tools and techniques to be able to go out and practice on our own.
Struggle can build character, they say. But allowing a professional to guide the learning process takes away the unnecessary struggle and allows full energy to go toward improved knowledge, skill and technique. “A lesson is the fastest way to improve your skills,” says Katherine Fuller, communications manager at Arapahoe Basin. “It’s almost like cheating because you can make big advancements by working with a professional for just a day or two.”
Kim Casey, mountain sports director at Copper Mountain says today’s instructors are trained to not only teach skills, but to create a learning environment where anyone at any level can be successful and progress. “Your instructor really becomes your host and your connection to the whole mountain experience, teaching through exploration,” she says.
Think you’re outside the box for lessons? The benefits of today’s ski lessons aren’t only for beginners. “Lessons are a great way to explore, shake off the rust or just prevent stagnancy,” Fuller says.
Gone are the days of just one option for snowboard or ski lessons. Resorts are catering to an increasingly diverse range of learners. And more variety means a better fit, whether you are looking for a single first-time ski lesson or a weekly advanced women’s-only class.
Programs range from the indoor and outdoor terrain parks of Woodward at Copper Mountain or their Over the Hill Gang (50+) to the Legendary Ladies at A-Basin and the Steep Guides at Crested Butte. Telluride has even introduced specialty instruction camps geared toward special interests including biomechanics, heli-skiing camp, moguls and women-specific.
Casey has seen growth in the diversity of lessons at Copper Mountain and throughout Colorado, especially families taking snowboard or ski lessons together, seasonal programs, and continuing education for adults—all evidence that lessons are increasingly guest focused. “No matter what type of lesson, the goal is always to create a positive experience that people relate to, and to help everyone make the most of their time and money—two things we all seem to be short on these days,” she says.
Got little rippers? Choices for kids range from beginner lessons to competitive teams. While full and half-day group or individual lessons are still a staple, there’s an array of multiday kids programs and even unlimited lesson passes for season pass holders.
Leah Derksen of Colorado Springs started her kids in lessons at Breckenridge when they could barely stand on their skis. “It started practically as daycare, so my husband and I could spend a day together on the mountain,” she says. “ At 3 years old, my daughter mostly napped and drew pictures.” But the consistent lessons have worked. “Over the years they have learned the skills they need to have fun and, most important, to be safe. I didn’t learn in a lesson setting, so I couldn’t teach them all that, but it was important to us that they learn it.”
For little shredders, the lessons learned stick with them beyond snow sports as well. “It’s a great community and a great place for kids to grow,” Derksen says. “As they get older, they get to take on new challenges and responsibilities that really build self confidence on and off the mountain.”
Whether you’re in search of new or improved skills for yourself or someone you know—or just want more comfortable boots—the high country is calling.
Calling All Ladies
Looking for some girl time or just amazing snow and a glass of wine? The Colorado slopes are full of group lessons exclusively for women.
Breck Bombshells: A multiweek ski program for women of any level at Breckenridge. Designed with the timing to drop off the kids, take your lesson and unwind before picking them up.
Legendary Ladies at Arapahoe Basin: Every Wednesday in January and February, women of all ages and skill levels are paired with a female instructor to explore the mountain and improve their skills.
Women’s Edge Aspen-Snowmass: Intermediate to advanced skiers and snowboarders spend four days developing relationships and advancing skills.
Women’s Wednesdays at Copper Mountain: Intermediate to advanced skiers spend eight Wednesdays together on the mountain with an instructor.
Women’s Ultimate 4 at Vail Resorts: Groups of four spend an afternoon with a female instructor for customizable beginner lessons. Check out Vail’s Her Turn clinics too.
Women’s Wednesdays at Monarch Mountain: Skiers and snowboarders of all levels enjoy yoga, instruction, video recording and review with a female instructor.
Women’s Tips on Tuesdays at Crested Butte: Join adventurous women on Tuesday afternoons in January through March for pro tips from a female instructor.
Lessons to Look For
Here are just a few sweet deals to get you out on the snow with better knowledge, technique and style.
Learn to Ski and Snowboard Day: Watch for the likes of BOGO lessons for Jan. 1, as well as deals through the whole month of January.
A-Bay Bargains: At Arapahoe Basin, beginner adults pay for two snowboard or ski lessons, then get two more lessons and a season pass for $100. Kids 5-12 get two free days of skiing and 50% off lessons.
Multiday Kids Programs: Whether it’s Copper’s Choppers or Woodward Park Rats, Grizzly Bears at Ski Cooper, or the Breckenridge Bombers, almost all resorts offer ongoing kid programs. If you’re a season pass holder, ask about unlimited lesson passes. coppercolorado.com, skicooper.com, breckenridge.com
Ski Country USA Passport Program: Fifth-graders (free) and 6th graders ($125) get three or four ski days at each of 22 Colorado resorts (including Loveland, Copper, Monarch and Winter Park), plus discounted lessons and rentals. Deadline to register is Jan. 31.
Epic School Kids Pass: If you registered in time—early October—your K-5th-grader gets a free beginner lesson, along with the four free days at each Vail Resort.