Chances are, if you’ve sat down to read this article, you either don’t take lessons or are considering not taking them. Over the next few hundred words, I’m going to tell you why you should (still) be taking them, irrespective of your ability.
THE TOTAL BEGINNER
Is this me?
I’m talking complete beginner here. You’ve never skied before. Either that, or you did for a week in the distant haze of twenty years back and can’t remember anything.
To be fair, it’s unlikely you are going to attempt this without lessons. Not many people are daft enough to make that mistake. What I do see a lot of, however, is learning from a friend.
Your mate may be able to ski quite well, but that does not necessarily mean they know how to teach. In fact, they probably don’t. It costs thousands of Pounds/Euros to complete the courses needed to become a skiing instructor. Many try and fail. It’s a very highly skilled job that not everybody can do.
I recall a seasonnaire, who thought he knew it all by his third season and offered to teach a first-timer to snowboard.
He took him straight onto a chair lift, somehow got him off without too much carnage and walked across to the desired slope. Upon sitting down, the newbie had no leash on, he wasn’t warned about letting his board go and the ahem, “instructor” wasn’t in front of him to help him attach his feet to the bindings. His board slid, gathered speed and shot down the slope. It then hit somebody and broke their leg.
I’m not claiming that there aren’t any people at all capable of teaching without an instructor’s certificate. Just that in my experience, they are far and few between.
THE LOWER INTERMEDIATE
Is this me?
You’ve been on perhaps two or three ski trips before. Maybe even just one and you’re a bit ballsy. You can do basic parallel turns if the slope isn’t too steep and are tentatively venturing onto red slopes from time to time.
The trouble is that people at this point want to explore and test what they can do. Go faster, go steeper. They feel that the instructor is holding them back, making them go slower and do exercises and getting obsessed with technique.
Pushing your boundaries is a positive thing, but there is a caveat. This is a critical period in your skiing development. At this point, without an instructor, you are more than likely to pick up all sorts of bad habits that will ensure you reach a ceiling and struggle to get past it.
A few hours of lessons a day combined with free skiing in your spare time, will see your learning curve accelerate dramatically.
Eventually, you will be able to ski faster and faster whilst remaining in control. The alternative is being that person hurtling down with Bambi legs before smashing into the skis left in front of the restaurant. You’ve all seen the videos. Don’t be that person.
Is this me?
This is a tough one. The reason for that is quite a few intermediates think they are better than they actually are.
These people have now become what I call a mediocre maestro. I’m well aware of this type as I was one for a fair few years.
Obviously far from all intermediates are like this. Many feel stuck on a plateau in their development and try to change their equipment in a bid to improve.
If you regularly buy new equipment, thinking that those new skis would mean all of a sudden you’ll have perfect edge control in icy conditions or perfect float in powder, then this could be you.
Sure, having the right skis is a big help, but really good skiers can ski on more or less anything.
The hard truth is that technique makes far more difference than equipment and you won’t get that technique without lessons.
The trouble is, that most intermediates have stopped taking lessons.
This is the point where private lessons start to become really beneficial. You don’t need to spend all day in ski school like you used to. You have a lot of the fundamentals down already, so a couple of hours a day (ideally in the morning) plus a lot of practice time for the rest of the day is ideal. Perhaps you want to learn to jump or go off-piste. Any good ski school will have instructors that specialise in these disciplines.
So get off the plateau, spread your wings and get an instructor who can tailor lessons specifically to your needs.
THE HIGHER INTERMEDIATE
Is this me?
You probably know who you are if you fall into this category. You are that person who’s done numerous ski holidays, you can’t count them, there’s been so many. Once upon a time you used to take lessons but now you feel comfortable on most slopes and are openly confident in your own skiing abilities.
Here’s the catch. Each time you go on a skiing holiday, you do the same thing. You mostly ski with people a bit below your ability and hang out on blue or red pistes giving them “tips”. You are using them as an excuse to avoid getting out of your comfort zone. You are stuck in a comfortable rut and are scared to climb out of it.
After a quick ski with you, a good instructor will have a fair idea of your strengths and weaknesses, what you can realistically achieve and how to go about achieving it.
The bottom line is: it’s never too late to improve and with your experience meaning your habits are well ingrained, you won’t improve unless you ski with people who know exactly what mistakes you are making.
Is this me?
It’s pretty unlikely experts will be even reading this article unless it’s a friend of mine looking to rinse me. They know they still need lessons.
So I guess this is mostly for the benefit of aspiring instructors.
Pretty much all of the instructors I know ski with each other regularly and coach each other. You will frequently see them skiing in pairs, one before the other before swapping around. These instructors are aware that you can always improve, no matter who you are. They also know, that short of video analysis, you can’t coach yourself. So they constantly coach each other. The knowledge that regular coaching makes you better is how they become experts in the first place.
Pros also have their own personal coaches. Do you think that nobody coaches Andy Murray in Tennis?
So there you go. Lessons are for everyone.