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"Ski" School is in Session

Regardless of your level of expertise, most ski areas offer lessons that can up your skiing or snowboarding game even further.

To everyone out there who can read this sentence, ride a bike, or speak a second language, here’s a breaking news flash that connects them all: You didn’t just learn these things by osmosis. At some point, you took a lesson or two, or perhaps more, and figured things out from another point of view. Ultimately, that light bulb flickered, then burned bright. You got it. Things got easier. It became more fun. You looked forward to doing it better.

As the calendar flips to November, winter sports enthusiasts here in the Pikes Peak region can begin to rejoice. Ski season officially starts later this month and continues through the early spring. For some of us, trepidation begins to set in with thoughts such as “I’ve never skied and don’t know where to start,” or “the last time I went, it didn’t go so well, so I’m not sure about going back.” Or maybe you’re a skier who can hold your own but have hit the proverbial wall in skill level and have lost that true adrenaline and passion for the sport.

You hear that bell? School is now in session. Ski school, that is.

Ski lessons offer instruction for any level, from beginner to expert skiers, and can prove to be a game changer and a great way to spend a day on the slopes for people of all experience levels.

“In our view, the way to have more fun skiing or snowboarding is to get better,” says Jonathan Ballou, the managing director of the ski and snowboard schools at Aspen Skiing Company. “The better you are, the more fun you have. You can do the same thing over and over again, but improvement makes the addiction. When fun is hard, there’s the achievement. Skiing and snowboarding are difficult, but they’re just so addicting. Just to get a little better to have an experience you’ve never had, that’s the path that never ends.”

Now, the biggest decision hinges on where to take lessons to have the best ski season ever. Boiled down, there are two “schools” of thought: the climate-controlled indoors or in the crisp mountain air.

Indoor Simulators Can, and Do, Show Everything

Not necessarily only for beginners, an indoor ski simulator can intensify the learning experience, keeping everyone warm and on the proverbial slope—instead of waiting for the next lift to take them back to the summit.

Susie Cole came across the concept of indoor, endless ski slopes in the late 1970s while serving as a ski teacher in Europe. Now in her fourth year as owner and ski instructor of Ski Maxx on the northwest side of Colorado Springs, Cole can’t stop singing the praises of the revolving carpet—think of a treadmill—as the ultimate training tool before taking the plunge on the real thing.

“When I got on this, there’s a mirror, so you can see where your problems are,” Cole says. “The ski trainer is wonderful for not only new skiers, but anyone who wants a good exercise. I’m not trying to take anything away from skiing, but I do think the training carries over to the snow.”

Three years ago, Centennial-based Snobahn opened its doors with its Maxx Tracks technology that originated in the Netherlands. At the time, Snobahn was one of only two facilities in the United States with rolling ramps that can be adjusted to as steep as 20° and that roll uphill as fast as 18 mph.

“We obviously believe that you can learn on carpet,” says Gina Merrill, Snobahn’s director of sales and marketing. For the beginners, an hour on our slopes equals a full day on the mountain. And, although 80% of our customers are kids, we work with all levels. We work with the University of Denver ski team and the Winter Park ski team trains here, too. Training here is definitely a good way to learn and maintain those skills and be a good skier.”

And Then There’s the Great Outdoors

Of course, you can learn on the slopes as well. Most of the state’s ski resorts offer packages that range from educating the newbie to giving the expert just a tweak to make the experience even better.

“Our main philosophy at our school is not so much on technique, but it’s the people skills,” says Drew Middlemiss, a ski school instructor at Monarch Mountain. “For the people in front of us, our ultimate goal is to convert every single first-timer into a lifelong learner and have a passion for the sport. Even if they don’t come back to take another lesson, at least we’ve given them a reason to come back and enjoy the area.”

Learning as you go on the mountain is the way to go. “Taking a lesson is an investment in your body,” Ballou says. “It’s needed at the beginning level as a safety requirement. Nobody wants to get hurt, and we know how frustrating it can be to be just starting out. Even after you’ve started, you still want that little tip. The advanced lessons aren’t as instruction-heavy, and that’s what’s needed at that level. You get that specified instruction, and it’s very hands-on and experience-based.

Group Lessons vs. Private Lessons

So, not sure whether to take a private lesson as opposed to joining a group of potential new friends? That merely depends on your level, how much you want to spend, and the company you’d rather keep.

Instructors suggest a private session for never-evers although those who know their way around the slopes, from bunnies to black diamonds, might get more from a group endeavor. “For seasoned skiers, sometimes an hour is all you need, and we have an early-bird special for one or two people,” Middlemiss says. “By the end of the hour, you have new skills to work on.”

For brand-new skiers, however, one hour simply won’t do. “Private lessons are the ultimate, one-on-one experience, but if you’re looking to meet new people and friends, group lessons are the way to go,” Ballou says. “People actually ski more in their lessons than on their own. And you learn by watching other people. It can be more beneficial to get a pro for the day, and you can customize the entire experience.”

HIT THE SLOPES

Aspen/Snowmass

800.525.6200 / aspensnowmass.com/plan-your-stay/lessons

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Monarch Mountain

719.530.5000 / skimonarch.com/ski-ride-school/

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Ski Maxx

1045 Garden of the Gods Road, Unit D / 719.373.3860 / skimaxx.com

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Snowbahn

6955 South York Street, Centennial / 303.872.8494 / snobahn.com