What experienced skiers can do to help beginners.

This post is inspired by a friend who will soon be going skiing for the first time. We’ve all been there and for those of us who can remember our first time on skis, we tend to remember it with a certain fondness. May she join the rest of us on a lifelong journey of runs, thrills and spills.

At some stage in your skiing life, you – the intermediate or advanced skier, will have a beginner in your skiing group. Here are some do’s and don’t s, from a ski instructor’s perspective, for you to help make that initiation that much more enjoyable. After all, I’m guessing they are in your group because you would like them to be able to share in the joys of the sport.

Don’t teach them.
I’ve met so many people who tell me they tried skiing once and absolutely hated it. When I ask if they had a lesson from an instructor, I’m not surprised to hear that they didn’t.  In my experience, very few lessons from friends do any good and some actually do more harm. Most end up in tears, arguments and physical injury or at least quiet resentment. If you’ve gone down that path of teaching a friend and you said, “I just do it” or “You just move your legs like this“, then you definitely don’t have an understanding of or the ability to articulate the movements required. Instead you will very possibly create incredibly bad habits in the person’s snowplough. I can’t count the number of times I’ve experienced, seen and heard instructors who have had to break those habits and re-teach the snowplough to them. This is when they eventually come to a lesson after they have dried their tears and soothe their bruises from the crash they had despite their best efforts to perform exactly what you told them to ‘just do’.  

He’s doing exactly what he’s being told to do
 but it doesn’t seem to work. 

Now it’s sometimes assumed that you, as the more experienced skier, will help them along with a few tips. It may be perceived as selfishness on your part if you don’t. “Oh, he just wants to go and ski the steeper stuff and not waste time on the bunny slopes with me.” If you truly want to increase the chances of them loving skiing, politely decline. Claim an ability to ski but not to teach. Convince them that it is a technical sport best left to professional instructors to impart and refer them on to a ski instructor or a ski school.  

This is not a plug for ski instructors. God knows there are plenty of very average ski instructors out there. Hell, I was one when I started out. But in a total evaluation, the chances of them liking skiing, getting better at it and you guys not ending up hating each other, are much higher if you don’t teach them. This especially applies to spouses, significant others and your own children.

Lessons from spouses or partners usually create some
level of quiet resentment between each other.

Now what do you do if you happen to be a ski instructor? (which I know some of my readers are). If you’re being paid, I say go for it. If you’re not, do you really want to spend your precious day off working? If you’re thinking it’d be a good chance to train for an examination demo or teach, you’d be better off doing a 15 minute teach or demo with a senior instructor and getting some feedback rather than spending two hours with a student. Lastly, if you do teach someone that has known you for a fair bit outside of work, try not to use your instructor voice. They will recognise it immediately for what it is.

Don’t bring them to slopes they aren’t ready for.
How do you know whether they are ready for it? A good guideline is to only ski on slopes they went to during the lesson unless specifically recommended by the instructor. Otherwise it is most likely steeper than what the beginner is prepared for despite you thinking that it’s ‘pretty flat’. Going onto too steep terrain too soon can create a lot of bad habits which become entrenched quickly. You’ll undo most of the beginner’s progress and might even set them further back emotionally and technically. 

Again I reiterate, skiing is one of those disciplines where the basics count for a lot, especially at the high end. It doesn’t take long for me to teach a complete beginner good basics from the beginning (about an hour) but it takes me a bloody long time (an entire season sometimes) to try and break those same basics into instructors who’ve built bad habits.   

Here’s a good sign that you’re heading into trouble. Your beginner friend is looking at a slope that you brought them on and asking you apprehensively whether you think he or she will be ok on that slope. If you hear yourself saying “Oh you’ll be fine”, that’s when you’re both probably heading into a situation that is not going to end pretty. Unfortunately by this stage there’s usually not much you can do to prevent this except to go slow, be patient and very very encouraging. 

Go for a run with them
By all means go for a run or two with them after the lesson but at their pace and on terrain that is suitable for them. If you’re not the very patient sort and that’s a bit of an ask, at least join them for a lift ride or share a meal on mountain (where they can easily access!) at some point during the day. Skiing can be quite the sociable sport so make the most of it with the new member. 

Go for a run or at least a lift ride with them.
But please don’t bring them on slopes they aren’t ready for yet.

I enjoy teaching complete beginners. They are almost always happy just to be at the snow and trying out something new. Quite often they also show the largest improvement in a single lesson. Yes, skiing may not come naturally to everyone and I sometimes hear new instructors, amongst themselves, describe these students as hopeless, retarded or some other such adjective. Yet I proclaim that these are the lessons where they can truly earn their salt as an instructor. Any semi-athletic person can start to make a snowplough with basic instruction in a few minutes. It’s the student who can’t seem to do it, who needs more professional and personal guidance. That’s where a capable instructor steps in and uses their technical knowledge, bag of tricks and trained eye to make the difference  so desperately needed. Those are the lessons that make seasoned ski instructors love their jobs. 

Next post – An equipment specific post on what you can do to help beginners. 

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2 thoughts on “What experienced skiers can do to help beginners.

  1. Nice one, Jason … the number of times I've had a promising kid turned into a quivering wreck by his dad taking him on tough terrain is frightening. “He skied a black yesterday!” No, he survived one, just, and now he's so far in the back seat he's in another postcode …

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