Your best skiing may be one lesson away

Ski lessons are not just for beginners. Even when Nancy Greene Raine dominated the World Cup ski race circuit in the late 1960s, winning gold and silver Olympic medals in 1968, coaches dissected her every turn. After she retired, as equipment changed and technique evolved, Ms. Greene Raine kept on learning and refining her skiing. It’s one of the things that makes skiing a lifelong sport – there’s always room for improvement. “It’s OK to ski your own way, but if you’re getting tired or falling all the time, it’s time to take a lesson,” says Ms. Greene Raine. “If your technique doesn’t keep up with the equipment, you’re going to be working harder than you have to.”

Thanks to advances in ski shape and boot flex, skiing on groomed runs should feel easy, not tiring, she says. However, those same changes often require an adjustment in technique, too. For example, a lot of skiers were taught to stand with their feet close together, a technique that doesn’t work well with modern shaped skis. Even minor tweaks in ski geometry may require a change. “When you get a new pair of skis, it’s often a good time to take a lesson,” says Ms. Greene Raine. “An instructor can help you get the most out of your new equipment.”

Fixing inefficiencies or learning new techniques often only takes a few tips and drills. A group lesson may be enough, and these are available almost on demand at any resort in B.C. They’re a fun, social environment ranging from introductory lessons with rental equipment included to more tailored programs for experienced skiers.

Women may enjoy lessons taught by female instructors. “When women realize they are not alone in their specific difficulties, it can be liberating,” she says. Most resorts have dedicated ladies’ events, either a day every week, like Sun Peaks Resort, or specific weeks or days throughout the season.

Men have the same opportunity with SilverStar Mountain Resort’s Onyx – Just For Men. The group lessons (which are similar to their ladies’ day programs) are geared toward expert skiers, push performance in a fun and supportive environment, and include early access to the mountain and lunch.

Skiers aged over 50 find the same dedicated treatment at Big White Ski Resort’s Masters Mondays. Meanwhile, Panorama Mountain Resort refines the group lesson concept, restricting class sizes to three, so everyone receives more personalized instruction and the whole group fits on one quad chair. And at Kimberly Alpine Resort, one instructor teaches the family – mom, dad and the kids – in the resort’s Family Lesson program. Some group lessons focus on a specific skill development: Sun Peaks’ Mogul Camp offers two-day lessons, focusing on learning how to turn through the bumps. Extremely Canadian, an independent company at Whistler Blackcomb, concentrates on the resort’s steeper runs, helping visitors push into harder terrain with coaching and instruction.

For those interested in venturing into the vast, untouched backcountry, Revelstoke’s Snow School offers all levels of Avalanche Survival Training courses, a free beacon training park and backcountry rentals. A variety of guided programs will help your transition from the inbound to outbound, safely and confidently.

The Big Mountain Clinic at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort offers full-day programs that push progression on the resort’s gnarlier terrain. It’s a good choice for anyone who can ski black diamonds and wants to advance into more challenging runs like the chutes, steeps and bowls the Horse is known for.

Groups are fine for general improvement, says Ms. Greene Raine, but for specific goals, she recommends a private lesson. “If there’s a run you want to try and you’re not sure you can do it, or if you’re finding the conditions challenging, a private lesson can make all the difference,” she says. All the B.C. resorts offers private lessons, like Big White’s Private Coaching program.

Combined with the resort’s friendly run progression, these lessons are the perfect venue for learning to ski powder or making the jump from blue to black runs. There are also opportunities to learn a whole new sliding sport; Kimberley Alpine Resort offers introductory lessons in telemark skiing, the free heel technique that’s the basis for modern skiing. Private lessons are the best way to get started.

Some programs offer exclusivity like Fernie Alpine Resort’s First Tracks program that provides access to the lifts an hour before the mountain opens. It’s like having a private ski hill and empty classroom in one. At Whistler Blackcomb, you can ski with an Olympian: this program taps local Olympic skiercross and alpine racers like Britt Janyk and Rob Boyd to show private groups their favourite runs on the mountains.

Ms. Greene Raine says even hot-shot skiers should consider booking a lesson, especially on their first day at a new resort. “Skiing with a private instructor is a good way to find out where all the secret stashes are,” she says. Some resorts have already thought of this angle. Instructors working Revelstoke Mountain Resort’s Inside Track act more like a guide, unlocking unmarked runs and hidden powder stashes at the resort. The Mountain Guide at Fernie Alpine Resort is similar. Finally, for the skier who can’t learn enough, there are multi-week semester programs. First developed as a gap year option – something to do between high school and university – these programs turn recreational skiers into ski instructors or ski patrollers and include many of the required certifications. Good examples include the Mountain Academy at Panorama Mountain Resort and the Instructor Training Program at Big White Ski Resort.

Regardless of the type of lesson, Ms. Greene Raine has a couple suggestions. Save on private lessons by avoiding peak times. Lessons that start early, are during the last hour or under the lights of night skiing often cost less. And book in person if possible. “Talk to the booking desk and tell them exactly what you are looking for. They will match you up with the right instructor for your learning style and needs.” After all, she says, a lesson is only as good as the instructor teaching it.