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“How hard can teaching skiing really be?” I had a mom tell me in the parking lot at the ski resort last winter. She and her husband had each taken one ski lesson years ago and now had their 2 kids in tow and were going to teach their kids how to ski. After they had to ask me how to buckle their ski boots (big red flag), I kindly pointed them to the ski school office and recommended they sign the whole family up for ski lessons.
Do you need ski lessons to learn to ski? NO! But if you’re not going to take lessons, you absolutely need someone, who is at least a solid intermediate skier, who is willing to dedicate several days to teaching you how to ski.
Having taught hundreds of kids to ski as a ski instructor, I’m going to help you weigh the advantages and disadvantages of ski school. Whatever you decide, remember that in many areas you’re legally bound by the skiers responsibility code to ski safely and in control, and that only happens with proper instruction (professional or otherwise).
Do Kids Need Ski Lessons to Learn To Ski?
Kids ski school can be really expensive, especially when you factor in paying for several days of lessons or for multiple children. So you may be wondering, “how much are my kids actually going to learn in ski school?” If your child is an absolute beginner, but you know how to ski already, ski school can be nice, but it’s not essential. In fact, for teaching the basics of skiing, most parents who are solid intermediate/advanced skiers can teach the essentials like learning how to stop and turn on skis.
Our Recommended Approach to Ski School With Young Kids
As a former ski instructor, I come to the table with a unique perspective. Most people assume that the only way to learn to ski is with a ski instructor. That’s simply not true. In fact, if you’re a patient parent, I think that most kids learn the basics best from their own parents (especially really young kids).
When I talk about ski basics, I mean stopping in a wedge, turning, getting up when you fall, and learning how to get on and off the lift. These are the skills necessary for all beginner terrain, and some easy intermediate terrain, and they’re not that difficult to teach. All it takes is some advance research of the best ski skills to teach, be a solid intermediate skier, and having some patience. Keep things fun, and if your child is really struggling, THEN hire a professional ski instructor.
Teaching parallel skiing, mogul skills, and terrain park progressions are all significantly more difficult to teach, so if your child needs extra attention with those skills, don’t hesitate to sign them up for lessons.
Even though my husband and I are both former ski instructors, we set aside money in our ski budget every year for our kids to take some ski lessons, and it’s always money well spent. Whether they’re struggling with a skill, or just need to switch things up, when our kids really need ski lessons, we’re always glad to have that as an option.
How To Learn To Ski Without Ski Lessons
If you’ve decided that you’re going to learn to ski without professional ski lessons, then you’re going to need to figure out someone who can teach you. I don’t care if it’s a friend who is already a good skier or a professional ski instructor, you have to have someone who is a solid intermediate or advanced skier who can teach you how to ski. At a bare minimum, they need to be able to teach you how to safely get on and off a chairlift (both a surface magic carpet lift and a regular chairlift), how to stop on all green (easy) terrain, and how to turn both directions to control your direction and your speed. To do this, you’ll need someone who can spend at least one full ski day with you on the beginner hill.
Risks Of Learning To Ski Without Ski Lessons
The biggest risk of not learning to ski with ski lessons (whether for a professional or friend/family member), is safety. If you don’t know how to stop or turn, you’re putting both yourself and everyone on the hill at a major risk of injury or even death.
As part of the skiers responsibility code (that you agree to follow when you buy your lift ticket), you are responsible to stay in control at all times. If you’re skiing out of control, you run the risk of losing your ski pass or in extreme cases, legal prosecution. Yes, did you know that if you run into someone on the ski hill, you can be prosecuted?
I’ve been on the ski hill several times with people who clearly didn’t know how to ski or snowboard and it’s terrifying and dangerous. Skis can get going super fast down a snowy hill, and if you don’t know how to stop, the only things that you slow you down are 1. Crashing and falling, 2. Crashing into another person (likely hurting both them and you), 3. Crashing into a tree (where you’ll get seriously injured and break bones).
Advantages of Taking Ski Lessons
Before you jump right in and sign up for ski lessons, learn all about how to make the most of your ski school experience.
When you’re under the guidance of a certified ski instructor, you’re learning from a professional. These instructors go through extensive training and are certified by organizations that establish safety and educational standards. They know how to introduce beginners to skiing in a systematic manner, which can be especially helpful for kids who are learning the ropes.
NOTE: Not all ski instructors are certified instructors. If you want the best instruction possible, book your ski lessons with a PSIA certified ski instructor.
Let’s face it—skiing can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. From learning how to fall safely to understanding how to navigate different types of terrain, professional instructors can teach you to be as safe as possible on the ski hill. This helps instill confidence in beginners and ensures you don’t develop bad habits that could compromise your safety in the long run. It is still possible to learn to ski safely without professional ski lessons, but it does take a more conscious effort. I find that parents typically have a very vested interest in teaching their kids ski safety, but this step is often skimmed over when friends are teaching someone how to ski.
While it’s true that people have different learning curves, professional instructors have the skills to adapt their teaching methods to different learners. They have experience from teaching hundreds of people to ski and can quickly pinpoint your weaknesses and strengths, enabling you to improve more rapidly than if you were trying to teach yourself or learn from a friend. Because of this, we always try to sign our kids up for ski lessons when they’re really struggling with a new skill since it builds confidence and the best habits possible.
Social Advantages of Ski School
Taking group lessons can be a fun, social experience, especially for kids. If you have a child who is reluctant to ski, a group ski lesson could be just the thing to change their mind. Overall, ski lessons make the skiing experience more fun and engaging for kids (unless mom and dad have a lot of extra patience that day).
Disadvantages of Taking Ski Lessons
The most obvious downside is the cost. Skiing can be expensive and lessons can make it a more cost-prohibitive sport. Typically, ski lessons will cost double what a one day lift ticket will cost, so the price of your lessons will vary depending on the overall price of the resort (check out our top recommended budget ski areas). For families, this can quickly add up and put skiing out of their budget. For this reason, we recommend a hybrid approach with teaching your own kids to ski sometimes and putting them in ski school other times. If you’re not comfortable teaching your own kids to ski, go for lessons at a smaller and more affordable resort. The same certifying agency, PSIA, certifies teachers at both large and small resorts, so all certified instructors have roughly the same knowledge base.
Lessons often take up a significant chunk of your day on the slopes. If you’re wanting some time to ski without the kids, it’s great, but if you’re looking for family bonding time, this will only leave you with time to take a few runs during the day. If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll likely need several lessons before you’re comfortable going down the hill without a ski instructor, so factor that in.
If you’re signing up for ski lessons, plan on at least 2-3 lessons for beginners.
Potential for Inconsistency
While ski schools generally maintain a high standard of instruction, you won’t always get the best ski instructors. I’ve worked with plenty of amazing ski instructors as well as many who really weren’t good. To get the best ski instruction, signing up for a multi-day or multi-week lesson where you’re guaranteed the same instructor is the best option.
What Type of Ski Lessons are The Best?
If you have options for different types of ski lessons, I always recommend multiday structured lessons, where you have the same class and same instructor for multiple days. We’ve tried out so many different ski lesson types and both adults and kids seem to learn the most in these classes. When you have the same instructor for multiple days, they’ll know right where you need to focus your efforts for every subsequent lesson, so you can get right to the learning part of the day.
Are Private Lessons Better Than Group Lessons?
You may be wondering if private lessons are better than group lessons. The truth is that it depends. Private lessons give you a more individualized experience (which we agree is better), but often cost 5-10x what a group lesson would. The same instructors often teach private lessons as well as group lessons. As a better option, we recommend taking more group lessons and having your lessons during the week at non-peak times. Then you can take multiple lessons for the cost of one private lesson.