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November 2018

Mountain Spy :: November 2018

"Should I put my kids in lessons or teach them myself?"

Written by David Meeker | 0 comment

The Question: I’m a pretty good skier and would like for my kids to learn this winter. Is it worth putting them in lessons, or should I teach them myself?

Okemo, Vt., PSIA/AASI certified (yes, both) instructor Tom Buchanan submitted the idea to ask a question about whether lessons are worthwhile. Tom said, “The hope is that folks answering the phone will be able to offer specific reasons to take lessons, identify the experience and certifications of their staff, direct guests to lesson value packages, and provide a few quick tips to make the trip easier and more fun.”

Most of the time, Mountain Spy calls return varied results: some staffers kill it, some do OK, and others shouldn’t be allowed to answer the phone, like, ever.

This time, however, it was different. Most of the folks I spoke to were knowledgeable, humorous, and thorough. It was refreshing. Especially since the subject matter of the call is so important to the future of our sport. And it’s worth noting that none of the people were snowsports school staff. Anecdotally, all but one was female. The one dude I spoke to was a bit of a dud.

Do what Tom did, and send me a question for Mountain Spy to ask. I didn’t call Okemo this time around, and your resort won’t get a call if we use your question. Send to Dave Meeker,

Mountain #1, NH

Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose operator.
First contact: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Oh my goodness! Well, I think it kind of depends, you know? The lessons here are very popular. I do believe we have a great ski school. How old are the kids?
SAM: They’re going to be 5 and 7.
Staff: Yeah, let’s see. I’d put you in touch with the ski school, but I’d hate to send you over there if no one is there. I think they’ll get going pretty soon, just maybe not this soon (laughs). But, in general, I think it has a lot to do with how your kids are with you not being there. Five is pretty young, but some kids take right to it. Our instructors are great with little kids, and they LOVE ‘em!
SAM: That’s definitely important!
Staff: Yeah. But, ya know, it’s just like school. Some kids just don’t want to go to school. Oh, I’ve experienced that in my life (laughs).
SAM: (Laughing)
Staff: But I do think the reputation of our ski school is really good. We have a great area for beginners as well as for people getting their skis back underneath them that haven’t been out in a while, if you know what mean. It’s geared toward novice and intermediate, so it’s not just a bunny slope. There are a few lifts. I can send you a trail map, or you can go to our website (tells me the URL and explains how to navigate to the trail map online, as well as to the info about the ski school).
SAM: Awesome. That’s super helpful.
Staff: Do you live up here?
SAM: We just moved to the area.
Staff: Oh, well, a lot of the schools ski here during the winter (she explains how several local schools bring kids to the mountain for weekly programs, provides examples of what they do, and advises me to look into it. And once again offers to mail me a trail map, and describes in further detail the learning area.).
SAM: Great to know!
Staff: Yeah, and again, I’m just telling you what I know, but if you call back in early November, I’d be happy to connect you to the ski school so you can get better answers to the questions you want to ask (laughs).
SAM: I’m calling a little early, I know.
Staff: Oh, but that’s good! I’m glad you did. It’s never too early to start thinking about winter.
SAM: Amen. Thanks for all the info. You’ve been very helpful.
Staff: Of course! Ya know, some kids are going to go off with a group and they are going to love it! And others just will not do it. Ya just neva know.
SAM: You’re absolutely right. Thanks again.
Staff: You’re very welcome. Thanks for the interest.

Score: 8
Comment: I spoke with this sweetheart for nearly 10 minutes. She was genuine, informative, and related to my plight, but didn’t hard sell me either way.

Mountain #2, NY

Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose customer service.
First contact: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Alright, well. Personally? I would put them in lessons. Are you gonna be coming on weekends?
SAM: We’re not sure just yet. I’m just calling to get some opinions either way.
Staff: OK, do you have a pen? I’m going to walk you through the website, but you can also write stuff down as we talk, if that’s helpful. So, when you go to our website (helps me navigate to the lesson options on the website, and describes the options as well as how the pricing works). So, my kids learned to ski here years ago, and I just think it’s easier for you to walk away and let an instructor do it (laughs).
SAM: Good call (laughs).
Staff: Because they’re not going to argue with an instructor, just like they wouldn’t argue with a teacher, as they would with mom or dad. That’s just an assumption, though! When I bring my granddaughter here, we put her in lessons. It’s up to you and your comfort level, really. (She then provides further details about the multi-week programs, and how the instructors stay with the same group, etc.)
SAM: And all the kids are of a similar ability level?
Staff: Absolutely. It’ll be all beginners in the group and all in the same age range. They won’t even go on a chairlift until the instructor is comfortable that they can turn and stop. And if some kids progress faster than others, they might have them go up with another instructor so they can keep progressing, so the kids will always be with others of similar ability.
SAM: Gotcha. Sounds great.
Staff: Yeah. And after the lesson, you can talk with the instructor about what they went over that day, and it’ll help you know where they’re at in case you want to work with the kids in your free time.
SAM: Kind of a best of both worlds.
Staff: Sure is. We also offer private lessons if you can’t commit to the weekly program. Plenty of options for you. They’re all fun programs. I learned to ski here and my kids learned to ski here, so I speak from experience!
SAM: Great! Thank you for the information. I appreciate the help.
Staff: My pleasure. Be sure to check out all the details on the website. Is there anything else I can help with today?
SAM: Nope. That should do it.
Staff: OK, sounds good. Have a great day!

Score: 9
Comment: It can be intimidating to read through all the info about various kids programs, so for her to take the time to walk me through it was terrific.

Mountain #3, OH

Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose guest services.
First contact: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: How old are your kids?
SAM: They’re going to be 5 and 7.
Staff: OK, so they’re too young to do like a semi-private lesson. You could do private lessons for them. But we do have a program called (program name), which they would qualify for. It’s on weekends, Saturdays or Sundays. And those programs are very sought after; lots of kids learn to ski in those programs. It’s a hot ticket item! They actually go on sale this Friday, and will sell fast.
SAM: Good to know!
Staff: Yeah. Let’s see. Do you have equipment for them?
SAM: No, they’re just starting out.
Staff: That’s totally fine. OK, so, the other fortunate thing is the 5-year-old qualifies for our child pass, which is a great deal. The 7-year-old would have to do lessons, rental, and pass. The season pass with the rental is $X. And the lessons on top of that would be $XX. So, it’s six weeks of instruction and (she goes on to explain the details of how the program works, including hours and what it’s like). It’s a very great program.
SAM: Sounds like it. Would the kids be with the same instructor every time?
Staff: Yes, we try to keep the instructor the same. There’s also the option of doing private lessons if you can’t commit to the weekly lessons. It works out to about the same amount and you’re not stuck to that time every week. You could do a couple private lessons and then you could work with the kids from there if you wanted to. So there’s options.
SAM: Great. So, in general is it a good or bad idea to try and teach my kids?
Staff: It’s not always great, no (laughs).
SAM: (laughs) So, the programs go on sale Friday you said?
Staff: Yup. You’ll want to jump online early to make sure you get a spot!
SAM: Sounds good! Thanks!
Staff: You’re welcome! Have a great day.

Score: 9
Comment: Super sweet and informative. Made sure I was aware that I’d be SOL on getting the kids in a program if I didn’t jump right when they went on sale, but didn’t do a hard sell.

Mountain #4, CO

Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose tickets and season pass office.
First contact: Female.
SAM: Hi, I’m not sure if you’re the right person to talk to about this, but…
Staff: Me neither! (laughs)
SAM: (laughing) Depends on the day, right?
Staff: That’s right! What can I help you with?
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: You know, in all seriousness, it’s always a good idea to put them in lessons.
Staff: Yeah, all too often people try to teach their family members, and, ah, it just, well, you know (laughs).
SAM: (laughs) It doesn’t always work out the way they want it to?
Staff: Right. Just having an instructor give the basics helps leaps and bounds for most people. At least in the beginning. What ages are the children?
SAM: They’re going to be 5 and 7.
Staff: OK, so, we do have a program called X. And you can do one or two adults and one child. If you wanted to have both children in the lesson, you’ll need another instructor so it’s extra. But, the way it works is, you’d be out there with them. So if your kids are on skis, you’ll need to be on skis, and you’ll be out there while the instructor is working with them. And the instructor will also give you pointers on how to instruct them when you have them on the mountain yourself so you’re not totally just yelling at them and … (laughs)
SAM: (laughing)
Staff: So, that’s a nice program.
SAM: Oh gosh, yeah, sounds perfect.
Staff: (Explains options and pricing for the program, as well as child care. I hear another voice feeding info to the staff member.) Oh, my mistake, the X program is for 3 to 6 year olds, so you could do it with your 5 year old. Is the 7 year old a beginner also?
SAM: Yes, they both are.
Staff: (There’s the voice again) Pardon me, my boss is giving me info. OK, so we can look over all the stuff on the website and talk it over if you’d like? I’m sorry, the reason I’m a little distracted is my boss is talking in my backswing (laughs). It’s only my second day, so I apologize.
SAM: Oh! No worries! You’re doing a helluva job for it being only your second day.
Staff: Oh, thank you. Thank you. So, yeah, if you want to look it all over on the website and weigh your options. My suggestion would be to do the X program with the youngest one, and put the oldest in a private lesson and then all get together after that.
SAM: Sounds good. Thanks so much for your help!
Staff: Thank you. We look forward to seeing you!

Score: 9
Comment: Second day? She’s a natural. I checked the website, and all the info she provided was accurate, and the boss only had to clarify one thing for her. Excellent job. Welcome to the industry!

Mountain #5, PA

Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose operator.
First contact: Male.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Ummm, if they haven’t ever done it before I would probably recommend, I mean, it’s not necessarily something easy to teach, but we do have a three-hour program you could put the kids in. It’s $X for three hours and that includes a lift, lesson, and rental. And they’ll break them up with kids according to age and ability and all that stuff, so I’m not sure if they’d be more comfortable learning from you or if they’d be fine being in a group with kids their age. I guess that’s just a determination you’d have to make.
SAM: Yeah, they’re usually cool with being with groups of other kids and being away from me. I just wasn’t sure if it was even worth—(interrupted)
Staff: Yeah, we typically suggest people put them in the three-hour program first, and maybe the parents can work with them afterwards and put the kids back in the program if they want, but that’s typically what we suggest.
SAM: And that’s for beginners?
Staff: Correct, yeah.
SAM: OK, cool. So—(interrupted)
Staff: Yeah, so, keep an eye on the website. We’ll have it available on the website, it’s just not available right now. When it is, you can just book right on there.
SAM: What’s the website?
Staff: (says website)
SAM: Alrighty, thanks.
Staff: You’re welcome, have a nice day.

thumbs downScore: 3
Comment: Please, let me finish. The slightly condescending tone made the interruptions even more aggravating.

Mountain #6, MN

Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose operator.
First contact: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Oh, wow. I guess it really depends on what your kids are comfortable with, and capable of, doing. We have a bunch of programs for kids, which are on our website (provides URL), so you can review them after we talk. We have a program that is five or six weeks, and we have a half day or full day. They’d be with the same instructor every week, unless the instructor is sick or something. My kids did it, and it’s a terrific program for them to build their skills. They start in the beginner area, and as they progress they graduate to able to ski the rest of the area. And one of the great things about it is it allows the parents to go out and ski on their own!
SAM: Well, that certainly sounds nice!
Staff: That was what my husband and I did. We’d bring our kids in the morning and ski around while they were in lessons. Then we’d meet up for lunch and ski with them in the afternoon. It’s pretty amazing what they learn and how confident they become. We group them by age and ability, so they’ll always be with kids similar to them. They’re really great about matching them up.
SAM: That’s great.
Staff: One thing for you to consider is this weekend we have our Fall Festival and Ski Swap. There’s a bunch of stuff going on, like music and food and chairlift rides and pumpkin painting for the kids. But it’s also an opportunity to talk one-on-one with the ski school people. They’ll be right there, they’ll have a multitude of programs that you can discuss with them to get a better idea of what we offer. And there’s also used equipment to be purchased if you’re interested in that. And it may get the kids excited about winter, too.
SAM: Very cool. Sounds like fun. For the multi-week program, is there an option for rentals to be included?
Staff: Let’s take a look. (She then reviews pricing and options for the programs my kids are eligible for, and makes sure I’m aware we can choose ski or snowboard. And also weighs the benefits of buying used equipment or renting, which programs work best for different schedules, and more.)
SAM: Terrific. Thank you so much for your help!
Staff: You’re very welcome. Have a great day.

thumbs upScore: 10
Comment: Wendy left no stone unturned to make sure I had all the information I needed to make a good decision. And throwing in the opportunity to come talk to ski instructors at the Fall Fest was terrific. No hard sell, just politely providing options, and being able to relate through her experience was very helpful. Well done!

Winner #1!
Identity revealed: Afton Alps

Mountain #7, UT

Answering phone: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Honestly, our ski school is really well developed. It’s a great program to get them into.
SAM: OK. Cool.
Staff: Depending when you want to come, we have a program that starts in January called X, which includes three lessons for $X, and they get a season pass after completing the program.
SAM: Whoa. Really?
Staff: Yeah. For first timers, that’s a great way to go if you can wait until January. So, if you are near a computer—because there’s just a whole ton of info on it—go to our website (says URL) and it’s all there. Because I’ll just spew off tons of info whenever you ask me a question, so I want you to know that you can read about whatever we talk about now (laughs).
SAM: Oh, good! Thanks for that. It sounds like there are a bunch of options. The kids are going to be 5 and 7. Is that OK?
Staff: Yup. They would be in separate age groups, though, if you did the group lessons. The 5- and 6-year-olds are in X, and the 7- to 12-year-olds in Y, but they are split based on skill level as well. We have full day options, we have morning options, afternoon options. So, really, what you want, we’ve gotcha covered in the ski school.
SAM: That’s awesome. So, the prospect of even trying to teach them myself—is that something that folks do?
Staff: Um, yeah, it’s something that some people do pretty successfully. But I always suggest people take a lesson. I actually didn’t take a lesson my first couple seasons that I was trying to learn. My first time it was horrible. I didn’t try again for whole other year. I cried and hiked down the mountain—I was one of those people (laughs). But then I went out with someone who explained it differently, but I still spent two seasons not being able to make a parallel turn. And when I finally took a lesson they told me I was popping my hip the wrong way, and then I was able to carve. It was amazing. I mean, I don’t want to oversell the lessons because some people don’t have as much success. But, personally, I had a lot more success learning from instructors who teach all the time, because they were better at articulating it.
SAM: Makes sense.
Staff: It was actually my fiancé who tried to teach me in the beginning, and I definitely yelled at him a lot.
SAM: (laughs) Did you wind up getting married?
Staff: (laughs) We did! But the ski thing was a bit of a learning curve. I would never take another lesson from a family member again (laughs).
SAM: (laughing) That’s good advice! I appreciate the information. I’ll check out the website and hopefully see you this winter.
Staff: Great! Just a heads up, you’ll want to have reservations for the lessons because we do sell out. All the pricing is online. The group lessons include lift ticket and rentals, so it’s a great deal. We don’t have them for sale just yet, but I can take your name and number and give you a shout when they are.
SAM: Thanks, but I’m kind of in transit so I’ll give you a shout back soon.
Staff: No worries, sounds good. They should go on sale in a week or two. Have a wonderful day!

thumbs upScore: 10
Comment: We may need to source this resort for a future article on staff training. I hung up with a smile on my face because she not only spewed knowledge, but also was a joy to speak to.

Winner #2!
Identity revealed: Brian Head

Mountain #8, ON

Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose operator.
First contact: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Well, do they listen to you?
SAM: Ha! It depends on the day (laughs).
Staff: (laughs) Yeah, that would probably be your biggest challenge. If you were to teach them yourself, you’d probably want to take them out one at a time. Trying to teach both at once might be tough. But they tend to listen to others, similar to teachers and folks like that, better than mom and dad, right?
SAM: That’s true.
Staff: So, um, we’re absolutely happy to help. We’re known for our lessons for little people to teach them to ski or snowboard. That being said, unfortunately—because we’re known for our lessons—the only thing we have available is Saturday afternoons for the multi-week program. It’s eight weeks. Right now I can fit both kids in the program. They would be in separate groups because of their ages. (Explains the process, including where to drop the kids off and what the lessons are like.) No parent participation is expected at all. You’re actually not allowed in the area where they are while the programs are going on. You can watch from the bleachers if you need to, or go enjoy the mountain yourself! (She then explains some other program options and shares pricing.) Would you like me to look into availability for those?
SAM: I’ll need to check with my wife. For now I was just calling to see what the consensus is about me teaching them versus lessons. It sounds like lessons are a pretty good way to go, though.
Staff: Yeah, ya know, I think you’re gonna find you’re going to divide your time between the two kids. When I was trying to teach mine, it was tough. Lessons were a savior. It’s tough to have two little kids while dealing with surface lifts and crowds. As brand-new skiers, you would have your hands full, I think.
SAM: To say the least.
Staff: So, we also have (reviews even more programs that could work for us). Sorry I’m bombarding you with lots of information!
SAM: No worries. I appreciate it.
Staff: All this stuff is on our website, so you and your wife can go over it all together. If you think of anything else, please give me a call.
SAM: I will! Thanks again.

thumbs upScore: 10
Comment: Another Wendy, another great job. Thanks for putting it into perspective right off the bat. She was thorough, knowledgeable, and, again, related to what I was asking.

Winner #3!
Identity Revealed: Snow Valley