Going Downhill

Learn to ski this winter



Skiing can be fun for the whole family.

Photo courtesy of Ski NH

It's easy to see why skiing is New Hampshire's official state sport. Armed with a cold climate - plus snowmaking - and mountainous terrain conducive to gracefully carving down meandering trails, some two million snow lovers took to the state's ski areas last winter.

While New Hampshire is the birthplace of Olympic and World Cup champ Bode Miller, the Granite State is also steeped in skiing history, from the impact of the Dartmouth Outing Club on early trails to innovative lifts like Gunstock's pioneering rope tow in the 1930s and Cannon's tram. Snow trains shuttled city dwellers to North Conway and Cranmore. Franconia is home to the New England Ski Museum.

The state also owns two ski areas - Cannon and Sunapee.

It all starts on the novice hill where skiers first learn their turns. Though skiing can be a big-ticket item, learning doesn't have to be, with introductory lesson packages containing lift ticket and rentals. Better, January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month with resorts nationwide offering limited free and discounted lessons for those who register in advance.

Jackson's Steve DeBenedictis is Bretton Woods' ski school director, an instructor for more than a generation.

"Don't try to save money by borrowing someone's equipment that doesn't fit properly," he says. "The beginner equipment at ski areas will be set for your ability, height and weight. The skis used for beginners are much easier to learn on than ever before."

DeBenedictis says a good instructor listens to the needs of the students, whether it's a newbie or longtime skier looking to improve.

"You can always get better at your craft," he says. "I believe the best instructors are the ones that keep the door of teaching and learning swinging both ways."

So hit the slopes!

Fact

During Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, select NH resorts offer limited free learn-to-ski packages starting Jan. 1, 2014.

Gear Box

Downhill skiing comes with many gear components.

Start by keeping yourself warm, dry and comfortable with a base layer (Women's Warm Zip Neck, $60).

Goggles protect your eyes, help keep your face warm and don't have to be costly (Smith Scope goggles, $40).

The versatile neck gaiter ($28) works wonders.

Expert Advice

Jackson's Steve DeBenedictis is a man who makes his living in the mountains. The last 30 years he's worked teaching skiing and training instructors. He has achieved his Level 3 certification with the Professional Ski Instructors of America. He's the ski school director at Bretton Woods.

What's a good age to get children skiing and should mom and dad teach them?
Every child is different, depending on the opportunities they get to develop their balance and coordination. We start kids at 4 years old in our children's programs, a good baseline target age. Private lessons are better at the younger ages. Mom and Dad can help best by making the right choices when it comes to teaching their children to ski.

There are so many mountains with so many learn-to-ski packages. How do I choose the right one?
Call the ski school at the area you are considering and ask questions. Talk to others who have learned recently. You may have a friend who skis that knows a place that is especially good for learning. Look for gentle, well-groomed terrain in the beginner area. Check out the type of lift. It's a lot easier to ride a chairlift than a rope tow or T-bar. The easiest lift to ride is a magic carpet, which is basically a conveyor belt. Set yourself up for success by picking a sunny day in January. Choose your clothing carefully; you want to be comfortable and warm.

How has teaching skiing changed over the years?
One thing that has impacted teaching skiing is the quality of the equipment and the snow surface. We have much better tools to work with. The shaped ski and better fitting boots makes guiding yourself down the hill easier. Grooming and snowmaking technology allow us to ski on a good surface even in an almost snowless winter like we had last year. Good instruction combined with current technology make it easier for a person to become a skilled skier than it used to be.

Even good skiers can get stuck in a rut. How can they improve their skills?
This can happen to anyone. A private lesson that focuses on your personal needs can make a difference. Go to the ski school desk and ask for a Level 3 instructor. This level of instructor should be able to help even a top-level skier to improve his game. Sometimes it's just a very small change that can make the difference, but it takes a trained eye to pick just the right move for you. Then practice.

Let's say I want to learn to ski in the trees or jump off cliffs. Are there lessons?
Absolutely. You are adding a new variable now. Not only do you need to be a good skier but you will be skiing in and around immovable objects. These things are hidden, unpredictable and stronger than you. Once again, I suggest a Level 3 instructor.

Here's a scenario you've likely encountered: a skiing boyfriend wants to teach his non-skiing girlfriend how to ski. Should he?
Let the ski school get her started and you go skiing. When you come back we will tell you what she is capable of doing and what terrain she should be skiing. After the lesson you need to take a run together on the beginner hill where you she can show off and you can praise her accomplishments. Be patient. She will get better and you will be spending more of your time skiing together in the future.

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