Learn to Ski or Ride

It’s time to enjoy our state’s official sport



Ski lessons aren’t just for kids — many ski areas, including Pats Peak in Henniker, teach beginners of all ages. Courtesy photo

Making those timid first tracks when trying to learn to ski or snowboard is as much about understanding the fundamentals as it is about enjoying the peaceful and stimulating sides of both sports. No matter your age, there are common themes found across the lesson landscape, such as the delight found in the outdoors in winter, regaling in individual accomplishments, and sharing the whole experience with family and friends. Whether you live in New Hampshire or are just visiting, resorts and ski hills take teaching people to ski and ride seriously, while serving up fun with various lessons, packages and programs.

“For people who live in the state and want to learn the state’s official sport, there is a ski area near them, so it’s easy to try it out in one day and be home in plenty of time for dinner,” says Ski NH Executive Director Jessyca Keeler. “And for those who might be coming from points south, New Hampshire ski areas are very accessible, more so than the other northern New England states, with many right off major highways.”

A mountain’s ski school is a good place to start. Generally, mountains have “starter” lessons and programs for various age groups. Novice group lessons tend to include everything you need to get started, like rental equipment, a lift ticket and, of course, instruction. Enrolling in a program with multiple lessons led by a certified professional teacher provides an excellent base, with some programs offering incentives such as a season pass, gift cards or free skis upon completion. Students can take one lesson, and often apply that lesson to a multi-lesson package program.

Private lessons are another option. January’s Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month offers discounted group lessons at participating New Hampshire ski areas for $39. This is a good way to see if skiing or snowboarding is for you without spending a ton of money. Ragged Mountain in Danbury even has the season-long free Bebe Wood Learn to Ski and Ride program.

Search the ski area’s website. How big are the group lessons? How long? Follow up with a call to the ski school with any questions. Many mountains also have beginner lessons in sequestered areas that provide a safe environment.

Bring an open mind and questions to an adult lesson. Communication and feedback are keys. It may have been some time since you’ve been new to something. Be prepared to laugh it off.

“We will get you going,” says Ray Gilmore, an instructor at Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway. “Just have patience and keep it fun.”

Children need to be mentally and physically prepared, and should be aware that skiing is a fun learning experience that requires practice. Find programs geared to specific ages. Some incorporate on-snow games to teach skills and familiarity with equipment.

“Feed them before the lesson and give them to us as well-rested as possible,” Gilmore says. That way they’re spending more time on the hill during the lesson.

“School-age kids can take lessons with trained instructors and enjoy their time on the slopes with other kids through full-day and half-day kids’ programs,” says John Pawlak, the director of snowsports at Pats Peak in Henniker. “Kids might even enjoy private lessons one-on-one with an instructor to get started.”

Of course, being warm and mobile applies to first-time skiers and riders of all ages. Dress in layers with a base layer of long underwear that both insulates and wicks away perspiration. A warm, collared shirt, sweater or fleece topped with a water-resistant jacket or shell helps. So do ski pants. High synthetic socks, gloves and mittens and ear-covering hats are staples. Other beneficial items include sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses or goggles, hand warmers and neck ups. Forget anything? The mountain’s ski shop can help. Consider bringing a change of clothes for the ride home.

Pawlak recommends starting at a mountain that provides a gradual flow from beginning terrain to an advanced “beginner” pitch.

“Trying to find a mountain close to home is also a good idea,” Pawlak says. “You should take a follow-up lesson to learn more skills. [Continuing to] practice and having the same instructor, or an instructor with similar training, is important.”

Don’t be too judgmental about the size of a ski area. Small hills and big resorts both have excellent programs and passionate instructors and coaches. New Hampshire and New England are loaded with skilled racers from Olympians to college stars who made their first turns on snow with short to long vertical runs.

“The thing about small mountains is that they are great for confidence,” says Gilmore.

Having an enthusiastic, approachable and knowledgeable instructor is key, one looking to pass on the passion of skiing and snowboarding. “You should be able to tell how enthusiastic your instructor is within the first five minutes of your lesson,” says Gilmore.

That first lesson is about the basics, says Pawlak. You might walk around the snow in clunky boots to see how they feel. Then you’ll learn how to put the boards on and move around, getting a first feel of the sliding sensation while being introduced to the equipment. You’ll slide, glide and stop. You’ll learn to go up the hill and turn around, get schooled on turning skis or a snowboard, and to how control speed and direction.

“Once you get to the point that you can go where you want to go and stop yourself with confidence, it is time for your first lift ride,” says Pawlak. At Cranmore, students go through a program using a method called Terrain Based Learning, which uses strategically shaped snow features, such as banked turns and rollers, to control speed and body position.

“Once we switched to Terrain Based Learning at Cranmore, in two hours I can get much further with a much greater success rate,” says Gilmore. “Not because I am a better teacher, but because the way we build the terrain alleviates the student’s fears.”

So get out there, find your mountain and go with the flow.

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