Tips, Tricks and Advice from NH Ski Instructors

courtesy photo

Gunstock Mountain Resort in Gilford, NH

While New Hampshire is fortunate to have some of the best ski instructors anywhere, it’s Granite State skiers who are the beneficiaries.

Today, all New Hampshire resorts offer PSIA-certified instruction, ensuring that every ski school staff is qualified. The key is to remember that they all have your best interests at heart.

“Skiing customers, ski instructors, ski racers and race coaches, snowmakers, lifties, ski patrol, base-lodge staff – we are all one big family,” said John “Johnny Mac” Macdonald of King Pine Ski Area. “We see each other from December through March, and have some of the best times of the year. It’s a fraternity/sorority that loves to welcome new members. It’s a great family activity, and it’s a lifelong activity that gets better as you keep ‘figuring the next thing out.’”

So we decided to take advantage of this collective talent, and offer their top tips for tackling the slopes.

The on-slope experience

First Turns

Calitri: We’re fortunate at Gunstock to have built a consequence-free, terrain-based learning area with sculpted features to make stopping, turning
and sliding fun and easy.

Dolan: Take a lesson. You’ll learn faster and have much more fun from the start in our Terrain Bases Learning program. TBL lets a beginner feel the sensations of sliding on snow in a safe environment, allowing success and confidence to build quickly.

Macdonald: Relax and prepare for the healthiest addiction ever. Keep learning, and skiing just keeps getting better.

Bevier: Learn something on the flats and try to perfect them on your normal terrain. Start slow, and work your way
up to steeper terrain.

Doherty: I try to create a positive learning environment. Ultimately,   >> they’re “taking a chance – the risk – of something new.” They’re putting their trust in me. Once that atmosphere is created, “Breathe, look ahead (not down), and let’s have fun” are among my early instructions to students.

Masters: I focus on boot drills, prior to putting on skis. This enables students to isolate the movements needed to use their feet and legs to turn their skis, versus their hips, shoulders and upper body. Using the hips, shoulders and upper body to turn is a common crutch of beginner skiers who haven’t focused on leg rotation.

Binford: The first goal when learning to ski and snowboard is to have fun. If the lesson isn’t fun and full of excitement, learning comes hard and often ends in frustration. We don’t want a lesson to feel like work.

Weber: Don’t let you friends or family take you to the top of the mountain until you’re ready. You don’t build expert skills in one day, and over-challenging yourself can be a real negative affect. Plus it can be downright dangerous.

Moving up to intermediate terrain

Dolan: Be aware of your surroundings while staying in balance and completing round turn shapes to control your speed. Ski the mountain as if you own it.

Macdonald: Don’t stop periodically taking ski lessons. Your instructor will have you comfortably skiing the blues. Too many skiers stop refining their skills with professional guidance, and it’s too bad. Most skiers out there are capable of skiing terrain and conditions that they currently avoid.

Bevier: Change your timing of movements, the intensity of those movements and the duration of moves on all types of snow conditions. See what works best for you.

Doherty: Acknowledging students are taking a chance, I remind them that we’re building on the skills learned from their time in the beginner area.

Masters: Because it is steeper, they’ll accelerate quickly if they don’t complete their turns. Our skiers moving to intermediate terrain might react to speed increases by bringing upper body movements into a turn, quickly pivoting their skis, throwing them sideways and leaning up the hill. This feels safer, but has the opposite effect. If they continue to use their legs to turn their skis, and focus on a nice round turn, they can ensure a progressive, controlled descent.

Binford: Going to the top of the mountain, whether it’s a green, blue, or black trail, their measure of success has nothing to do with the trail. The success is about enjoying the sport, taking steps each time they’re out to improve on the techniques that were given to them in their initial lessons. Work to get the techniques down, then gradually move up the mountain.

Weber: Once someone understands that making turns is not only the way to maneuver around the hill, but the way to control your speed, you’re on your way to intermediate land.

Après ski advice

Dolan: Head to Zip’s for a craft beer. Check in with your friendly bartenders, mountain staff or locals to learn where the best spots in Washington Valley are.

Norton: Check out where the locals end up. Those are usually the best spots.

Macdonald: The beauty of skiing is that everyone has had the same experience. New skiers went as fast as they could go, and are exhilarated. The experts went as hard as they could go, and are exhilarated. I don’t know another sport where everyone has a similar experience.

Bevier: No need to be a rock star in the bar. It’ll hurt your performance on the hill the next day.

Doherty: Be thankful for the experiences of the day, the opportunities to grow as a skier or rider, and the opportunities to renew or initiate long-lasting relationships.

Masters: Après ski is where you gather to share your tall tales, your war stories and your belly laughs. It is a cherished time that I make sure not to miss.

Binford: Après ski is an awesome way to meet other skiers and snowboarders, and often times it gives the students a chance to get to know their instructors, network, and even learn new techniques.

Weber: Some people like to have a change of clothes with them to get out of any wet or heavy outdoor clothing. I stay in my ski clothes; they are like waterproof pajamas. But I always change into a dry pair of socks. Almost all resorts have great places right at the bottom of the hill, or around the resort, to get a bite to eat and drink.

The best piece of advice you’ve received

Calitri: Take a lesson with PSIA/AASI Certified professional. Learn to make smooth, controlled, round turns on novice terrain. Learn to control your speed through shaping the turn.

Dolan: I’m borrowing the quotation from Mermer Blakeslee. It totally sums but what skiing or riding is all about. “A memorable, breathtaking experience can make the hassle and expense that skiing demands worthwhile. Satisfaction eliminates exhaustion, thrill rejuvenates. It is the beauty of our sports that seduces our guest into becoming skiers and riders.”

Norton: Relax, people get very nervous trying a new sport, especially one that is dangerous. As instructors, don’t get out in front of people. Be yourself.

Macdonald: Pursue versatility. Learn to ski bumps, the woods, the race course, the ice, the powder, steeps, flats, corduroy, death cookies – all of it. Most skiers have the capability, and skiing gets more fun every time you figure out the next challenge.

Bevier: Take a lesson from a qualified instructor, not your boyfriend or girlfriend, unless you want out of
the relationship. It never seems to work out.

Doherty: Turn your feet and remember POP – Parallelogram of Power. Several years ago, a senior trainer shared the Parallelogram of Power with me. Attempting to find and maintain a parallel relationship between lower leg angle and upper leg/spine angle in relation to the skied terrain. In other words, “being forward.”

Masters: Focus on putting more “touch” into your skiing. Great skiers involve every joint of their body in their skiing, including the ankles, knees, hips and spine. All of their joints work together, flexing and extending in a consistent way, not allowing any one joint to dominant, but rather working in concert.

Binford: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to ask my students about themselves, about their hobbies, the sports they play, and then find something within their experiences that relates to snowboarding. Learning about their experiences can help to overcome any anxiety they may have at their first lesson.

Categories: NH Ski Magazine, Outsider, Winter Sports