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What to Know for Ski School

Tips from a full-time certified ski instructor at Alta’s Alf Engen Ski School.
The National Ability Center offers adaptive ski lessons at Park City Mountain.

You see skiers and riders having the time of their life zipping down the mountain and in front of where you sit, at a fire pit with a beer in your hand. While chilling all day at the ski base can be fun, it’s an activity best saved for après, especially when you want to discover why everyone is happy at the end of a long ski day. When it comes to your first ski school lesson, Andy Baker, a 24-year full-time ski instructor at Alta’s Alf Engen Ski School and PSIA Level III Certified Instructor, has some helpful skiing tips for you — whether you’ve dabbled in the sport or are a newbie. Most importantly, there are ski instruction options for all ages and skill levels.

5 Tips for Your First Downhill

1. Clothing. You don’t have to buy everything when you’re starting out. Nearly anything you can wear outside in winter is fine. “I tell people to buy shell pants and a shell jacket, so you can layer underneath, depending on the conditions. Eye protection is essential, from sunglasses to goggles (you won’t want sunglasses if it’s snowing). Add a winter hat or helmet to help you keep warm.” Helmets, as well as skis, poles and boots are available to rent at ski resorts, and most rental gear for beginners is flexible and user friendly. “Be patient in the rental shop; don’t rush through. Make sure you choose boots that fit snugly, because loose boots are nothing but trouble.”

2. Attitude. As long as you want to learn to ski/snowboard and keep an open mind, you’ll be in a good place in ski school. “Even for people who are good athletes in other sports, skiing is different. Sliding without effort can feel scary at first, and instructors want you to enjoy that gliding downhill feeling. I try to understand students’ body language, not just what they’re saying to me in words, so I can better guide them.”

Enjoy the view and a beginner's scene at Nordic Valley. Photo: Jeremiah Watt

3. Communication. As Baker advises, students’ words don’t always match their physical reactions. If you’re concerned about something, let your instructor know. That’s the best way to help you both, and allows the instructor to focus on those elements that you’re worried about. “I like using the rope tow from the Albion side of Alta to the Wildcat side to show beginners the feeling of gliding without having the downhill element. Once downhill slope is introduced, scared students adopt a defensive posture by leaning back in an attempt to put the brakes on. But turning your posture to an offensive one (and leaning forward) allows you much more control and creates less stress on your quads, knees and ankles.”

4. Patience. People who are fit and are already good at a handful of sports sometimes have expectations about how long it will take them to move up in skill level and be able to ski that double black run. “I like to instill more education and knowledge in where they are on their skis and ensure that they have the basic foundation that will ultimately help them accomplish their goals. I’m not trying to intimidate my students when I do that. Ultimately, time on the snow helps your muscle memory, so when you are ready to move up, you’re really ready and your body can react appropriately.”

5. Control. Whether you sign up for a group class or a private instructor is up to you. Sometimes, students in a class have to ski at the level of the person with the lowest ability, which can be frustrating if you’re the budding superstar. But that’s not always the case. Instructors want to help you get the most out of class, so talk with them about your goals and see what approach best fits you. 

Take the Next Steps

Learning to ski can be one of the most exhilarating and exciting times in a child’s — or adult's — life. There’s nothing quite like graduating from the snowplow technique to carving a perfect turn in the powder. If your family is new to the slopes, we've got plenty of ski programs and Utah ski schools that’ll teach you all the skiing tips and tricks you need to get you gliding like the pros in no time. After you find your ski legs, you'll want to begin exploring, starting with the green circle designations before moving on to intermediate and expert areas. To that end, we visited five Utah ski resorts to find their best beginner runs based on iconic scenery, diverse terrain and overall awesomeness of the area.

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