Sunday morning - the first day of your ski holiday. After an epic battle to get equipment, lift passes and children sorted out in time, you finally get to your ski school meeting point. You obediently join your group, with about 11 others, receive a short greeting from your instructor and head off to the cable car. You spend the next 2 hours in a long snake behind said instructor, getting cursory comments every now and then which you hope will improve your technique and make you ski like a god. Despite doing this day after day, you don't feel any better about your skiing at the end of it than when you started. Sound familiar?
Sadly a lot of us experience the above scenario - we'd like to improve but the time and money invested in lessons doesn't bring about results. So we end up thinking that maybe we're not fit/adventurous/sporty enough, maybe skiing or snowboarding is something that we'll never be good at. We resign ourselves to getting down the mountain in our own fashion - and it doesn't really matter if we're not great at it, we only do it for one or two weeks a year after all.
Ski and snowboard lessons should be something that you want to keep going back to. They should help you learn how to handle difficult situations - steeper slopes, ice, heavy bumpy snow, off piste, white-out conditions, jumps. Nobody can get better at doing these without practice and guidance.
Hugh Monney is the Director of BASS, the British Alpine Ski School, which has schools in several resorts in France and in St Moritz in Switzerland. Hugh has spent many years developing the teaching techniques used by the BASS schools. The BASS approach is holistic - taking into account the psychological as well as the physical aspects of learning to ski and snowboard.
"Our teachers are skilful, experienced and sympathetic. We like to help people solve their problems and discover how to have fun, and we know how to make it happen."
Group sizes are kept small, with a maximum of 6 people, and BASS insists that humour is a key ingredient for success - "a caring, humourous approach makes the lesson a pleasure for everyone involved. The effectiveness of the sessions are dramatically increased by this important aspect of communication" says Hugh.
BASS also promises that teaching is only in English and that a shared mother tongue "is a must if teachers are to help people make the best progress and understand the subtleties of these great sports."
Getting good instruction can improve your ski holiday by leaps and bounds, and a good instructor should be able to tailor his teaching to suit your way of learning. Coming out of a lesson feeling that you aren't really that good says more about the instructor than your ability - even if you're never going to be Herman Maier, an instructor should be able to get you to work on something that will improve the overall effect.
So don't give up on lessons but do shop around and make sure that you get the right kind of instruction for you. Points to bear in mind are:
- Group sizes - make sure you know what the maximum group size should be, and is this guaranteed by the ski school, or do they make exceptions in busy periods?
- Ability levels - how are levels assessed by the ski school, and what happens if you're in a group which is going too fast or too slow for comfort?
- Group lessons may not be the best solution for you - no matter how good the teacher a group lesson will usually have to be at the pace of the slowest. If you worry about being bored or holding people up, or if you don't feel comfortable learning in a group scenario, then private lessons may be the better option.
Learning new techniques is fun. Learning how to stay in control brings with it a tremendous sense of achievement and knowing that you can tackle any slope, in all sorts of conditions, does wonders for your self-confidence. Skiing and snowboarding aren't mysterious dark arts whose secrets are only imparted to a select few - so next time you're the 12th person in line behind the instructor, it may be time to change the instructor.