For many families, ski or snowboarding lessons are a crucial aspect of a ski vacation. I concur: each of my kids learned to ski at age three, and ski schools were (and are!) a big part of our winter experience. Wherever you’re planning a spring skiing vacation, here’s what to look for in a ski or snowboarding school:
- A way to measure progress:
A good ski school will have a way to measure your child’s progress, so you can know where he or she stands in terms of skill level for the next day or next ski trip. Most ski schools use a numbered level system from 1-9, and the better ones will describe each level on their ski school website for parents to peruse. However, this is only useful if you know where your child falls on the scale. Look for a ski school that gives you either a written or digital report card of your child’s progress every day. For example, Northstar California and other Vail Resorts use Epic Academy, tied to Epic Mix. After each day of lessons, parents can click on a child’s Epic Mix profile and select Epic Academy. It’s easy to see exactly where the child is in terms of progress. More importantly, it’s easy for his or her instructor to see the next day or next ski trip.
Ideally, a great ski school will guarantee your child has the same instructor for every day of his or her trip. Who does this? Keystone Resort’s ski and ride school, for one, when kids are enrolled in Club Keystone. If you’re visiting another resort that does not guarantee the same instructor, you can ‘buy’ your own guarantee with a private lesson. A way to save: start with a group or semi-private lesson, and if your child hits it off with his or her instructor and you’d like to continue the relationship, book a private lesson for the subsequent days. Our son’s Burton Snowboard Academy instructor let us in on this tip: even if she’s scheduled for a group lesson, if a family requests her for a private lesson, she’s automatically reassigned.
- Ski school-only dining space:
This one seems minor, but makes a big difference. Ski schools with their own dedicated space for kids in lessons maintain more order and have more relaxed kids (and parents). During our ski experiences, we’ve loved when kids in ski and snowboard school have their very own lodge where they eat their lunch, have hot chocolate breaks, and warm up by the fire pits. Why does this matter? Well, have you been in the public lodge during lunch hour? Chaos. Kids in lessons are already working very hard…they deserve a chill place to relax, and their instructors deserve a chill place to keep track of them.
- A snow option for the little ones:
I don’t know how it is in your family, but in ours, the toddlers and preschoolers never appreciate being left out. While on-mountain daycare can be a lifesaver, once kids aren’t babies anymore, they really love the option of feeling like they’re on the slopes, too. At Northstar, for instance, sign 4-6 year olds up for lessons, and they’ll get to play in the Riperoo Riglet Park. The emphasis should be on fun: great ski schools let potty-trained kids play in the snow, try on equipment and give it a whirl, and make a snowman or two. If kids this age have fun, then everyone has won!
- A great ratio:
We’ve all seen ski instructors on the slopes trailed by a long, long line of little skiers following like duckies. While cute, this is not ideal. Instructors cannot hope to teach individually to a large number of barely independent skiers or snowboarders. A good ski school will offer a semi-private option of four or fewer kids. At Northstar, this is called Ultimate 4, and in our experience, it’s considered the standard, not the exception. They’ve got Ultimate 4 at Breckenridge, as well.