When you’re planning a ski vacation, a number of factors are immediately top of mind—the quality of a mountain’s trails, the price of lift tickets, projected weather forecasts, and, of course, après ski activities. However, the breadth of a resort’s ski school offerings is an important consideration as well. After all, you don’t want to be relegated to the bunny hill when you’ve waited to whizz down double blacks for months! Whether you’re enrolling your kids in ski school or researching ski schools for yourself as a first-time skier, they’re a critical component of your ski vacation experience. Most of the good family ski resorts offer a quality ski school, but it still pays to do your homework. Below, we’ve compiled a list of eight features that we think signal a top-notch ski school. Happy skiing!
Look for These Things in a Ski School
Options for skiers of all ages
Though the phrase “ski school” connotes a gaggle of elementary-school age kids making their way down the bunny hill, mountains across the world are increasingly expanding their ski schools to include older skiers. When you’re planning your ski vacation, it’s key to confirm with the mountain whether they offer ski school for the age you are targeting—for instance, is your three year-old too young to enroll? On the flip side, would a mountain’s ski school be able to accommodate a first-time skier in their forties—and would they be grouped with similarly-aged skiers? Ski school is typically a more cost-effective option than private group lessons, which some older first-time skiers are placed into if a mountain’s ski school exclusively teaches younger skiers. If your child is making their first foray into the ski world or if you want to learn the sport for yourself, ski school delivers bang for your buck—but ensure that the mountain you want to visit has the age offerings you want.
Offerings for beginner, mid-level, and advanced skiers
As the sport of skiing has evolved in the past few decades, so has ski school—formerly a place for kids to spend their mornings, it’s now an opportunity for skiers of all levels to polish their abilities. All ski schools will offer instruction for beginners—but what about for those who have been skiing for years and want to get a few pointers from an instructor? Furthermore, what about advanced skiers who would like an instructor’s input on a particular technique, like powder skiing or doing better on moguls? If you’re a non-traditional ski school attendee, make sure to communicate with the mountain to see if they offer the kind of instruction you’re seeking.
The certifications that ski instructors hold vary
widely across the country as well as internationally. Ski instructors at small, local mountains are often high school or college students on winter break who don’t have any formal certifications—they’re simply experienced skiers. By contrast, instructors at larger, more well-known mountains tend to be certified in CPR and have some kind of informal medical training. They also have some level of standing and certification by a ski instructor governing board. When you’re evaluating ski schools across mountains, consider thinking about the skiing abilities of the person who is enrolling in ski school (whether that’s yourself, your child, or someone else) and how much the instructors at a particular ski school would be able to do in case of an emergency. If your child has been on the mountain a number of times and can ski independently, you may be comfortable sending them to ski school at a local mountain—but parents of an absolutely new beginner may want to enroll their child at a ski school with a regimented instructor training program.
Different instructor price ranges
In an effort to capture a larger customer base, some mountains are charging different fees across their pool of instructors. For instance, a day of ski school with an expert instructor who’s been at the mountain for 20 years may be $80, whereas a day with a budding instructor with just a year’s experience may be $40. If you can get by with a less-experienced instructor, it can be a great way to save money on your ski trip. Remember, just because they don’t have tons of instructing experience doesn’t mean they are not an excellent skier or snowboarder that you or your child can learn from. If the mountain you’re planning on visiting offers this option, look into it—it’s an excellent way to get a high-quality ski school experience without spending as much as the crowd.
Half-day and full-day options
Traditionally, ski school was a half-day model—kids worked on their form with instructors for the first half of the day before being released to ski with their parents. Now, however, mountains are expanding their ski school offerings to include a full-day option—so parents can spend the entire day on the slopes or a newbie can immerse herself in a ski learning environment for an entire day. Larger rather than smaller mountains tend to be able to support a full-day ski school, so begin your hunt there if a full-day ski school is your goal.
It’s no secret that skiing is an expensive sport—and so is ski school. To help defray costs, however, some ski schools offer package deals where the kids skis, boots, poles, the cost of meals, and the cost of ski school can come at a hefty discount if purchased for multiple days. Though some mountains may openly advertise these packages on their site, others may be for “insiders only”—meaning you’ll have to call the ticket office directly to inquire about them. It may mean a little extra legwork for you, but could ultimately result in some giant savings.
As skiing is a pricey sport, mountains generally offer discounts to children, students, seniors, military veterans, and occasionally teachers. However, these discounts are not consistently applied to the total cost of ski school—so if you or the person you’re enrolling in ski school falls into one of these groups, it’s worth picking up the phone and talking to the ticket office. While you are at it, see if they offer discounts on things like ski rentals and gear (although kids skis are not very expensive compared to adult skis). They may offer you an unadvertised discount for ski school simply because you asked. Hey, the worst thing they can say is “no.”
Last but certainly not least, it’s important that ski school attendee take pleasure in their time building their skills. Some kids—myself included!—absolutely dread ski school, and would much rather be tackling the slopes with their parents or friends. Though becoming a stronger, more agile, and safer skier is of course the main goal of ski school, you want to ensure that whoever is enrolling in ski school will genuinely enjoy themselves during their time there. When you’re investigating ski schools’ “fun factor,” look out for engaged instructors, planned snack breaks to students can take a break from the cold, games, and pep talks from staff members throughout the course of the day. You may be able to find some of this information on a mountain’s web site, but if you’re really curious? Walk up to a parent or current ski school student and ask them about their experience. There’s nothing better than an unfiltered opinion!
Paul Miller is the Founder of Family Skier. He is an advanced skier and has extensive experience with family travel and ski schools. An accomplished skier, he has skied in 15 states and provinces and 6 countries. In addition to FamilySkier, his writing can be found on many ski-related websites, and as curriculum for many ski clubs in North America.