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A First Timer's Guide to Getting the Most from Ski Lessons

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

John Gelb, a lifetime skier, has been a part-time ski instructor for the last 10 years. He teaches private and group lessons in Vermont. He grew up skiing throughout New England and discovered the Rocky Mountains as an adult. His favorite resort is Snowbird, Utah.

John Gelb posing with his lesson group in Vermont

Reader’s Note. If this is your first time thinking about a multi-day ski trip, and you have kids, this guide is for you. For everyone else, you know what worked, and what didn’t, and your next trip will be smoother and even better!


When all of the kids take lessons, improvement accelerates, and everyone will fall in love with skiing (even faster).

  1. Target audience. This guide is intended for families who are relatively new to skiing.

  2. Day 1. We recommend everyone take a morning, half day lesson. There’s no shame in taking the afternoon off to relax. And you’ll be more fired up the next day.

  3. Day 2 to the end of trip. Everyone older than 67 years should at least take a morning or an afternoon lesson. Why? Everyone gets excited when they improve quickly. Kids + lessons leads to rapid improvement and that leads to loving skiing.

  4. Group vs. private lessons? Consider your budget and your needs when deciding between group versus private ski lessons.

  5. Book lessons well in advance. Find the resort’s lesson cancellation policy and print it.

  6. How will COVID impact lessons this season? Everything's in flux! Expect safety measures (masks/distancing/limits on people). The ski resorts are doing everything possible to ensure there’s a 2020-21 ski season. Stay in touch with the resort you’ll visit to make sure you're in the know.


Have a few more minutes?  Here’s the full scoop…

Ski Lessons are Key to a Super Fun Family Ski Trip

If kids, or newer skiers, are part of your group, you’re going to want lessons for them. Book them far ahead of time. How far? Call your ski resort of choice in September, and ask “When should I book ski lessons?” Whatever they tell you, especially if you're planning to go over the holidays, call back two weeks earlier than they say and book your lessons.

All ski resorts have a finite “supply” of ski lessons, limited by ski instructors. I see this too often: it’s hard enough to be the parent, but adding “ski instructor” to mom/dad’s titles is not a recipe for fun...for anyone. Plus, Covid-19 is likely to lead to smaller group sizes and fewer instructors see our special section below.

Strategies to Set-up For Success: The Night Before & First Morning

A little forethought can greatly enhance your chances of a successful day on the slopes.

  1. Prepare the evening before. Check the weather report and lay out everyone’s ski clothing. Any missing item is easier to fill in when you have more time to plan. Remember: a forecast with strong winds is a colder forecast.

  2. Bring extra items to the mountain. Take a small/medium duffel (old is better) to the mountain. Put extra items, such as hand warmers, an extra thin top layer, snacks, etc, in the bag, so each child has “clothing flexibility” and can adjust to the weather conditions. Include hand warmers!  Pro tip: buy a box online (the Grabber brand is excellent), Instead of $2-3 each, you can buy a box of ~40 for about 68 cents each.  And they’ll last for about 2 years.

  3. Bring face masks. Covid-19 tip: bring lots of face masks. Resorts will require them.

  4. Make sure the instructors can reach you. Put a business card with your cell number in each kid’s parka and let the ski instructor know it’s there.

  5. Arrive early. When it’s time to go to the mountain/ski school, figure out the time you MUST be there, and plan to arrive 30-45 minutes early. Understand the logistics. Is parking a long way from ski school? Add extra travel time, and especially if kids are going to different locations, add another 10-15 minutes. Being early won't hurt!

  6. Rent skis and boots ahead of time. Whether you rent at a shop near your home, or wait and rent at the resort after arrival, planning is key. This includes checking the ski store hours and location in advance. Most lessons do not include ski rentals, but they can be added for an additional fee. Pro Tip: Consider a “seasonal rental” for children if you are considering skiing for more than a few days. A seasonal rental includes skis and boots for the entire ski season and generally pricing is quite reasonable (equivalent to a 3 or 4-day rental). We are huge fans of seasonal rentals for children. For more on renting skis, view our 6 Tips for a Smooth Ski Rental Experience here.

Deciding Between Private and Group Lessons

Choosing between private and group lessons is not an easy decision. Private lessons are notably more expensive and group lessons are often tons of fun. The tables below attempt to help families think about the key issues when making this choice.

Pro Tip for private lessons. Book an all-day private lesson and split it up amongst the whole family (try to get the name of a great instructor). Maybe mom goes for the first 90 minutes, then one of the kids joins. After lunch, dad goes with the instructor. Then, finish the day with the whole family. Once the resort has your money, they’re pretty flexible on allowing multiple family members in the lesson. This can help “break in” a resistant child who doesn’t like the idea of a ski lesson or help the most advanced in the group improve their techniques.

Good Stuff to Know Before Your First Ski Trip

  1. Kids like being one of the first to arrive for group lesson so they have more time to make friends.

  2. When a lesson is over, always ask your instructor for feedback:  “How’d she do?” and “What’s her favorite trail"? are good questions to get the discussion going.

  3. Find out what the tipping/gratuity custom is and take care of your instructor.

  4. Take pictures! The families I work with love it when I’ve taken pictures of the kids at the summit, with a trail map in the background, etc.

  5. Buy a coffee mug or pint glass with the resort logo.

  6. The more lessons your kids take early, the faster they’ll become good enough to ski with you, and the more likely they will love to ski!

  7. Questions? Reach out to me on Twitter @JohnnygSki 

COVID Related Tips for Ski Lessons

We are starting to get more clarity on how skiing will look this year. Resorts will set limits on lift tickets sold and require tickets to be purchased in advance. Resorts are working hard to figure out how we can ski, while ensuring people stay safe and healthy (that means social distancing on chairlifts, in ski school, as well as in all dining, bar and lodging facilities). Here are 6 tips to keep in mind when considering ski lessons this season:

  1. Policies and protocols are in flux, but one thing is clear: group lessons will be smaller than book EARLY!

  2. Most major resorts are offering great flexibility for changes/cancellations/etc, but be smart and screen shot or print written policies.

  3. Many resorts not having group lessons for children 6 years and younger. Make sure to check with your specific destination about their plans. 

  4. Stay in touch with the resort about their plans for operating their dining facilities. You may want to bring food.

  5. Follow Covid-19 protocols (masks, wipes, sanitizer, etc.)


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