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Should I learn to ski with a qualified ski instructor?

Can you learn to ski without getting lessons? In a word, yes. But then again you could also go and ride a rodeo-bull without lessons. Or leap out of an aeroplane. Or go scuba diving. It’s true of all sports – extreme or not – that if you really want to go and do them without having lessons, you can. But it’s also possible that you’re going to injure yourself pretty badly in the process. And end up regretting it for a very long time.

Ski lessons aren’t free. Let’s address that first. And when that cost comes on top of the holiday, the gear, and the wallet-stomping lift pass that there’s just no getting around, maybe the idea of saving a little bit of money and letting your friend teach you seems pretty tempting. Because come on, how hard can it really be?

And herein lies the problem. Because skiing lessons aren’t just a matter of learning to ski. In fact, that’s the easy part! They’re actually much, much more. Not only do you gain the skills you need to control yourself as you whizz down icy mountains, you also learn skiing etiquette, how to navigate the pistes, how to use a chairlift, and most importantly, how to fall without hurting yourself.

Skier on the ground covered in snow after falling
This is a good example of how not to fall.

Falling is a natural part of skiing. Everyone falls. And I’m no exception to that. I probably slid further on my back than I skied on my feet for my first few holidays! But trust me when I say that after your first tumble, having an instructor there to offer you a hand up, and tell you just why you fell is just something you can’t replace. After all, ski instructors aren’t just great skiers, they’re qualified to teach you to be one too. Not just anyone can be an instructor, and it takes years of training and qualifications to get to where they are, so thinking you can do it without them isn’t really a smart move!

 

How long does it take to learn to ski?

But look, all cards on the table here, I’m not trying to scare you. Thousands and thousands of people flock to the mountains every year and enjoy the sport without falling and hurting themselves. I know that. But it’s likely most of them had lessons at some point. Someone who is a natural at it may only require a few hours before they head out on their own, and some may require a couple of days. There’s no definitive answer when it comes to a question like how long does it take to learn to ski? 

female ski instructor teaches group ski lesson

But there is a definitive answer to the question, do I need lessons? Yes. Yes, you do. If you’ve never skied before, heading out on the mountain isn’t just dangerous for you, it’s also dangerous for those around you. In fact, statistically, most injuries resulting from skier-collisions involve a beginner. But that shouldn’t frighten you. Because if you have lessons, you’ll be taught how to avoid those incidents, and most importantly, the guys and gals flying down the mountain at Mach-one — because believe me, they’re out there!

 

Why do I need ski lessons?

The sorts of techniques you’ll be tackling on your first lessons are ones to help you slow down and maintain control. And the person best suited to teach you how to do that right is the one with the experience and qualifications. But beyond those techniques, you’ll also be given a proper introduction to how the mountain works. Because honestly, it’s a different world to what you know now.

Smiling woman learns to ski in ski school GROUP LESSON

With green, blue, red, and black runs to navigate, hundreds of kilometres of winding pistes and cat tracks, as well as groomers, groms, rollers, bumps, bombers and gnar, combined with the ever-dreaded button lifts, having someone looking after you who knows the mountain and all its secrets like the back of their hand is just invaluable.  (If none of that ski jargon made sense to you, check out that link.)

The reason we ski is for enjoyment, and that really starts to come when you stop worrying about how you’re skiing and start looking around. There really isn’t a more magical place in the world. And with an instructor supporting you and instructing you using internationally standardised teaching methods, you’ll progress much, much faster than if you tried to go it alone.

And hey, I know what you’re thinking. You’ve taught yourself lots of things. Well, skiing is different. And while sure, you could rent equipment at a shop and no one would ask you if you know how to ski, that’s a recipe for disaster. Do you know what size skis you need? What length poles? Getting just one lesson is going to set you down the right path, and immediately eliminate any bad habits you’d develop by just having a go yourself.

 

Can’t I just get lessons from a mate?

It’s so so tempting to have a friend (who’s probably pretty good, too) teach you. Heck, I’ve had lots of mine ask me. And I always turn them down. Because while I’m competent myself, I probably have bad habits that I’m compensating for, and I’m hunting for powder stashes from the top lifts not snow-ploughing greens. And if I’m being expected to teach you (and spend my time on the mountains doing it), then I’m going to try and balance my enjoyment with your learning. Which means you’ll end up not having a lot of tutelage, I won’t be paying that much attention, and I’ll probably take you to places you’re just not equipped to deal with.

Am I a bad friend? Not really, I’m just not an instructor. And nor did I offer to be. But because you asked and begged, I might say sure and pass along my bad habits and throw you in at the deep end because I want to have fun, not get stuck teaching you all holiday. But of course I don’t say that. I just do it, but that isn’t really fair on either of us.

Ski lessons come in a lot of different packages, and you can always find one to suit you. If you’re a beginner and you’re feeling social then a group class could be for you. You can often book them in single or block sessions, and you’ll find it lots of fun learning with people of a similar standard. This can be a great way to meet new people and have a laugh at the same time. Because there’s nothing funnier than being in one of those groups!

Or if you want to maximise the speed you’re learning at, go for a private session. With an instructor solely focused on you, your progress will be quicker, and they can keep adapting their teaching to suit your level. Often times for those looking for a more serious learning experience, one-to-ones are worth the extra cost, and even at intermediate or advanced levels can be highly beneficial.

private ski instructor in red ski suit gives tips to child in kids private ski lesson

And even beyond your learning to ski, propagating good mountain etiquette and skiing technique through lessons benefits everyone on the mountain. We’re all out there to have a good time, remember. So if you’re contemplating skipping the lessons and having a try at it yourself, I’d say hold on. You’re thinking about yourself here, but you’ve got the wrong end of the stick. The upside is saving a little bit of money, but the consequences are far wider-reaching.

You only need one bad crash to put a damper on your skiing experience, and while you’re lying there in the snow with powder up your back and a bruised backside, you’ll be thinking to yourself, maybe the ski lessons weren’t that expensive after all…

You can’t put a price on your body, and you certainly can’t put a price on the memories you’ll bring home from a skiing holiday well enjoyed. Sure a lesson will use an hour or two of your mountain time, but in ten, twenty, forty years, you’ll be glad you had it. And you’ll probably be telling a beginner just like you the same things you’ve read here, too.

Daniel M.

Daniel is a professional writer based in the UK with several novels under his belt. He also happens to be training to become a ski instructor in the winters.

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