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Top 4 Places to Learn to Ski and Snowboard

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Right now, you are probably daydreaming about the sweet lines you want to rip this winter, the new boards Santa brought you, or how cool you will look in the sweet puffy you just bought. But what do beginner skiers and snowboarders daydream about? Mostly not being cold, not getting hurt, and not being embarrassed. Not exactly inspirational, huh?

Ski areas realize that learning to slide on snow can be intimidating, and as a result many snow sports centers have seen big upgrades in the past couple of years. The experience of learning to ski and ride is so much better than it was 10 years ago at almost every ski area that isolating the best places to take a lesson is difficult. A healthy debate about the where to take a beginner lesson would definitely last longer than a ride on an outdated fixed grip double.

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Photo Credit: Alpine Meadows

Many big destination ski areas have excellent snow sports schools (like Deer Valley, Breckenridge, Sun Valley, Park City, and others). But for a beginner lesson, it's probably better to start out closer to home. No reason to schlep to the big resort that is a three-hour-drive away when the local hill will suffice. The focus of this post is therefore ski areas close to population centers.

So if you or a friend are thinking of learning to ski this winter, consider checking out one of these places.

1. Camelback

Located in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, Camelback has put extensive energy and investment into their learning programs, including a new terrain based learning area. The terrain in the beginner area is shaped and sculpted to allow learners to gain speed but then slow down on flat or slightly uphill sections, providing a better physical layout for people learning to slide on snow (think beginner skate park features on snow). Camelback's signature program is the Explorer Card, which allows learners to take three days of lessons (with equipment rental and beginner area lift ticket), and offers discounts on future visits. The program has been very successful in bringing brand new skiers and riders, as well as lapsed participants, to the snow.

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Photo Credit: Camelback Mountain Resort

2. Mt. Bachelor

Connecting local residents of Bend, Oregon with snow sports is one of the missions of the learning center at Mt. Bachelor. They don't want you to come snowboarding once and check it off your bucket list -- they want you to come back again and again. The resort's award-winning program, Learn to Ski or Ride in 5, is a five-day package including lesson, equipment, and lift ticket. Making it convenient and removing the hassle barriers is one of the hallmarks of this program. "Our Ski and Ride in 5 program provides special VIP parking passes so beginners can park up front for easier access to the rental shop and slopes," noted Andy Goggins, Director of Marketing and Communications at Mt. Bachelor. Graduates of the learning program receive a free season pass (for kids and teens) or 12-day pass (for adults). The discounts continue in subsequent years as well, making this program one of the strongest for commitment to multi-year beginner success.

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Photo Credit: Mt. Bachelor

3. Wachusett

The hometown hill for many Boston-area snow riders, Wachusett has a variety of programs and lessons for all ages and abilities. The most popular is Learn to Turn, a customizable program that offers one to three days on the snow, while the Return to Learn program is targeted at those who used to ski and want to get back into it. Recently retired Director of Snow Sports Bruce McDonald credits Wachusett's success to their instructors. "We want the instructors to have fun with their class and we have the best beginner terrain. Once a person is having fun the learning is easy," explains McDonald, who will still be around the resort teaching lessons from time to time this winter. The most distinctive aspect of Wachusett's learning center is that many of their signs and instructions are predominantly pictures, because so many of their beginner customers do not speak English. Similarly, their online videos have no dialog or voiceover, only a few printed words at the bottom of each scene. "A picture is worth a thousand words," notes McDonald. All customers can understand what to do ahead of time to prepare for their day on the slopes and know where to go once they get to Wachusett.

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Photo Credit: Wachusett Mountain Ski Area

4. Boreal

An emphasis on the long-term progress of beginners is also a focus of the learning center at Boreal, located just off Interstate 80 east of Sacramento. Their primary learn-to program, called, "Take 3 Ride Free," gives beginners the opportunity to take three lessons, after which they earn a free season pass. They also offer a unique program that starts indoors at their Woodward Camp area, working on the tumble floor, trampoline, and park skis and boards before moving out to the snow. The biggest positive of the learning programs at Boreal, though, is the people. "We hire the right people who love the sport and enjoy sharing their passion with everyone," commented snow sports school director Nate Ellis. "Customer service is a main focus and huge part of why we are the best place to learn skiing and snowboarding in Tahoe."

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Photo Credit: Boreal

Learning to ski and snowboard is certainly more fun and less intimidating than it used to be. So get out there and learn something new, and soon you too will be day dreaming about your next sweet turns!

January is Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month! Treat yourself to a Beginner Package deal at any of more than 50 resorts across North America and you'll get a lesson, equipment rentals and a beginner lift ticket for a screaming deal. Get out there, learn to ski or snowboard, and have a blast!

This post originally appeared on the Liftopia blog.

By Dave Belin