Innovations in Learn to Ski and Snowboard Programs

Ask people to describe their first day on skis or a snowboard and you'll likely get a variety of adjectives: exciting, fun and thrilling, but also scary, frustrating and intimidating.
04/09/2014 02:19 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Ask people to describe their first day on skis or a snowboard and you'll likely get a variety of adjectives: exciting, fun and thrilling, but also scary, frustrating and intimidating. Ski area managers and snow sports school directors would rather hear their newest customers utter the first group of words, and the hottest way to get that reaction is an innovation called Terrain Based Learning (TBL). This approach is one of several new ideas to get people hooked on snow sports.

Terrain-Based Learning

The concept behind TBL is to use gravity and sculpted snow to help beginners steer and slow down, setting them up for a greater chance of success. Greater success results in feelings of accomplishment and when people feel accomplished, they tend to have more fun and want to return to do it again. A no-brainer, right? But if it were easy, every ski area would be doing it.

It turns out, implementing TBL at a ski area is an intensive and continuous process. The snow in the learning area has to be groomed and shaped on a daily basis to create the features that help promote the skills and body positions of skiing and snowboarding. Rather than the traditional learning terrain that is either flat or gently pitched, a TBL teaching area has ramps, banked turns, camel humps, rollers, a mini-halfpipe going across the hill (rather than down the hill), and other features that allow a beginner to move with gravity rather than fight against it.

PHOTO: Boston Herald

All the features are designed to get learners to feel the sensation of speed and then to slow down, so they don't end up in the parking lot.

"The terrain greatly reduces any fear when sliding for the first time. Beginners get to experience 'high level' movements and sensations while sliding," said Tony Keller, Snowsports School Director at

Ben Wilcox, general manager of Cranmore Resort in New Hampshire, agrees. "Students immediately have enjoyed mastering terrain features, which in turn has built confidence and enjoyment," Wilcox commented.

PHOTO: Jiminy Peak

Because beginners learn to get out of a defensive posture (braking wedge) more quickly and start making real turns on their skis or board, Camelback has "seen a significant increase in guests returning for third and even fourth lessons this season," noted Keller enthusiastically.

Many other ski areas have implemented TBL programs over the past season, including Jay Peak, Snowshoe, Jiminy Peak, and Bromley.

PHOTO: Camelback Resort

Terrain based learning isn't the only innovative program out there that helps you learn to ski and ride even easier. Here are a few more new ideas that ski areas have developed to inspire a love of sliding on snow.

Killington Ski Giveaway

Killington Resort is commonly known as "The Beast of The East," the biggest, baddest, rowdiest ski area on the East Coast. At the same time, Killington also has a longtime commitment to teaching new students how to ski and ride. Their latest advance toward this goal is a program that gives away free Elan skis after four lessons. The first 400 beginners that signed up for the program and completed four lessons were given a free pair of skis and bindings, the same type of skis they were learning on for those four lessons. Additionally, the lessons are capped at a maximum of five students per instructor. The program sold out before Christmas and has been hugely successful.

"As of March 13, 2013, we have had 86 percent of participants complete the program and walk away with brand new skis," noted Rob Megnin, VP of Marketing and Sales at Killington. He is so pleased with the response to the program that the resort is looking to continue it next winter.

PHOTO: Killington Resort

Free Programs

Many ski areas offer free or discounted "Learn to Ski" days or weeks. Some areas, however, have a section on their mountain that is always free for anyone to practice on their own. Nubs Nob in Michigan has a 12-acre free beginner area serviced by a chairlift; it even has a mini-terrain park to practice your moves and tricks. At Alta Ski Area in Utah, the "Ski After Three" program provides free access to their three tow lifts and a $10 ticket to the Sunnyside, Albion, and Cecret lifts after 3 p.m. In the Southern Hemisphere, Treble Cone in New Zealand provides free lift access on the Nice 'n Easy surface lift for beginners to check out the gentle terrain before moving up to a lesson.

Indoor Training

Maybe starting out on your first day (or your kid's first day) with the cold, wind, and those pesky mittens that won't stay on are just a bit too much trouble. That's where indoor ski slopes come in. Practicing the first few days indoors on an artificial slope (in shorts and a t-shirt!) provides a great opportunity to get a few of the basics down before heading outside. Indoor slopes are also closer and less expensive than outdoor ski hills. Mini Mountain in Bellevue, WA and

"We teach the same fundamentals and skills as ski schools do," commented Brooks Crosby, owner of Shredder. "By developing and strengthening these fundamentals and continue to reinforce proper technique and skills, these kids will progress faster in [outdoor snowsports] schools."

PHOTO: Shredder Gym

PHOTO: Shredder Gym

All these programs and facilities make learning how to snowboard and ski easier than ever. Once the fun factor and level of success are seriously amped up, beginners are more likely to tell their friends how exciting their experience was, and return to keep skiing and snowboarding.

This post originally ran on the Liftopia blog.