My experience is a bit odd, I went skiing for the first time without any lessons, just went with a buddy who taught me how to “pizza” and how to “hot dog”, and just made sure I got down the mountain. I was lucky–I fell several times without any huge event. When I learned how to snowboard I took lessons, and the difference was night and day. If you are interested in getting into skiing, I highly recommend lessons.
It is possible to ski without lessons, but a skilled teacher can give you challenges to match your skill level so you will progress more quickly and more safely (for yourself and others) than if you go out on skis without any instruction.
You might save a buck or two, but skiing without instruction can be dangerous. If not at worst life-threatening at best limb-threatening. The cost of knowing how to control your speed and some confidence is worth your time.
By the way, as an Amazon Associate, I earn when buying qualified products through links on my site.
Remember that lessons do not always have to come from a ski school. A family member or friend who skis particularly well might be just as helpful, at least at the start.
Should You Ski Without Lessons?
I’m not trying to be dramatic–when you first strap ski boots and skis to your feet and then hit the slopes with no instruction, you are actually dangerous to yourself and those around you. Even with the best intentions and natural athleticism in the world, if you are on a public ski slope in this condition, you’re going to cause other skiers to fall either because of you or literally over you.
Even worse is if you can’t stop and run into other people on their way down the mountain. Combining two fast objects on the mountain can be really bad.
This is extremely dangerous and a genuine possibility, as a person on skis can pick up speed quickly. Unless you know how to stop or turn, you will either hit a tree or other immovable object or careen into another skier.
Beginners are more at risk for injuries. These statistics (source) show that beginner skiers (and snowboarders) are the most susceptible to getting hurt. The key takeaway is this:
Any education you can get to prevent injury early in your skiing will be the best insurance policy possible so you can continue to enjoy the sport.
Does having lessons guarantee safe skiing? No more than driving lessons guarantee no accidents on the road, but you will undoubtedly be far better prepared for every aspect of skiing (Including stopping and falling).
Is Skiing Dangerous for Beginners?
Beginner skiers or snowboarders are 3 times more likely to get injured than expert skiers. (source)
Overall, the injury rate for skiers in this study was 1.1 injuries per 1000 skiers. So you have roughly a 1 in a 1000 chance of getting injured while skiing. You are at higher risk if you are a beginner.
For comparison (source), in the US in 2013, you had a 0.103 in 1000 chance of dying in a fatal car crash. Dying and becoming injured are two different things, but it does give some perspective.
Skiing is an extreme sport, and as such, there are certain inherent dangers, but like driving a car which is something most of us do, these dangers are minimized by instruction, information, and involvement, all of which are covered by a good ski school.
The statistics show (source), actually, that snowboarding injuries are more common for beginners than skiing. So if you’re hoping to find the safer of the two, then skiing is actually a better choice. At least for beginners.
Ski School or Ski Buddies?
Family members and friends will be able to show you the basics if they are proficient skiers, and they will probably be able to get you to snow-plow or “pizza” (a basic form of stopping) and how to do basic turns. You can learn how to get down an easy slope within a single day of instruction or it could take a few more days, depending on your aptitude.
Some people pick up skiing and snowboarding really quickly, while others take more time. In my ski class there were some that always fell behind and didn’t progress quickly while others picked up the techniques quickly and crashed less. Which one are you? You really don’t know until you get on the slopes.
Remember, though, even the best skiers cannot share the knowledge they have gleaned after years on the slopes, especially in just a couple of minutes of instruction. Because of this I would suggest that you consider taking ski lessons from day one.
How Many Days Of Ski Lessons Do I Need If I’m A Beginner?
If your skiing ambitions are to make it down the easy slopes (blue or green depending on where you are), then a couple of days of lessons will be enough to get you down safely.
If, however, you want to go down a black diamond or otherwise expert slopes, two weeks of instruction can make a lot of sense.
If you just are skiing one time, at the bare minimum make sure that you are taught to stand without falling, stop without injuring others or yourself, and basic snow-plow turns at least. This will take you as little as a couple of hours to figure out.
Can You Afford to Ski Without Lessons?
It may seem expensive to get ski lessons–I’m one of those frugal types and so I get that 100%. However, this might help your perspective a bit:
- Cost of Injury: Even if it’s just a sprained wrist or a minor bone break, you have to go for several weeks of not doing anything. It’s never as fun to have a cast or crutches as it looked when you were a kid. On top of that you have a medical bill to worry about. Taking lessons can help prevent injuries.
- Ski lessons are a one-time cost: You don’t have to pay a subscription fee, once you’ve taken the class, you’re done.
- You have a higher chance to enjoy your lift pass: The lift pass in Northstar at Tahoe is $104 per day. The lift pass is the same cost for a beginner as it is for an experienced skier, and the same applies to equipment, transport, accommodation, meals, etc. You have a higher chance of enjoying your time if you know what you’re doing.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Good Skier?
We all have different interpretations of what a good skier actually is, but here goes a basic timeline:
- Day One – You have difficulty carrying two skis and two poles as you approach the ski lift and keep swatting people in the face as you turn. Your feet ache from incorrectly-sized boots, and your skis seem far too long, and no, you can’t cut a bit off.
Exiting the ski lift takes a while as some beginners leave the seat too early or jump off too late, causing a literal pile-up!
The bunny slope where your lesson is taking place appears flat until you stand on it and then ‘fly’ downhill like a crazy person. (It is flat, and you’re barely moving!)
You learn to do the snow-plow (or pizza slice) as a means of stopping and go home proud as punch.
- Day Two – You arrive late, having changed your boots for the correct size, and fewer people fall off the ski lift, so the day seems brighter. The pizza slice went moldy during the night, and you keep crossing your skis, but by lunchtime, you are growing in confidence. Sure, you slid over the skis of three people in the food queue, but the instructor said you were ready for the blue run.
- Day Three – After going to a red run in error yesterday, you are bruised from sliding most of the way down on your backside. Still, you’re immensely proud of the way you returned to the top and managed a few snow-plow stops on a second run before descending like a caterpillar for the rest of the slope.
Today you learn to convert the snow-plow into a turn by shifting your weight and pushing out to one side, and you do your first 180-degree turn, promptly blowing your mind. Life is good, and you find yourself smiling a lot.
- Days Four to Six – Ski lift phobia is a thing of the past, and you spend the next three days practicing your turns and stops and fall a lot less in the mornings. Your skis haven’t crossed for hours.
Your afternoons are spent perfecting skills on a blue run and then challenging yourself on a red run, where you still fall just as much. The funny thing is…you just don’t mind.
By now, you are a skier and far better than anyone who started with you but never bothered with lessons, and you can cope with a red run (intermediate) quite comfortably. You already feel superior to mere mortals on the blue slopes and mentally cancel summer vacation plans for the future.
Do you stay and continue with lessons? You are a decent skier after one week of hard work but will be far better after the second week of the same, but of course, after that, it is time to return home to work or studies for most of us.
I suggest that you take lessons for two weeks and push your boundaries every afternoon after class. Next time you return to the slopes, do a one-week intermediate course that will lift you from a competent skier to a better one.
Are Lessons Offered to Older Skiers?
Sure thing. Seniors often focus more attentively than other adults at ski school. Brittle-bone concern? In Europe, over 3% of the alpine (downhill) skiers are 80 years of age or above. Indeed, most of them have been skiing for 75 or more of those years, but if you are healthy and reasonably fit, you can learn to ski.
Caveat – If you have knee issues from rugby or football, I recommend seeking the advice of a doctor before trying skiing for the first time. There is a lot of bobbing up and down in skiing, and your knees will take a pounding. (knees are the #1 cause of injury for skiing as per this study)
How Old Do Kids Have To Be To Attend Lessons?
Children on the ski slopes in Europe can often ski before they can walk. These little ankle-biters come bombing down the hill, leaving beginners terrified for their safety as they fly by. Ironic, eh? Most ski schools will accept children from three years of age, but more and more now take one-year-olds.
Be prepared to spend more money for younger kids. For example, at the Sundance Ski Resort in Utah, kids 3-5 are required to take private lessons.
Pivotal Tips For Beginner Skiers
I learned these the hard way–here are some tips so you have the best chances of enjoying your time:
- Avoid borrowing equipment if possible. Rent or buy and ensure you get the correct sizes.
- Fasten your boots as tightly as you can comfortably manage. Loose boots are going to cause a fall and possibly an injury. Most new skiers make this mistake, but usually only once. Too tight, and your feet will throb from beginning to end.
- Wear a light base layer, a warm mid-layer and a waterproof shell. If it’s too hot you can adjust your layers but it’s always important to keep that waterproof outer shell.
- Consider wearing a helmet. Not mandatory, but you should really think about it. Helmets are proven to reduce injury. The faster you go the more important helmets become.
- Take lessons as discussed
- Avoid skiing alone, particularly when you ski cross-country
- Carry water and energy snacks –Want to know how to carry water? Make sure to check out our post on the subject.
- Wear goggles, regardless of the weather.
- Be aware of what level slope you are on and ski accordingly. (Don’t dive down a bunny slope or snow-plow on a black diamond)
- Never pause just over the crest of a hill.
- Skiers in front of, or below you on a hill, have the right of way.
Private Lessons or Group Lessons For Skiing?
Group lessons are cheaper and can be very effective if you’re fortunate to have all members of the group at a similar skill level. If you have a few people who are really struggling, the instructors time will be dominated by them.
You run the risk of not getting the kind of instruction you need for your particular skill level in a group lesson.
I have personal experience with lessons as a group, and the group instructor has a huge challenge of giving everybody customized feedback one by one. This means you’ll get instructions as a group, and then the teacher will go to each student one by one and help everyone internalize the lesson.
This may or may not work for you. If you are naturally athletic, you might be able to get all you need with the group instruction and are able to figure out the rest on your own.
My friend who has had private ski lessons had this to say about it:
Unless you join a large ski school with the facilities to move students between classes of different standards according to their daily growth, group lessons might be tricky. You see, with varying levels of fitness, ages, and sporting aptitudes in every group, there is no single curriculum possible.
Add to this the possibility of different languages, concentration levels, personalities, etc., and you have the potential for disaster. An adult in his 50s will not be keen to learn with a young child, perhaps, and an overweight mother may feel intimidated by a group of energetic young men in the group.
Suppose the school is big enough and well organized. In that case, students will be reclassified after either the first or the second day of lessons to increase the potential for success for each student and make the experience a pleasant one for all.
No one wants to hold the group up as they battle to conquer a movement, and conversely, no one wants to feel they are being kept back because of another student’s lack of progress.
Private lessons or family lessons are other options: These can be quickly adapted to gel with the levels of all concerned and are usually limited – in the case of a family – to the members of one family only.
Private lessons are by far the best of all as they provide the student with the instructor’s full attention and leave the student with no room to hide. The only downside is the lack of social interaction that would exist in a larger group. That said, ski slopes are a great place to meet new friends, often by assisting them or by being helped in turn.
Special Needs Skiers
People with special needs can often benefit from skiing and should consider adaptive lessons. These Adaptive lessons are great for anyone who has a physical or cognitive disability and are often offered at an affordable rate.
You normally receive one-on-one instruction, and benefits vary between ski resorts, and some mountains including rentals, lift tickets, and occasionally, buddy lift tickets for a family member or caregiver. The lessons generally include any specialized equipment that may be needed and are explicitly tailored to the skier’s individual needs.
How to Save Money on Ski Lessons
Since we all know that skiing is an expensive hobby, let’s try to trim the fat and save some of the money:
- Book lessons in advance to save.
- Ski in off-peak times wherever possible and plan your lessons accordingly.
- Take advantage of the January National Learn to Ski packages and promotions.
- Consider private family lessons to get the most benefit from private lessons.
- Buy a week’s worth of lessons at a time rather than paying the daily rate. Instructors would much rather have a student for a more extended period and will price accordingly.
- Consider signature programs like women’s programs or focused learning programs offered by some resorts.
- If offered, take a free mountain tour if you are an intermediate or advanced skier, learn about the mountain in more detail, and note any problem areas. It’s not quite the same as a lesson, but it’s a great way of planning your route.
- Compare the costs. Full-day lessons might be cheaper per hour than those of a half-day nature, saving you money over time with no loss of input.
- Use lessons strategically during peak ski times to skip the lift lines to maximize your time on the mountain.
Ski lessons are not a waste of time or money – they are a path to thousands of wonderful, fun hours in the snow.
This is a somewhat lengthy story from a friend of mine who has had more skiing experience than me:
I have a paraglider license and am a scuba Divemaster, and I rate skiing as just as important as the first two concerning lessons. All three sports can be extremely dangerous, so why increase your chances of being maimed or hurting someone else by avoiding lessons?
I was backpacking through Europe with very little in my threadbare wallet when the chance of going skiing presented itself, and I dived right in. I paid for a 14-day trip to Mayrhofen in Austria, where I skied the Zillertal area, but with all of the off-piste snow there, I could never have done it without lessons.
It was my first time on snow, and our group all decided on lessons, some for six days, others (myself included) for 12 days, despite the cost. Do it once and do it correctly – that was my philosophy. The Instructors were incredibly experienced, some having skied for the National team and others who worked for Mountain Rescue.
We had lessons from 08h00 to noon and then spent the afternoon away from the school, practicing what we had learned. Classes were at different skill levels, and by the second day, people were being shifted around to ski with other students of the same level.
Boring was not a word that came up, and as we became more and more competent, our instructors would broaden our horizons with increasingly challenging tasks. By the second week, our group was spending time off-piste (powdered snow, sometimes two to three feet deep), and the 12th and final school day came all too soon.