By Hilary DelRoss
It’s never too late or too early to learn to turn on Vermont’s world-class, beginner terrain. Whether your goal is to try a new sport, hone a new skill, keep up with the kids or introduce friends and family to your favorite cold-weather pastime, you can find the right beginner program in Vermont.
It was a combination of each of these goals and the proximity to excellent beginner programs that propelled me into the unknown. Most of us don’t pick up winter sports in hopes of fame, fortune or gold medals. We become enthusiasts because of the thrill and fun of sliding on snow.
Everyone has a story of how they got started. This is mine.
Learning How to Snowboard From the Ground Up
I first learned to snowboard as a young adult after graduating college. With a car full of friends in tow, I commuted from my shiny new desk job in the city to the mountains of northern New England each weekend to get reacquainted with nature after four years of urban exploration. Sure, I had been on the snow before. I had skied some as a child by following my dad around our small local ski hill. This will be no problem, I thought. But by the time I got back on the snow as an adult, I had lost my ski legs. With my new freedom from school and weekends away from the office, I was determined to find them again.
It took a while. My friends had been skiing and snowboarding for years and boasted about how they had learned to ride. They never took lessons. They had learned from watching older siblings or had grown up just goofing around and eventually — over the years — picked it up, they told me.
To be fair, the lessons that were offered back then were not as robust as the programs available now. In my naive young mind, I assumed it would come as naturally to me on my first day as it had for my friends who grew up submerged in the culture. I spent lots of hours on the ground that first season, but after many weekends struggling my way down the easy trails, I learned to turn — and my love affair with winter was reignited.
I’ve been happily snowboarding for 10 years since that fateful first season on a board. The sport has taken me on epic adventures, initiated many great friendships and even helped foster my career. Most recently it planted a seed and inspired me to try a new sport and further deepen my love of winter. Now that I live in Vermont and have the expertise of all the ski area instructors close at hand, I was determined to shorten the learning curve this time around. I enrolled in ski school.
Learning to snowboard, and then sticking with it, was one of the best decisions I’d ever made. Taking ski lessons turned out to be a great decision too. From the moment I arrived and put on the boots for the first time in 20 years, I connected with the ski community in a new way.
As a beginner, this time around, I became a student again.
For the Love of Learning
The patience and dedication of ski school and rental staff are rivaled by none. I was in a group of clueless, nervous beginners, and we didn’t know how to get our feet properly buckled into our boots, never mind the awkward stumbling around afterward.
The staff patiently helped fit us into our boots and explained why they were designed to be so unwieldy — they were for skiing, not walking, of course! They showed us the right technique for moving around in them (we actually practiced walking on a carpeted obstacle course) and they helped us store our extra layers and street shoes in lockers before heading out on the snow. At this point, we had mastered only the boots. See what I mean about patience?
Next up, stepping into bindings, holding on to poles and maintaining balance. I was nervous about my form and feeling some anxiety regarding the decision I had made to switch stances. I was used to wearing more forgiving boots and standing sideways — what was I thinking? My instructors put me and the rest of the hesitant group at ease by explaining concepts and practicing movements until the group was ready to progress as a whole. No one got left behind. I may be slow, but at least I was steady by the time we started sliding.
During the first few lessons I felt lucky that I was already competent on snow, but I don’t think my overall experience would have been any different without my snowboarding background.
Sticking With It
After just one season, my ski legs are coming back, but I’m not as good at skiing yet as I am at snowboarding. I often stumble and tumble (and laugh out loud at myself sometimes), but I’m confident on the green trails and I enjoy pushing myself on the blues.
I knew that I would continue skiing after my lessons ended, so I chose the beginner program at Killington Resort that gave a new pair of skis to everyone who completed four lessons. Killington even offered discounts on new boots and a season pass so I could continue practicing my new skills.
At the end of my last lesson, I skied off into the proverbial sunset and told everyone who would listen about the benefits of taking lessons versus striking out on your own or trying to get pointers from friends.
I was converted and happy to spread the word, one family at a time.
My expert snowboarder friend signed his kids up for the children’s program at Pico Mountain. Other beginner friends of mine saw my success with lessons and signed themselves up for private lessons at Mount Snow Resort. My co-workers and I switched sports for the day (the skiers learned to snowboard and the snowboarders skied) in lessons at Smugglers’ Notch Resort.
After a 30-year hiatus from winter sports, my parents got on board, too. My family took lessons together at Sugarbush Resort, and we now have another activity to enjoy together. I am also lucky to have many friends in Vermont who are ski and snowboard instructors, and I was able to spontaneously pick their brains while we skied and rode together at Jay Peak Resort, Middlebury College Snow Bowl and Bolton Valley. I had such a great experience learning the skills required to tackle a new sport that I continue to explore new activities paired with professional instruction. For example, I learned to mountain bike over the summer at one of Vermont’s cross-country areas, Catamount Outdoor Family Center, where I had an equally rewarding experience.
Imagine you are in a group of strangers converging on the mountain early in the morning to tackle a challenge that’s outside your comfort zone. You know that on the other side of the class you will gain so much more than a new set of skills. You will discover your love of winter, too, and have a story of your own to tell about how it all started back during your first lesson.
Learn to Turn
Are you new to skiing and snowboarding, or do you know someone who is? Ski Vermont and Vermont resorts offer fun Learn to Turn programs and deals for you, your friends and everyone in the family.
Because friends don’t let friends sit inside all winter.
January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month nationwide, and there is no better place to learn a new winter sport than in its original state. For just $29, beginners in Vermont can rent equipment, gain access to beginner terrain, and take a lesson from a professional instructor. This offer is available throughout January (except holidays) and lessons must be reserved in advance at skivermont.com/learn. Limit one per person.
Had a blast your first day? These resorts offer stellar incentives for completing their multi-day programs:
Bolton Valley: After the third lesson, learners get a Learn to Love It card, entitling them to 50 percent off full-day lift tickets, lessons and full-day rentals for the rest of the season.
Bromley Mountain Resort: Start Fun, Start Free is a great Bromley Mountain program. Beginners to the sport are invited to join the Bromley Ski & Snowboard School this winter on December 21, 2014, January 19, 2015, or March 15, 2015. Bromley will offer 75 completely free spots to beginner skiers and snowboarders on these three days. Participants will receive a Learning Zone lift ticket, equipment and instruction. Ages 6 and up; must register in advance.
Killington Resort: Adults enrolled in Killington’s 4-day Discovery programs receive free Elan skis or a Burton snowboard, with mounted bindings, prior to completing their fourth lesson. Then, those who want to further hone their new skills with additional consecutive days on the slopes can continue learning with the MORE Discovery program discounts on ski and stay packages.
For kids ages 4–6, Ministar Discovery Camps offer four consecutive full-day lessons, equipment, lift tickets and lunches. At the end of the program, new skiers keep their boots and Elan skis. Plus, every Ministar Discovery Camp enrollment includes a complimentary adult lift ticket to be used each day in conjunction with the program. Inventory is limited.
Sugarbush Resort: Follow up your $29 January Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month lesson with the First Timer to Life Timer program at Sugarbush Resort. Learners who finish three lessons in the First Timer program get a free Sugarbush all-mountain season pass for the rest of the season.