Ski school guide: How to choose the right ski lessons

Ski school can really add to the success and enjoyment of your family ski vacation, but lessons are usually more expensive than your ski lift tickets. Before making such an investment, know what type of ski school is right for your kids (or you!) and be smart about choosing the right ski lessons. We’ve tried just about every type, and break it down for you here:

smuggs adult lessons

Group ski lessons:

A group lesson is the most common type of ski school experience. Kids or adults are grouped by ability level (best as instructors can guess) in groups of up to 8-10. Ski instructor to student ratios vary, but you’ll want to find group lessons in the 1:4 or 1:6 ratio level. Group lessons are the most affordable, but you get what you pay for, in most cases. The larger group size means less individualized attention for your kids, and therefore a slower learning curve. However, some kids enjoy being with a larger group. The best group lessons we’ve experienced have been at Big White Ski Resort, British Columbia, where ability levels are clearly defined.

Cost: Expect to pay $90-$250 for full-day group lessons, lunch included.

Small group ski lessons:

Small group lessons are often restricted to four or fewer students, and otherwise mimic group lessons. Booking a small group lesson can be just the boost you or your child needs to improve skills. The best small group lessons we’ve found are at Northstar California, called Ultimate 4.

Cost: Expect to pay $250-$350 for full-day small group lessons, lunch included.


Specialty lessons:

Specialty lessons can include adaptive lessons, snowboard-specific lessons, and any lessons utilizing the new ‘terrain-based learning’ style, where new skiers and snowboarders learn on various snow terrain elements on a largely flat surface. Our favorite speciality lesson is the Burton Snowboard Academy, offered at select Vail Resorts. After just one day with the academy, our son Tobias was linking up to 100 turns on green and blue terrain, and after two lessons, he became a solidly intermediate snowboarder. Burton Snowboard Academy is available as a private lesson experience, or an Ultimate 4 experience. Sierra-at-Tahoe also offers a specialty snowboard experienced, called Burton Star Wars.

Cost: Expect to pay between $160-$335 for full-day specialty lessons, lunch and rentals included.



Private lessons or guides:

Most people assume private lessons are too costly. They are expensive, but what many don’t realize is that depending on the program, 3-6 people can be booked on one private lesson. This means the whole family (or all the kids) may be able to spend the day together, with a personal instructor. Some families choose to make this day a learning experience, while others simply enjoy having a private guide for the day. Either way, having a private lesson means front-of-the-line access at chair lifts and expert navigation of the mountain. The best private lesson we’ve experienced was at Keystone Mountain, where our guide Mack took Tobias and me to gladed runs, kat-accessed terrain, and hidden stashes. 

Cost: Expect to pay between $550-$850, excluding lift tickets and rentals.


Season-long lessons:

The absolute best way to learn to ski or snowboard is also the most affordable. Multi-day lesson packages range from just 3-4 Saturdays in a row to 6-8 weekends spanning the ski season, and offer consistency and unparalleled skill development. How to find them: at big mountain resorts, you’ll find multi-day lessons under ‘specialty’ (confusing, I think). At smaller resorts, season-long lessons are usually more prominently advertised, as ‘learn to ski’ packages. Not sure where to go? Start with regional ski associations, such as Ski PA in the Poconos. All packages and deals are listed there in the same place. Pair season-long lessons with a season pass for the best value. Tip: Our kids learned to ski expertly in an alpine racing program. Racing is fun for kids, and teaches valuable ski skills that go beyond racing days.

Cost: Expect to pay between $350-$800 per season, depending greatly on the size of resort.

Mt. Shasta Ski Park

For the other ski experts out there: where did you learn to ski? How about your kids?