The Unexpected Payoff of Private Ski Lessons
All Condé Nast Traveler offers are independently selected by our editors. If you book something through our links, we may receive an affiliate commission.
I grew up skiing all over the American West, mostly under gray skies and on the heavy, wet snow of Oregon and Washington, but with a few technicolor trips to Utah and California, where the combination of insane powder and sunshine blew my teens away . A move to New York City, two young children of their own, and, if I’m honest, a pretty solid snow snob mentality about a “hill” east of the Mississippi resulted in a 20 year hiatus from the sport. After moving to San Francisco three years ago, my husband, who grew up in downhill racing, decided and I decided it was time to get back on the skis and introduce our not-so-young children that was so important to our predecessors Child Lives.
Equipment technology has advanced exponentially in the years I haven’t been in the sport. The skis have changed from super long, thin sticks to their current parabolic iteration – wide, short and curvy. This change in shape made it so much easier to ski and ride well that when I first hit the slopes I was at the same level as I was when I stopped two decades ago. What was an equally surprising, but nowhere near as entertaining, discovery is the fact that after three years of skiing more since I was 21 than since I was 21, I’ve hit a total plateau (and I may feel worse).
My apparent inability to improve occurred last November while talking to a friend of a friend who works at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming. I reached out to them trying to decide if a family ski trip over the New Years Eve during COVID-19 was feasible and safe, and to reach the location of a mountain that I had never skied, that I knew about that he had some of the most technical runs in the U.S. She gave me her professional opinion on all of the COVID-19 precautions the resort had taken, as well as a local’s perspective on the restaurants taking the pandemic seriously (and a solid impact had). And then she suggested that I hire a combined private guide / instructor to introduce me to the mountain who could give me some pointers to get me past what I had seen as a chronic case of the Ski-Yips – that dreaded break improvement.
At first I rejected the idea. I grew up in a time, or maybe just a family, where you did the activities that you were naturally good at (kids didn’t get private pitching coaches; if you were a crappy pitcher, you got on played the correct field). The idea seemed indulgent. But in the end I decided to do it. I booked a private lesson for myself and then a day the guide would take my whole family. This turned out to be a fabulous decision for many reasons.
To start with, I didn’t waste a whole precious day of skiing. My guide was able to find the right ones for my level of ability. He took me to the less crowded parts of the mountain and took me on a short hike to get fresh powder; Kind of a taste of backcountry skiing, something I would have loved to try but didn’t really know where to start. These were perks that would have been welcome in normal times but were game changers while COVID-19. The more physical distance you have from others and the less time you spend around strangers, the better. The opportunity to skip the lift line was even more welcome, which gave me more time on the slopes – and kept me from fighting the thoroughly human impulse to put the person in front of me in line.