“Are we interested in skiing or snowboarding today?” smiles Blue Mountain’s greeter, James Webb, to a group of young men who have entered the Badlands Rental building looking a bit bewildered by the activity and crowds gathering up boards and skis for the day.

After Webb guides them through the four-step process – registering on one of the various computers, entering their payment information, picking up their boots, and getting their board or skis – they’re looking more comfortable about entering into the fun – but sometimes intimidating world of alpine sports.

The process for a beginner or even an “experienced renter” at Blue Mountain is extremely streamlined. It provides ingénues with all the information and appropriate, well-fitted equipment, to make sure their first, second, or even tenth time on the hill will always be a good one.

Ski instructor, Pam Visutski, has been teaching at Blue Mountain’s Snow School for nine years (in her 21-year career in snow business). “The number one fear people have is hurting themselves,” she says. Her colleague, snowboard instructor Steve Albert, nods in agreement.

Steve, who has been teaching snowboarding for 16 years (practically since its inception as a sport), adds “It’s the feeling of not being in control that scares people.  Both feet are locked in – in an unnatural position (particularly with snowboarding).

“Which is why,” he adds, “its particularly important for starting boarders (and skiers) to get professional instruction.” – something Blue Mountain prides themselves on providing for all ages and all levels.

Steve Albert speaks from experience – having taught himself how to board about 20 years ago – when snowboard instruction simply was not available. “It was painful and difficult,” he laughs, but adds “Today, snowboard instruction is at just as high a level as skiing is.”

The Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors (CASI) works in conjunction with the Canadian Ski Instructors Association (CSIA) to share ideas in teaching, as the basic biomechanics are similar, says Visutski.

The “Discover Ski and Snowboard” program at Blue Mountain includes your equipment, lift ticket and an hour of instruction for $74 – which is more affordable (and smarter) than renting your own skis, buying a lift ticket, and having a friend teach you – along with the bad habits they’ve acquired over the years.

As crowds of beginners pour into the snow school foyer, some are still deciding whether to try snowboarding or skiing as they may have heard it’s easier to start with one versus the other. Visutski explains that while it’s less tricky for a new skier to get mobility quickly (i.e. move down the beginner hill), a snowboarder is much more likely to get to an intermediate hill before that skier – due to the different learning curves.

“The learning curve on a snowboard increases once they’re up,” Albert agrees. So they don’t try to convince a student to try one or the other, but simply let them go with their own preference.

The Blue Mountain Snow School offers a “staged” teaching approach, which takes students through a five step process: (1) Mobility/Equipment knowledge, (2) Gliding, (3) Turning, (4) Linked Turns, (5) Advancing Terrain.

“Advancing Terrain” is not a stage for a snowboarder to “pass,” explains Albert, as “any snowboarder can just side slip down the trickiest terrain while a skier has to have the ability and technique to get down it.”

“As a skier, you can’t snowplough down everything!” he says. Students could pass through these stages in an hour or it may take them weeks of lessons. It depends on their athleticism, balance, co-ordination, confidence and experience. A whole host of factors come into play. For beginners who return to the mountain, it does allow them to take up where they left off and not feel under- or over-challenged.

While taking the lessons and advancing through the stages is important, both Visutski and Albert emphasize that just like with anything else, you have to practice in between the lessons to see any real improvement.

They also agree it’s important for more advanced skiers and boarders to return to a lesson every once in a while. “Some people are just working much too hard,” says Albert. “A lesson can help them do things easier and feel more in full control again.”  Visutski agrees, “We all slip into what’s comfortable, and habits are easy to form. They’re not wrong, but they’re not the most efficient way to get down the mountain.”

Too often, Visutski sees what she calls “Sweaty Betty” or a student who hasn’t checked the weather forecast or factored in that they will be spending a lot of time standing and getting to know the skis.

Dressing warmly enough is also a concern. Here’s a hint – jeans do not make good ski pants.

Can you be too young or too old to start? Not according to these two pros. “I’ve taught a two year old boy who didn’t speak any English all the way up
to an 84-year old woman trying skiing for the first time.” Visutski says proudly.

Albert has taught snowboarding to people ages three to 70.

Snapping on her helmet and heading out, Visutski says, “Anyone can learn.” GL

This article first appeared in The Good Life and can be found at this link: http://www.goodlifemississauga.com/106-gl-2011/bluemtn.html

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