How to Get the Most Out of Your Ski Clinic

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To see a compilation of clinics this year, from moguls to race to steeps, check out our clinic roundup.

So, you’ve enrolled in a ski lesson, workshop or clinic. We—and ski instructors everywhere—commend you. “A denial of the need for coaching equals a commitment to mediocrity,” says Weems Westfeldt, Director of Operations for Ski & Snowboard Schools of Aspen and Director of EpicSKI Academy. “We should all take the time to work on getting better before we spend too much time getting older.” And with 40 years of experience teaching ski clinics, Westfeldt has more than a few tips on how to get the most out of your ski clinic.

Most important, says Westfeldt, help your instructor help you get better by coming with clearly defined goals, a basic understanding of how you learn best, and of course, with all of the equipment and physical and mental stamina you’ll need to ski comfortably all day. We sat down with Westfeldt to get his take on how to get the most out of a ski lesson.

Set a realistic tone for your lesson.

Your instructor will probably ask what you’d like to accomplish during the lesson or clinic, and this is where your teamwork with him or her will begin. If you respond with a deer-in-headlights gaze, the instructor might lose confidence in you before you even get on snow. Come with a positive, open mind, but also have some specific goals ready for your instructor. There are no right or wrong goals, says Westfeldt. They can be anything you want. “Control in the trees, bumps, powder. Mastery of carving. Keeping up with the kids. Being in the mountains. Becoming a racer. Meet girls. Meet boys. It doesn’t matter; just have a reason to be there.”

That said, however, he’s quick to point out that “probably the best skiing goal is to learn to ski effectively, efficiently, and with versatility.” And be realistic: Don’t expect to turn into Phil Mahre overnight. He also adds that too often, skiers have an inaccurate view of their abilities. Beginners and intermediates tend to underestimate themselves, while advanced intermediates and experts overestimate their abilities. Being honest with yourself about your skill level ensures you’ll set realistic goals.

Determining your goals is the easy part. What’s harder is accepting the fact that there’s more to the lesson or clinic than your own ambitions. “You should ask for and demand focus on your personal goals, but also be prepared to shift that focus as you find there are other goals available to you in the sport,” says Westfeldt.

Pinpoint your learning style. And ask lots of questions.

A key to a good lesson or clinic experience is being paired with an appropriate instructor whose teaching style jives with your dominant learning style. This matchup needn’t be a luck-of-the-draw arrangement. Tell the booking agent at the ski school how you learn. Are you an auditory learner—do you respond better to verbal instruction? Or do you prefer visual direction—watching the instructor demonstrate something for you? If possible, ask to be placed with a PSIA-certified instructor, Westfeldt advises. The certification process requires instructors to demonstrate proficiency teaching to all learning styles.

When you meet your instructor for the first time, let him or her know what method of instruction works best for you, and throughout your lesson, make sure your learning needs are being met. If not, let your instructor know. For example, if you’re a visual learner, you might say, “That’s interesting. Can you show me that?” If you tend more toward a kinesthetic style: “Can I practice that?” Bottom line: ask a lot of questions. But, says Westfeldt, “Don’t get hung up or reliant on a single style. You may prefer one kind, but if you deny the others, you limit your scope.” According to Westfeldt, research has shown that an instructor’s ability to present and teach in a compelling manner is more important than his or her teaching syle.

“I once took a clinic from Steve Mahre,” Westfeldt recalls. “There were 20 students in the group. Steve would talk for 20 minutes, ski for one minute, and then repeat. I tend to be a doer. Did that matter? Not when Steve Mahre was the teacher.”

Things you should and shouldn’t do.

Being prepared for a lesson—being ready to learn—goes well beyond having the right equipment (more on that in a minute). You need to have the right mindset. Mental fortitude is often what sets great skiers apart, and it’s important at every level. Leave your work and home issues behind when you click into your bindings, says Westfeldt, and be a present learner. “Allow yourself to learn in a child-like way.” You’ve come to the mountain to get away, he says. Isn’t that the point of skiing anyway? To leave your worries behind?

Learning with a friend, family member, or spouse? Be ready and willing to separate if you are at different levels and/or have different learning styles. Westfeldt recalls that when he taught at Taos, N.M., spouses weren’t allowed to ski in the same lesson group because most husbands felt the need to translate everything the instructor said for their wives. Generally speaking, it’s better to learn without your spouse, friend, or family member.

If you can, it’s wise to achieve your best level of fitness before you get to the clinic. You’ll get more out of your first few days on the slopes if you don’t have to fight for oxygen. Furthermore, your fitness level will ultimately determine your ability to enjoy the sport. No matter your age, your fitness level will affect your risk of injury and your ability to improve. According to PSIA, the fundamental objective of snowsports is to maintain balance under dynamic conditions, so working on muscle strength, endurance, flexibility, and joint mobility is crucial. Alpine skiing tends to build strength disproportionately to flexibility and endurance. Understand and imitate the movements of skiing during your workouts.

Of course, coming to class prepared with the right gear is a must. That includes packing extra layers, alternate eye protection for changing light, and any other items you’ll need for a full day in the elements. As adults, we’re capable of coping without those things should we forget them, but one thing no one can cope with, says Westfeldt, are bad boots. Not only can they be uncomfortable, they can affect your ability to control your skis and, therefore, your ability to ski effectively, efficiently, and with versatility. If you’re renting, make sure you do so from a reputable shop, preferably one close to the hill in case you need to make adjustments.

With a little planning and a lot of mental preparation and open-mindedness, you can avoid a ski clinic misfire and instead boost your confidence in your skiing abilities. And you can be assured that after just one great day on the hill, the value of a successful ski clinic or lesson will most definitely reveal itself to you. Trust us.

To see a compilation of clinics this year, from moguls to race to steeps, check out our

clinic roundup

. Check out Weems Westfeldt's e-book "Brilliant Skiing, Every Day" online at



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