On the Slopes with Ski Instructors

Learn From the Pros

Skiing and snowboarding are lifelong sports, relatively easy to learn but difficult to master. January is National Learn to Ski and Snowboard month and Ski City resorts offer deals on lessons for beginners and a menu of workshops and clinics for intermediate and advanced skiers who want to eliminate bad habits, learn new skills and up their ski and board game. Working on technique and practicing under the watch of an experienced teacher can make skiing less difficult, help you avoid injury and just plain make your time on the mountain more fun. We dropped into three of Salt Lake City’s famed resorts (Alta, Snowbird, Solitude) to talk with ski instructors about their love of the mountains and to gather a few pointers about getting down the mountain with grace and style.

SNOWBIRD

Name: Joey Stoeger

Age: 48

Resort: Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort

Years on skis: 46

Years at Snowbird: 23

Joey Stoeger Snowbird Instructor

Q: What is your favorite thing about teaching people to ski and/or snowboard?

A: I'm ultimately teaching people to have fun in the mountains. What's better than that?

Q: Why are you passionate about skiing and/or snowboarding?

A: I love to ski. I have skied my entire life and it gives me a sense of purpose.

Q: What’s special about Snowbird?

A: Snowbird's late founder Dick Bass's credo of mind-body-spirit. The snow and the terrain have an effect your wellbeing. Little Cottonwood Canyon gives me a feeling of connectedness.

Q: Why are lessons important, even for more experienced skiers?

A: You pay a lot of money for ski equipment; a good instructor can show you how to use your body to get the most performance from your gear. Improper technique can also be more hazardous to your body. You’re less likely to be injured and use a lot less energy with proper technique.

Q: What is your favorite part about teaching kids to ski and how early can they start learning?

A: Clearly seeing kids have fun and the feeling of freedom that they discover. I have two boys of my own and they started around age 2.

Q: What is the biggest mistake you see beginners make and how can they correct it?

A: Skiing is a counterintuitive sport. Beginning skiers sit back and use their upper body to turn. Skiers should take a lesson from a professional.

Q: What’s your favorite run at Snowbird?

A: At the end of the cirque traverse is a run called Lone Pine. Not only is it long and challenging, it has a great view of the canyon and valley.

SOLITUDE

Name: Mike Zakowski

Age: 46

Resort: Solitude

Years on skis and snowboard: 40

Years at Solitude: 25

Mike Zakowski Solitude Instructor

Q: What is your favorite thing about teaching people to ski and/or snowboard?

A: Seeing the smile when a timid or apprehensive beginner first realizes the control they have over the experience.

Q: Why are you passionate about skiing and/or snowboarding?

A: Every time I step into my skis or strap on my board on, I experience a combination of fun, excitement, challenge, and humiliation.

Q: What’s special about Solitude?

A: Solitude is an awesome mountain riddled with secret stashes and wide open cruising, and if you're willing to hike a few hundred yards the acreage opens up to keep you exploring for years.

Q: Why are lessons important, even for more experienced skiers?

A: There are some aspects to good skiing that are a bit counterintuitive and new skiers often pick up defensive movement patterns. Some of the best skiers still carry residue of these earliest experiences that inhibit progress; taking a lesson can help identify and change these patterns.

Q: What is your favorite part about teaching kids to ski and how early can they start learning?

A: It amazes me that we are wired to do this in the first place. Little kids however approach skiing as if its their birth right. That enthusiasm is contagious and we see it in kids who have barely mastered walking.

Q: What is the biggest mistake you see beginners make and how can they correct it?

A: Coming to the mountain with an agenda, some expectations that the experience will be like a glossy magazine cover all day. The best thing, especially for kids, is to carefully meter out the day to stay warm, energetic and keep things fun so that they always leave wanting more. In other words, take a lesson.

Q: What’s your favorite run at Solitude?

A: Powder laps through Vertigo on a slow stormy weekday in January.

ALTA

Name: Scott Mathers

Age: 53

Resort: Alta

Years on skis: 47

Years at resort: 28

Scott Mathers Alta Instructor

Q: What is your favorite thing about teaching people to ski and/or snowboard?

A: There is camaraderie to skiing and I enjoy bringing people into it. As an instructor you can create that camaraderie, especially at a place like Alta. It’s kind of a hardcore place and people want to be a part of that lifestyle.

Q: Why are you passionate about skiing and/or snowboarding?

A: Over time the things you can experience on skis keeps evolving. It’s not a stagnate sport; there’s always something new to try, something different to do. I mean you can only play basketball one way but think of all the ways people play on the snow.

Q: What is your favorite part about teaching kids to ski and how early can they start learning?

A: Kids are the purest skiers. They ski for the pure joy of it they don’t make judgments about it. Either it was fun or it wasn’t. Kids are really ready for class lessons at age 4 but if they are younger we offer private lessons where the parent comes with the child and we coach the parent on ways to teach their child. If you learn as a child you are going to be a skier for life, whereas that’s not always the case with adults.

Q: Why are lessons important, even for more experienced skiers?

A: We offer workshops that can really help you learn parts of skiing that even as someone who has been on skis for 20 years might avoid. Take bumps, one of the easiest things I can teach an experienced skiers is a better way to tackle moguls and it really improves their experience on the mountain.

Q: What is the biggest mistake you see beginners make and how can they correct it?

A: I’ve got three. The first one is that they let their friends teach them. Even if their friends are good skiers, they don’t understand the process of how to develop basic skills. Their buddies take them up to hard terrain too soon and then they get scared or feel frustrated. The second biggest mistake is that beginners get boots that are too big and they don’t have good control. It’s important to get boots that are very snug without being painful. And the third thing is that people don’t give skiing enough time to be really fun. It’s a complicated sport and takes more than one day to enjoy fully.

Q: What’s your favorite run at Alta?

A: My favorite run is Gun Sight. (ED-Gun Sight is not for beginners, or even intermediates. Take a lesson.)