In the past 80 years, Eastern Massachusetts has been home to numerous ski hills that enjoyed a reputation as excellent “learner hills.” Lean winters and harsh economic realities have claimed many, but five remain: Ski Bradford in Haverhill, Blue Hills Ski Area in Canton, Nashoba Valley in Westford, Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, and Ski Ward in Shrewsbury.
These hills allow beginner skiers and snowboarders, young and old alike, the opportunity to try those sports without driving hours to the larger resorts to the north or the west. All five have excellent “beginner terrain,” or the gentle, undulating slopes that aren’t intimidating to neophytes. Add solid grooming crews, dedicated to making sure the snow pack is smooth and in good shape, and you’ve got most of the ingredients needed to start your adventures on the hill.
“Beginners tend to be apprehensive when it comes to hitting the slopes, both . . . a first-time skier as well as the skier that hasn’t been actively skiing for several years,” said Nancy Byrne, snowsports director at Nashoba Valley. “They benefit greatly with an instructor to put them at ease with a lesson that is appropriate for their age, level, and personal goals.
Instructors play the role of slope-side security blanket, putting nervous students at ease while providing the necessary understanding and experience to tackle more difficult trails.
“Some students worry about going too fast or losing control,” said Byrne. “They tend to forget that they are the one’s ‘driving’ their skis and controlling their speed. Lessons can definitely establish confidence and dispel this notion that the skis are doing things ‘on their own.’”
Finding the right ski instructor is important. While friends might be willing, and even able, to fill that role, your best bet is hiring a professional.
“We’re trained to communicate – verbally and visually – the necessary building blocks for a lifetime of participation,” said Lettie Trespasz, the Blue Hills ski school director. “The order in which these are taught make learning easier as well as more enjoyable and safe.
“We do what we do because we love it, and that enthusiasm is infectious,” he said. “Working with an instructor who has been trained to share their love in a way that creates success and fun, in a safe environment, is so much more enjoyable than learning from a friend who can only show you what they do.”
Of course, the instruction has to be good. These local areas all have ski schools certified by the Professional Ski Instructors of America and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors, which ensure a standardized level of the instruction.
Next, make sure you come to the lessons with an accurate assessment of your own abilities. That will help the instructors recommend the best gear and correct class for you.
“Be honest with your information when asked, beginning with the rental department,” said Trespasz. “Safety comes with honest answers about height, weight, shoe size, and personal athletic ability. This is how ski length is determined. Skis that are too long are difficult to maneuver. Skis that are too short feel squirrelly underfoot. Plus, bindings are set to release based on weight and ability.
“Classes are organized around past athletic experience and lateral skills to create cohesive classes with students who move or learn at a similar pace,” he said. “Lower your expectations. You’re safer on the flattest terrain available moving at a speed you can control.”
The next question to consider is whether you prefer a group or private lesson.
“I personally don’t have a preference,” said Byrne. “However, sometimes a customer is better suited for one rather than the other.”
For example, group lessons might appeal to visual learners.
“A group lesson will give the customer a chance to watch others attempting the same task,” said Byrne. “Some of us learn better from watching than listening. A group lesson also is a bit more social. Group lessons don’t put you on the spot, and many beginners like that.”
A private lesson “would be better suited for the customer looking for that personal attention,” she said. “They might have more specific goals that require the full attention of the instructor.”
Lessons also include the newest equipment and newest techniques. That can be particularly helpful to someone returning to the slopes after an extended hiatus.
“Instruction on skiing or snowboarding evolves just as much as the equipment has progressed over the years,” said Michael Privitera, director of snowsports at Ski Bradford. “Up-to-date instruction on either sport is key to progression. Our instructors train with the most up-to-date teaching methods from our training staff and are knowledgeable in different approaches for different individual students.”
Finally, take your newfound skills and apply them on the hill. Repeatedly.
“Beyond the first lesson, think mileage,” said Trespasz. “Mileage is the combination of time and practice on easy terrain. Take your next lesson when you feel a plateau develop and when you feel you’re ready for the next pitch or increased speed.”For details on individual ski schools, including the wide variety (and price range) of private and group lessons, contact the ski areas. If you have an idea for the Globe’s “On the Move” column, contact correspondent Brion O’Connor at email@example.com. Please allow several weeks advance notice.