Teaching my kids to ski: A comparison of two ski schools

An instructor at Copper Mountain Ski & Ride School waits for the rest of his group near the top of Kokomo Lift.

By | Special to The Denver Post

COPPER MOUNTAIN — “Zenlana can ski a straight run and form a wedge with her skis,” read my 6-year-old daughter’s report card after her second day of group lessons at the Copper Mountain Ski & Ride School. “She was able to stop nine out of 10 times,” added her instructor, “and she rode the Kokomo lift twice!”

To show off her new skills, my daughter, who until the day before had never even clipped in, glided down the gentle slope to the schoolhouse entrance, turning once in her wedge and looking up at me with a big smile.

It looked like my plan was working.

The idea — to teach my children how to ski — was simple enough, and I’m sure fairly obvious to most Coloradans. But for various reasons (and excuses), we hadn’t done it yet. But I suddenly had the opportunity to sign up my two older children, ages 6 and 9, for a few days of ski school at Copper and Breckenridge, so I took it. I wanted them to learn the nuts and bolts from experts. Then, I’d take them up myself.

For the first time. This was new for me, and I tried to imagine our first chair lift together, then our first run, turning and giggling in an epic daddy-double-daughter milestone in our family’s history. Still, I had no idea how quickly they would progress or if they’d even be ready.

They would, said Joe Quarantillo, the Ski & Ride School Youth Manager at Copper, after I’d dropped them off. He pointed to their student to teacher ratio. “We have a guaranteed maximum class size of seven students to one instructor,” he said. This means less waiting around for your classmates and more direct attention from instructors than classes with 10 students per instructor, which happens at some resorts.

I was curious about the effect of pushing the ratio even farther, so after two days of skill-building at Copper, we drove around the corner to Breckenridge, where the Ski and Snowboard school offers an Ultimate 4 Ski Lesson guaranteeing no more than four students per teacher. It costs a premium — nearly twice as much as a group lesson elsewhere — but some parents argue that your child will advance twice as rapidly as they would in a larger class. So if you can swing it, it’s worth it.

Sure enough, at the end of day three, I went to pick up my girls, expecting them to be cold, exhausted puddles on the snow. Instead, they were both jazzed and begged me to take them up the Quicksilver Lift. Breckenridge’s Peak 9 is one of the most extraordinary learning hills in the country — a mile long at a consistent, gentle grade. How could I say no?

I hadn’t quite planned for it to happen this way. But then, there we were, soaring downhill, wind in our faces, making big, wide turns — and history.

Many resorts offer special ski-school packages through the end of January, which is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month. Colorado Ski Country USA lists some of those deals for beginner skiers and riders at coloradoski.com/page/beginner-deals.

One-day lesson and lift ticket at Copper Mountain (ages 3-12): $191 per child. Breckenridge Ski and Snowboard School’s full-day Ultimate 4 Ski Lesson costs $385 per child.
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