Private Ski or Snowboard Lessons for Your Child: Is it Time?

Is a private ski lesson for your child worth it? How can you best prepare him or her for a private lesson with a professional ski or snowboard instructor?

Child in Private Ski Lesson

It's up to every parent, based on budget and other priorites, whether to sign their child up for a private ski or snowboard lesson with a professional instructor. It may help to look at the cost difference in the context of the overall amount you're spending on your vacation. Beyond that, ask about class sizes and consider your child's ski level and how well he or she enjoys trying new things in a group.

Your Child's Skiing or Riding

If your child has never been on skis or a snowboard before, a group lesson is usually a better value. Beginners typically need practice time punctuated with personal attention, rather than continuous personal attention. They'll get more time on the snow with a professional instructor in a group ski lesson than in a single private ski lesson. As your little one improves, though, it will be harder and harder to find a class where the students are close enough in ability to make a cohesive group. If little Jake is at the bottom of the group, it can be frustrating. If he's at the top, it can be boring. I think that once kids are coming down the beginner lift pretty well, the value of a private lesson increases dramatically.

Class Size

Ask the ski school if they have any sort of guarantee on class size or an idea of how big they expect the class to be. It's possible during peak times to have class sizes swell to the point that the instructor can't really provide optimal instruction to every student. Many factors are at play, but as a rough guide, for the youngest kids (5 and under), I would want to see a ratio no higher than six to one. For older kids (6-12), I would still like to see no more than 10 students per instructor and that's getting pretty high. Five to eight is better. I've had school groups with over 20 students and everyone makes progress, but it's definitely slower and both the slowest and fast learners fall through the cracks a bit.

Your Child's Personality

Typically, this is only really important if your child has developmental issues like autism or serious ADHD or has persistent discipline problems in school. In very rare and extreme cases we have to expell kids from ski classes because they are violent (throwing snowballs at point blank range despite several warnings for example). These kids are better off in private lessons from day one.

Usually, though, the big fear of most parents is simply that their child will get frustrated if she's the worst skier in the class. Naturally, every ski class is going to have someone who is the slowest learner, but it's rarely an issue. I work hard to keep my group ski lessons positive and non-competitive (I've actually asked parents to leave for talking negatively to their kids). If "protecting" your child is your primary motivation, I would suggest trying a group lesson first and if it doesn't work out, then try a private lesson.

Private Ski Lesson Success for Your Child

If you're going to spend the bucks on a private ski lesson for your child, you want to get the most out of it. For the most part, you want to take all the same steps you would to prepare your child for a group ski lesson.

  • Get gear and clothing issues sorted out well before lesson time. Run through the checklist: warm hat, googles or sunglasses, sunscreen.
  • Get a drink and take a trip to the bathroom before going to the ski school meeting area.
  • Arrive early so your child isn't stressed out.
  • Make sure you connect your child with the instructor or someone at the ski school who will make him or her feel welcome.
  • Ask whether you need to pick up your child or not. At our ski school, kids 13 and over can leave on their own. Under that and they can't leave without the same parent who dropped them off unless prior arrangements have been made with the school. Remember, the vast majority of child abductions are made by a parent, so many ski schools cannot release a child to anyone other than the person who dropped the child off even if that person is a parent.
  • Be on time to pick your child up at the end of the lesson. If you aren't there, your child will likely get sent to the day care area and this is the number one reason I've seen kids get upset and have a bad experience. If the lesson ends at 1:00pm, be at the ski school at 12:50.
  • Check in occasionally if you want, but don't hover (more on this later).

It's Her Ski Lesson

If your child is old enough to understand, explain that the reason you've booked a private ski lesson is so that the instructor can tailor the lesson to him or her. Kids are taught to "listen to the teacher", which is great, but it often makes kids too shy to speak up and get the most out of the lesson. I always tell my students that I want them to have fun during their ski lesson, so they need to speak up if they're bored or scared and we'll change up what we're doing. It's surprising how rarely kids take me up on that. It usually has to be pried out of them. So the most important thing, in my opinion, is to explain to your child that it's important to be polite, of course, but it's her ski lesson and there's only an hour or two, so she should speak up if he'd rather be doing something different. That will make it easier for the instructor to communicate.

Should You Watch?

Personally, I enjoy having parent watch in general and it can be a help with the youngest ages (especially if dad is there to take junior for a potty break), but it can be distracting for the young ones. The kids are often very shy in front of their parents and get all kinds of performance anxiety. I've had kids whisper to me to ask the parents to go away. On the funniest occasion, on a completely deserted day, I had a five and a half year-old (he was very insistent on the half) express concern about someone coming from high up the trail and hitting us. I said, "Don't worry, if I see anyone get too close, I'll zap 'em with my Death Ray Vision. That's why I have to wear these sunglasses even though it's cloudy out. I don't want to accidentally zap anyone." A bit later, his mother happened along to take pictures. He repeatedly asked her to ski to the bottom and wait for him there, and she repeatedly refused. Finally, he gave me a plaintive look and said "I don't want my mom to watch me ski. Can you just zap her with your Death Ray Vision or something?"

I've also had kids who were laughing and having fun start crying the second parent showed up. Of course, there are kids who start crying as soon as the parents go away. There's no right answer. I think the best strategy if you want to watch, is to stay back a bit and see how it's going and whether it's best to move on out of site or step right in and make yourself at home.