The Learning Slope
Kids at the Lookout Pass Free Ski School

We live in an era when if we want to learn to do something, we instinctively turn to Google or subscribe to a podcast. Learning to ski or snowboard is no different. While videos are plentiful on YouTube, there is no replacement for sliding on snow with a trained instructor to guide you through the process; a trained professional that will be there to immediately address needed changes, or to answer questions as they occur or to encourage you to the next level and introduce you to new ways to maximize your days on the mountain.

As with most sports and activities, skiing and snowboarding are evolving and so is the method by which to teach them. A common misconception in the ski and boarding community is that lessons are for beginners — well, that is just not true. All the best athletes in the world have a coach, a mantra that Schweitzer Mountain Resort’s Snow Sports School has been using for years.

There are programs geared for all levels and instructors don’t just use a formula for teaching — they customize each lesson. As Schweitzer Snow School Sports Director Terry McLeod explains: “We spend a lot of time building a personal connection. Finding our goals, assessing gear, how the gear fits to what the goals are and making adaptations.”

Christopher “Cash” Barrett, marketing and snow sports director at Lookout Pass, agrees. “Our goal is to teach to a personal level,” he says.

Another technique that Lookout Pass is using this year is terrain-based teaching through their grooming. “Grooming specifically for learning allows students to better adapt to their environment by enhancing the terrain so that making turns and changing direction is easier,” says Cash.

Another teaching approach being introduced industry-wide, according to McLeod, is the “bring a partner” concept. Success and participation rates increase once you get a friend involved. When asked the recipe for success with a budding skier or boarder, McLeod says, “I’ll start off with the technique that is highly not recommended; having a spouse or significant other teach you.”

He goes on to explain that instructors have different expectations for their clients’ success, rather than having personal feelings involved. “Get with a friend,” McLeod adds. “If you or your friend are new to skiing or boarding, get in a three-lesson program and combine the professional instruction and the camaraderie of being on the mountain with a friend.”

This makes success much easier to achieve, as well as instilling the desire for skiing and boarding to become a lifelong activity. “You have someone that will get you excited from the day before planning for your trip to the mountain, to enjoying the fun stories after the day is done,” says McLeod.


Let’s start with beginning skiers and boarders. Every mountain has something similar. It’s a three-time package, which includes lessons, rentals and tickets. McLeod explains: “In the three-time experience, after the third time beginners start to get past the frustrations of falling. They are exploring different terrain and the trial and error part is over. There becomes an understanding of what to do.”

The real advantage of going the route of the three-time packages is that it includes rentals. The rentals available at area ski resorts are up-to-date and fit specifically to your needs and ability. This is definitely a much better route than using those old skis out of your neighbor’s garage. (Hint: There is usually a reason your neighbor isn’t using them anymore.)

There are even perks for completing the three sessions. For example, Lookout Pass is so convinced that you will find your new winter passion, that after completion of the EZ Ski & Ride 1-2-3 Program they will give you a pass to Lookout for the rest of the season. Hook, line and sinker!


This seems to be the category with the largest amount of offerings at the area’s mountains. Depending on your goals, equipment and available time available, each of the resorts has a program that will work with your needs. Through the commitment of weekly lessons, repetition is the key that drills in a technique. “Signing up for a weekly program also holds you accountable for showing up,” says McLeod.

At Schweitzer, there is a plethora of programs geared to the intermediate skier, all the way up to the advanced level. The Nice Turns Program is for intermediates adults. This is a program with offerings every day of the week. It uses repetition, varying conditions and includes video analysis.


Part of skiing and boarding at an advanced level is being able to ride anywhere, anytime and in any condition. Each condition, whether it be crud, bumps, powder, steeps, glades or wind blown off-piste, requires adjustments in technique. The “deluxe” learning option would entail a private lesson. You can schedule these in advance, but to ensure you are learning in the conditions that you want to advance in, sometimes spontaneously signing up the morning of a monster powder day takes “luck” out of the equation and directly sets you up to learn to ski powder. A little insider perk is that you get to cut the line, getting you to the goods that much quicker. McLeod recommends that if you wake up on a powder day morning and you want to progress your powder skiing technique, “pick up some demos and get an instructor.”

There are also single-session and multi-week programs, as well as specialty clinics available at area resorts. Lookout Pass offers a Next Level program. This program meets on Sunday mornings, and the bonus of this type of setup is that you ski whatever the conditions are on that day. Commit to one session or sign up for multiple weeks.

Other options in specialty clinics include workshops specifically for women, learning how to Telemark and Nordic ski and even sessions for enhancing your skills in the terrain park.

No matter which category you fall into, there is a program waiting for you. And, in the words of the great Warren Miller, “If you don’t do it this year, you’ll just be one year older when you do.” 

49 Degrees North

If you’re starting from Square One in the world of winter sports, 49 Degrees North has done a great job of simplifying what can be an overwhelming process through the EZ 1-2-3 Ski & Ride Program. On weekends, for a flat rate of $129, skiers or boarders ages 12 and up get three days’ worth of lift tickets, equipment rental and lessons. Call 24 hours in advance to sign up. If you’d like to purchase a single lesson, 49 offers 90-minute group lessons starting at $49, and one- to three-hour lessons starting at $79. Also, kids as young as 2 can be enrolled in lessons, which start at $69, and parent-child lessons, which start at $99.

509-935-6649 ext. 610 •

Lookout Pass

Home of the famous free ski school, Lookout Pass has inducted tens of thousands of people into winter sports since it started teaching in the 1940s. Kids ages 6-17 can take advantage of the program, which runs every Saturday from Jan. 12 to March 21. Registration is limited to 500 students, so make sure you sign up quickly. Lookout also offers the EZ Ski & Ride 1-2-3 package; it’s $99 for three lessons, three lift tickets and three rentals. Lookout also has several workshops, like the Downhill Divas program for women on Thursdays at $120 for three sessions or $45 a session, and senior workshops on Mondays. The Mini Moose Club is a program for ages 3-6 and features am and pm sessions on Saturdays and Sundays with a break in between for hot chocolate and cookies, $40 for one lesson or $70 for both. Ages 7 and up can take part in group lessons for $29 per hour or 90 minutes. Private lessons clock in at $45 per hour, with $25 added for each additional student.

208-744-1301 •

Mt. Spokane

For the casual learner, Mt. Spokane offers walk-in group lessons for just $49 that range from one to two hours. Private lessons start at $59 for one hour, with $39 added for each additional student, and $89 for a two-hour session, with $59 added for each additional student. You can tack on a rental for $15 and an all-mountain lift ticket for $20. Students need to register 24 hours in advance. Mt. Spokane does the EZ Ski & Ride 1-2-3 program, too, and it costs $119, for three lessons, three tickets and three rentals, available to ages 7 and up. The mountain also offers private terrain park and freestyle coaching that starts at $59 for an hour.

238-2220 x215 •


Schweitzer offers a host of lessons, starting with kids as young as 4 months old and going up through adult learners. Its Kinderkamp on the Mountain program, for kids ages 4-6, combines two ski lessons with an indoor recreation break in which kids can make art, play or just chill out in the daycare center. The program is $105, or parents can just enroll their kids in one lesson for $45. For older kids, ages 7-12, the Mountain Riders program offers a package of lessons and a hot lunch. On weekends and holidays, this starts at $90 for the full day, $100 with rentals. Schweitzer’s EZ 1-2-3 package is available to ages 13 and up and costs $159. It offers some flexibility, because days don’t have to be consecutive. Private lessons are also available, ranging from $65 for early and late specials to $340 for a full day of development.

208-255-3070 •

Silver Mountain

Silver has various programs for first-timers, like the universal EZ 1-2-3 program for ages 13 and up at $129. It also has the “Learn To” package, which includes equipment rental, a group lesson and a limited lift ticket for $70. For $80, guests can pick up the “Next Step” package, which is the same as the Learn To, but has an all-access lift ticket. Private lessons for ages 13 and up are $60 for one hour, $45 for each additional hour, and $20 for each additional person. Kids group lessons start at $35 for 90 minutes, $60 for a full day with lunch and $200 for four full-day lessons.

208-783-1111, ext. 8302 •

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About The Author

Jen Forsyth

Jen Forsyth is the editor of the Snowlander series.