Vail Mountain – how to get the best private lesson experience

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As a Level 3 Certified Instructor member of PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America), I hold the highest level of cert and have taught at large and small areas across the country including: Stowe and Stratton, VT, Northstar-at-Tahoe, Winter Park and Vail, Colorado.

Working at Vail for 5 years along with other mountains has provided me with key insight to the private lesson process.  At Vail 95% of all the lessons I taught were 1/2 or full-day privates working with mid and upper level skiers.

Buyer Beware

The average snowsports instruction client tends not to be aware of the qualifications of instructors and the snowsports school does little to help clients obtain this insight.  Why?  Because snowsports schools have legions of less qualified instructors and at most every mountain, including all the Vail Resorts owned mountains, they charge clients the same amount for a lesson with an instructor who has no certification or just a Level 1 cert.   It’s over $1000 for an “all-day” private.  Shouldn’t a client, at this cost, obtain the best trained pro possible?  Certainly there are many extremely good ski / ride instructors that don’t have a Level 3 cert and many Level 2 certified instructors are wonderful.  But Level 1 and no-cert instructors?  Well frankly that’s real crap shoot.

I don’t have specific stats but it’s information I’d like to get so I can pass it along.  Here though is a hypothesis….  Let’s say Vail has 1500 people teaching skiing over the course of the winter.  My guess is maybe 10% have their Level 3 Cert, 20% have a Level 2.  So that’s 450 out of 1500!! Yet, Vail charges you the same for a guy who has taught full-time on the mountain for years as the person who is in their first year of ski teaching.

Getting What You Deserve

OK, then how do you go about getting the best experience for your $?

  1. Perhaps, check out the info here to first understand what instructor certification encompasses:

2. What’s next? When booking a lesson, describe briefly what you want to accomplish and what level of terrain you want to ski on.  Would you prefer a male or a female?  Tell the booking agent, or perhaps even better, ask to speak with a supervisor at the departure location for your lesson.  At Vail this means Lionshead, Vail Village or Golden Peak.  Get a recommendation from a supervisor.

3.  If you are an upper intermediate or above, specifically ask for a ski / ride pro who has multiple seasons working on the mountain – it’s a BIG place. You want someone who knows the mountain well and can efficiently (why waste excess time on lift rides and traversing?  you’re paying BIG bucks!) provide an “Experience of a Lifetime” getting to fun, appropriate terrain and snow throughout your day.

4. What about Cert level?  Again if you’re an intermediate or above only book a lesson with a Level 2 or Level 3 instructor, there’s just no reason at all you shouldn’t get the best available.   Now that you know about the cert process, make sure you ask and get the level of coach you want!