Katie Mason, left, helps Emily Clay down the Preview run at Steamboat Ski Area on Friday. Mason, an experienced snowboarder, said she was happy to offer her friend free lessons, even though anger and frustration often can get in the way during similar lessons to friends and loved ones. The key, they said, was about keeping things relaxed.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Katie Mason, left, helps Emily Clay down the Preview run at Steamboat Ski Area on Friday. Mason, an experienced snowboarder, said she was happy to offer her friend free lessons, even though anger and frustration often can get in the way during similar lessons to friends and loved ones. The key, they said, was about keeping things relaxed.

Tips for teaching on the mountain without losing your friends

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Robert Gonzales helps Bobbie Collins off the snow Friday as he tried to teach her how to ski near the base of Steamboat Ski Area. Gonzales said he'd been skiing twice before. It was Collins first experience on snow. After knocking off two runs in Steamboat, she said she was having fun.

— The first advice is almost always, “Don’t!”

Convincing a friend, family member or significant other to forgo ski or snowboard lessons and instead submit to a day or two of your insight, nearly everyone agrees, is a bad idea.

“Those instructors are professionals, and what they can do to help cannot be underestimated,” said Deb Armstrong, who is plenty familiar with skiing as an Olympic gold medalist and plenty familiar with instruction as the Alpine skiing director for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

“If at all possible,” she continued, “get a lesson.”

The pitfalls of instructing a rookie friend or loved one and the advantages of taking a lesson are numerous. Still, plenty try it anyway.


Get in the mindset

What to do

■ Relax. You love the mountain and want to pass that along, but if you mess this up, your friend or loved one may never try again. Put yourself in his or her boots. Listen to his or her comments and don’t let the stress that can build up ruin the day.

■ Take a break. Maybe you have yet to break a sweat, but that doesn’t mean your student is fresh and ready to go. Don’t be afraid to stop, let the pressure dissipate and go again.

What to avoid

■ Your favorite run, unless it’s Preview. See Me might not seem hard to someone who’s skied it 1,000 times, but it’s an icy slope of death to someone trying on skis for the first time. Stick with open and wide beginner slopes to start out, like Preview.

■ The gondola. Don’t start by going up the gondola. Why Not, the only green run from that point to the base, is tight and can get overcrowded quickly. It may make for a great run after a skier has the basics down.

Emily Clay said she’s competitive, the kind of person who likes to “get it” and then master it, both in short order.

Near the end of her second day of snowboarding lessons, provided by friend Katie Mason, she had yet to come close to either, however. The two slowly made their way down Preview at Steamboat Ski Area, Mason staying in front of her pupil, always within range of sudden and frequent shots of an arm in search of support.

“You have to be patient,” Clay said. “You can’t just get this immediately. You have to learn the technique, and that’s challenging. Still, I’m having a lot of fun.”

There were no tears, no walking the final portion of the run, or angry curse words screamed.

The going was slow, but Clay said that was the key to learning from a friend.

Mason grew up skiing and snowboarding in Germany while her father served in the Air Force and said she was happy to help.

“This is right where I want to be. I’m sure there is someone here who could teach her better, but it’s fun to actually hang out,” Mason said.


Pick the spot

Where to go

■  Preview. Steamboat isn’t overflowing with nice, wide, easy terrain suited for beginners. Preview is a fine place to learn the basics.

■ Rough Rider. Get there by riding to the top of the Christie Peak Express lift and then skiing Boulevard to Giggle Gulch to Yoo Hoo. There’s a Poma lift there and, thanks in large part to the number of trees that were cleared after the bark beetle infestation, wide-open spaces. It’s not right for a true beginner — Boulevard is narrow, and Right-O-Way, the route back to the base, is narrow and often crowded. Still, it’s a nice way to get in a lot of work in spacious terrain. The lift is open from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3:30 p.m.

■ Wally World. Starting to figure things out? Some of the runs off of the Sunshine Express and Sundown Express lifts can be perfect for that next step. It’s possible to ride greens from top to bottom by first taking Sundial to Rendezvous Way to South Peak Flats and Broadway. Tomahawk is a blue run that has a steep part early and sections of rollers that can cause problems, but it is often wide open with a gentle pitch.

Clay and Mason had the right idea on more than attitude. Well into their second day of training, they still were working down Preview.

Armstrong said if a relationship is to be destroyed by attempting self-styled ski lessons, terrain can have a lot to do with it.

“More often than not, people over-terrain their friends,” she said. “The person who is doing the teaching doesn’t have the knowledge or appreciation needed to match the skill level of their friend to appropriate terrain.”

Armstrong said every person would have a different way of explaining the technical aspects of skiing or snowboarding, when to shift weight or where to add pressure.

“I don’t see relationships end or see us lose a potential skier for a lifetime because they were taught the wrong thing technically. That’s not what makes or breaks the deal,” she said.

“What does, however, is over-terraining someone.”

Knowing where to go can be crucial, but for Steamboat-based skiers, the options can be limited.

Only 14 percent of Steamboat’s 165 named trails are beginner trails. Even some of those aren’t suited for teaching. Popular green runs such as Why Not, which is the only beginner way from the top of the gondola to the base of the ski mountain, are narrow and often flat. They are best avoided until a skier or snowboarder can turn well enough to stop short of or dodge through a toddler-filled family blockading the trail.

Instead, green runs such as Preview, accessible from either the Preview lift or by getting off at the midway station on the Christie Peak Express lift, are wide, just steep enough and ideal for beginners.


Give up? Sign up

Get lessons

Information about ski and snowboard lessons is available at www.steamboat.com. (All prices if booked a week in advance)

■ A three-day beginner package, which includes three all-day lessons, rentals and lift tickets, costs $299

■ An all-day group clinic costs $99

■ A half-day clinic costs $86

Beginner skiers swarmed Steam­­boat Springs on Friday, many of them Texans in town for MusicFest at Steamboat who were experiencing snow for the first time.

Many had taken some sort of lesson, and even if they didn’t go all day, they highly recommended it.

“At least learn to stop,” said Jessica Hanchez, who had worked through a half-day’s lesson on a previous trip. “I see people flying down the mountain, and if they don’t know how to stop, they’ll hurt themselves or someone else.”

Ski area spokeswoman Loryn Kasten agreed that lessons can be crucial. She echoed the thoughts of many by saying it is possible to teach a friend or loved one, but it’s best avoided.

“Our instructors know specifically what trails to take beginners on so they can enjoy their time on the mountain,” she said. “You’re getting the highest quality information that will help you be successful on the slopes.

“Learning to ski or snowboard is definitely difficult, and it can be frustrating to teach. Leave it to the experts so you can stay friends and they can learn to love it and enjoy it instead of becoming frustrated and one day becoming a last-time experience.”

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Katie Mason, left, helps Emily Clay learn to snowboard at Steamboat Ski Area on Friday.

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Katie Mason, left, helps Emily Clay up from a fall on the Preview run at Steamboat Ski Area on Friday.

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