How to make the most of ski lessons

As mentioned before in other posts, I think that it is important for all learners to take at least one or two lessons from a professional, as this will help you avoid frustration and unnecessary injuries. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your ski lessons.

#1 How many lessons do I need / how long should each lesson be?

Lessons are typically offered in half and full day formats. I personally find it useful to have half-day lessons in the morning only, followed by self-practice in the afternoon to assimilate what I have learned from the lesson. For group size, I prefer small groups of 3-5pax, as I find big groups a bit stressful and 1-to-1 too intensive. Everyone has a different learning style so you should think about what’s best for you, not just what’s cheapest.

You do not need lessons every day, even at the beginning. If skiing for a week, two to three half-day lessons should be good enough (maybe on Days 1,2 and 4). Most important is to practise, and not just rely on lessons, because you will eventually have to ski or ride without an instructor around.

#2 Group or private lessons?

If you think that you are an average learner, go for group. I would also recommend group lessons for those who are going solo, or with friends with different ability levels. This helps to save costs and also provides a bit of friendly competition and social interaction. You may even hit it off with your classmates and become ski buddies in the future as you are skiing at the same ability level.

YMCA Outdoors organizes all-inclusive beginner group trips every season from Singapore and I joined their Dec 2015 trip to Rusutsu (see my trip report here).

However, if you suspect that you are VERY retarded at sports and/or VERY SCARED OF EVERYTHING & ANYTHING (from chairlifts to collisions to falling down), you may want to consider a private lesson (or max 3 students to 1 instructor). How will you know if you are very retarded? Put on roller blades. Fall down. Try to stand up. If you cannot stand up without help, you may need a private instructor. However, I would encourage you to move on to group lessons as soon as possible and/or do lots of self-practise after lessons without an instructor to avoid becoming overly-dependent on the instructor.

At the other extreme are the naturally athletic (and irritating) folks. If you fall into this category, you can also consider a private lesson to avoid having to plod along at the pace of the lowest common denominator in a group class.

Group lessons are more competitive and fun

#3 Do I need to buy a lift pass?

Your first lesson will usually be conducted on a learner slope that is serviced by a very slow speed chairlift or a “magic carpet”, which is like a moving conveyor belt. These are usually free to use, or included in your “first timer” package, so you will not have to buy a separate lift pass (a lift pass is only required to ride chairlifts to access green runs and above).

If you progress to the next level class, you will probably need a lift pass for your second lesson, but check if there are any cheaper options for beginners. Some resorts may offer a “beginner lift pass” which give you access to green (beginner, gentlest) runs only, or have some kind of “point” system where points are deducted according to which chairlift you take. The green chairlifts usually “cost” the lowest number of points, and if you plan to hang out on green runs only for at least a day or two, these may help you save some cash.

What a “magic carpet”/learners area looks like
(First timers usually learn on these very gentle slopes,
with conveyor belts to get you to the top)

#4 Where do I leave my stuff?

You will need to get kitted out at the ski rental shop before your lesson starts. Make sure you arrive early to do paperwork as there is sometimes a long queue before lesson time and you do not want to miss your first lesson. Most rental shops will have lockers for your valuables and a place to leave your street shoes.

You can also consider picking up your rental gear the day before your lesson (most rental shops will not charge you for the day if you pick them up after 4pm). This way, you can change into your rental gear in the comfort of your hotel and wear your rental boots to the lesson meeting point. Great for avoiding the pre-lesson chaos in the rental shop.

#5 What else do I need to bring?

Photo ID for ski rental, some cash for lunch / drinks, and yourself. Oh and lip balm for the girlies 🙂 Beginner snowboarders might want to consider bringing knee and wrist guards (the type you use for roller-blading are fine).

As a beginner, it is not a good idea to carry a backpack during your lesson as you will be falling down a lot and/or it may snag on something or someone (some instructors/schools do not allow for safety reasons). By all means, bring your more experienced friends to be your photographer / errand boy / waterboy.

You should not bring a GoPro on your first few lessons. Why? 1) For safety as you may fall on it (which BTW is fucking painful) / stab yourself with your selfie stick, and 2) your first day will look excruciatingly boring on screen and totally un-GoPro worthy anyway.

#6 What is a typical first lesson like ?

If you imagined that you would be shredding Patagonia a la Travis Rice by the end of the first lesson, SORRY. In reality, you will usually spend the first half hour on very basic stuff such as how to wear your boot/bindings correctly. There are various skills that skiers and snowboarders have to master before they progress to actual skiing or riding. That’s why I said you need at least three days to reach the “fun” part of it right?

For snowboarders, you will first learn to balance on your heels with your board perpendicular to the slope (think “horse stance” in kung fu movies) while facing downhill. Next, you will learn to slowly slide downhill on your board by controlling the pressure on your heels. After that you will do the same on your toes while facing uphill. If there is time, you may get to work on “leafing” which is moving the board from side to side by alternating the pressure on each foot.

For skiers, you will first learn to “side slip” which is side stepping up a small incline with your skis across the hill. Next you will practise “pizza brakes” which is skiing downhill in a “brake” position, with the front of your skis close together like the tip of a pizza wedge. If there is time you may work some turns into the pizza brakes.

Lots of example videos on YouTube if you can’t make head or tail of what I am describing 🙂 I especially like the videos by SnowboardProCamp.

Students side slipping on left and one student starting pizza brake on right

#7 I can kind of ride/ski. Do I need more lessons?

I found that an occasional lesson at the intermediate stage helped to fine-tune my technique so that I could ride more smoothly, with cleaner turns. But lots of practice is what eventually gets you there. Read about my personal snowboard journey and the struggles I faced.

See other beginner tips:




13 responses to “How to make the most of ski lessons

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  3. Hi Smittenangel,
    We are 4 adults will travel Hokkaido 8D7N and booked hotel 3 nights (early march) stay at main Hirafu village (Pension Berg)for skiing. objective is to able to ski on green slopes and have fun.

    our plan:
    1st day: arrival and get the rent equipment evening.
    2nd&3rd days: skiing
    4thday: leaving Niseko to Sappora

    I have question regarding skiing pass
    i am able to ski and plan to guide other 3 to learn the basic skills on the 1st day ski. So they may not require ski lift pass.
    Is there any learner slopes for free learning in hirafu? If there is, where is the slope? We have limited budget to invest lessons. I think practice is more important.
    What is your advise?

    Hope to hear from you soon. Thank you 🙂


    • Hi ! As far as I know the learner areas (ie. conveyor belt) in hanazono and hirafu gondola are are reserved for the ski schools. I would suggest using the ace family slope as March will not be too crowded and it is closest to your accomm. For first half day or first day (depending on progress), don’t buy lift pass and just practise the basic drills (side slip, wedge brake, wedge turns) by walking up 30m or so each time. Once proficient, buy the grand hirafu 12-points pass which will allow you 12 rides up the ace family lift. That should be more than sufficient at the beginner level and your students should be able to at least comfortably wedge turn down the green by day two. For those who progress more quickly then just buy grand hirafu (not niseko United) full day pass for day two so they can explore the reds.


      • Thank you for reply! your suggestion is really great !
        i just checked Grand Hirafu website doesn’t show 12 points ticket price but show from Niseko United web 3800yen.
        Do you know the price? If the price is same for Hirafu, then better get 5hrs pass 4000yen which is just 200yen more 😛

        I will get rentals from winter first with Skis Full Set (Skis, Boots, Poles, Ski Jacket, Pants, Gloves, Goggles and Beanie). usually others shops also not included helmet. Do we need to get it by paying extra?

        how is the weather during early march? Still can expect snowing?

        Thank you


        • Hi! Yes you are right, grand hirafu doesn’t have a 12 points pass (rem wrongly) so you are prob better off with the 5h grand hirafu pass for JPY200 more. Helmet will probably cost more but may not be necessary if you are skiing (pretty difficult to fall on your head unlike snowboarding – or maybe you have a roller blading helmet you can use?). There will be a good base by march so you can definitely ski, but it may not be snowing every day as the weather is getting warmer towards march.


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  5. Hi! I’m going on a solo trip to Sapporo during Christmas week(leave approved!! Yasss!!!) and I really want to do a 1 day ski. I can balance on roller blades/ice skating/a little skateboarding. Anyway the question is, if I were to join the group lessons which usually needs minimum 2 pax and I’m alone…what are the chances of my “class” being canceled or me going through with the lesson? I have no idea how to pre book so I plan to just head there and buy a 1 day package. Either Mt Moiwa or Teine cuz am not traveling far out.

    Hope to hear from you! Thanks for taking the time to read and reply 🙂


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