The Daily Telegraph 23.10.2010
From snowplough to freestyle
With so many options available, matching the right tuition to your family's ability levels can be daunting. Seasoned skier Linsey McNeill offers first-hand tips on going back to school.
If the command "bend ze knees" sounds all too familiar, you'll know that ski lesons can either be the best investment of your holiday or the biggest waste of money.
After a couple of disappointed winters in France during which my children made little progress skiing, I plucked them out of group lessons and hired a private instructor with the British Alpine Ski & Snowboard School (BASS) in Chamonix. It was money well spent and I've since heard favourable reports of their instructors in seven other French resorts.
One school recommended by the Ski Club is The Development Centre in Val d'Isere and neighbouring Tignes for those who want to take their skills up a notch. All the instructors are British so there's no language barrier and group sizes are restricted to six.
Experienced skiers who want to progress from piste to powder should head over to The Warren Smith Ski Academy in Verbier, Switzerland. Led by one of Britain's leading freeskiers, the Academy has gained a reputation for training World Cup athletes so it's also great for anyone who wants to perfect their racing technique or to learn to confidently ski steeps or moguls.
For off-piste instruction, independent tour operator VIP Ski speaks highly of Val d'Isere's Top Ski, which calls itself 'the original independent ski school in France', meaning that it was one of the first to challenge the strong-hold of the Ecole du Ski Francais. At 270€ for a morning with a guide, it's not cheap, but Top Ski also offers group lessons from 60€ per person.
"One of the hardest things is persuading clients to pay for off-piste instruction," said VIP managing director Andy Sturt. "They think it's too expensive or too hard, but those who have had a lesson with Top Ski realise what they've been missing."
It's not just booking with the right ski school that's important but also selecting the right instructor. "One of the first things people book after securing their accommodation is their instructor," added Sturt. "We've worked with the ski schools for years so we know which ones to recommend."
What do you do with your children when they become good skiers, better than you even? Some kids have outgrown regular ski school before they reach their teens, but most instructors won't let youngsters join adult lessons and besides not many kids would be seen dead skiing with old mum and dad.
One ski school that won't bore the ski pants off your little snow hounds is New Generation in eight resorts in the Alps. British run, it targets young skiers who want to learn all mountain technique including off-piste and free style. Its NewGen Freeride Team sessions for 10 to 14-year-olds runs five days a week in school holidays.
Another solution for families is Ski Club's Freshtrack holidays which include coaching for adults and children in separate groups. It's worth noting that although the half-term and Easter off-piste ski weeks are advertised for children aged 13plus, a very experienced 10-year-old wouldn't be turned away.
Alternatively, sign your teenagers up to a five-day racing programme run by former Olympic skier Martin Bell on behalf of the ski operator Powder Byrne, which takes place in Zermatt during the half-term and Easter holidays in Zermatt.
Complete beginners should steer clear of the vast ski areas and consider instead less daunting resorts. Both Crystal Ski and Neilson, two of the largest winter sports operators, recommend Andorra and Bulgaria for novices. The slopes are less challenging and in Bulgaria you'll get four hours tuition for the price of just two or three hours elsewhere.
Soldeu Ski School in the classier part of Andorra is one of the most highly rated schools by Crystal Ski customers. About 70 percent of its 250 instructors are native English speakers, which helps when you're sliding out of control.
For families with little ones about to take to skis for the first time Inghams rates Schi-Seefeld in Austria, while Western & Oriental Ski Dream recommends the Ski School in St Anton, where more advanced parents can get some tips on powder skiing from the highly-rated Arlberg Ski School.
For beginners prepared to travel further afield for excellent tuition, Ski Dream recommends the Tremblant Snow School in Mont Tremblant, Canada.
The British Alpine Ski & Snowboard School has three or four-day courses in Morzine and other French resorts from £109 to £139 (0871 780 1500; www.britishskischool.com)
The Warren Smith Ski Academy has five-day courses in Verbier from £369 for non-members (www.warrensmith-skiacademy.com)