Ski school: fast track to hitting the slopes

UP FRONT

January 04, 2001|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Wayne Homens remembers when he was 29 and asked a friend to teach him to ski. At the end of the day, Homens was lying in the snow, soaking wet and wondering what he was doing, when a man who looked to be in his 70s sailed by doing beautiful ski maneuvers.

"I said, this is a sport I'm going to love because I can do it for the rest of my life," the 40-year-old Elkridge computer programmer recalls.

Despite his shaky start, Homens did become an avid skier, and a certified ski instructor as well. Now director of the Baltimore Ski Club, Homens recommends that new skiers take lessons from professionals to avoid the pitfalls of learning the hard way, as he did. Even after 11 years on skis, Homens takes occasional lessons to pick up new techniques.

While one's family members and friends may be eager to share their love of the sport, professional ski instructors know what to teach, have practice in how to teach it and are covered for liability.

Fortunately for novices of all ages, many ski areas within a few hours of Baltimore offer a wide range of skiing and snowboarding lessons. There are also many ski-school lessons designed to help skilled individuals get even better, and some resorts offer instruction for disabled skiers.

Although people's ability to learn to ski varies greatly, most beginners learn to ski or snowboard down the easy slopes on their first day, and some move to intermediate slopes after a few hours.

Part- and full-day ski programs and multiday camps are available for children at most ski areas, combining lessons with fun activities and skilled supervision. In many places, parents can leave their kids in capable hands for several hours or the whole day while they enjoy the mountain themselves.

Almost all ski areas offer group lessons up to an hour and a half long, with instructors teaching small groups divided by ability. Many ski areas have learn-to-ski and learn-to-snowboard packages to attract novices. They include reduced rates on group lessons, lift tickets and rental equipment.

Although they are more expensive, private lessons are also widely available. They offer extra attention that can be beneficial to beginners as well as skilled skiers and snowboarders who want to meet specific learning goals.

Don Chase, ski chairman of the Crabtown Ski Club in Annapolis, says beginners are more likely to stick with the sport if they take lessons that show them how much fun and how safe skiing is.

Kids often take to skiing and snowboarding right away because they are more fearless, but it is never too late to try, says Chase, 61, who learned to ski when he was 53. The first time out can be challenging, but "the first step is to get rid of the fear," he adds.

For those ready to take the first step, we've compiled a partial list of ski areas within easy driving distance of Baltimore. They are in Maryland, West Virginia and southern and eastern Pennsylvania. The estimated driving time from Baltimore appears in parentheses.

Packages include a lesson, rental equipment and a beginner or full lift ticket unless otherwise noted. All youth and adult lessons include skiing or snowboarding, but children's programs vary. Call or visit each resort's Web site for more specific information.

MARYLAND

Wisp Ski Area, McHenry (3 hours)

Boasting one of the world's largest and most energy-efficient snow-making systems, Wisp promises that you'll find great skiing without having to leave the state. Children ages 3 to 14 can find appropriate lessons and activities at the children's center. Fees start at $47 for a half-day program and $62 for a full day, including equipment, lunch and snack. Group lessons for all ages are $15 for one hour; private lessons are $40 for one hour.

Call 301-387-4911 or visit www.gcnet.net/wisp.

PENNSYLVANIA

Big Boulder, Lake Harmony/Jack Frost, Blakeslee (3 1/2 hours)

Both areas, located five miles apart and owned by the same company, offer a beginner's Discover Area where children and adults can go as often as they like throughout the day to work with instructors. The program was designed to give new skiers and snowboarders as much learning time as they need - for one price. The package is $45 for ages 9 to 15 and $50 for age 16 and over.

Children ages 3 to 8 can take part in a three-hour program, including lesson, activities, lift ticket and equipment, for $50 or spend a whole day learning to ski. The $100 fee includes lunch. Snowboarding is available to children over age 6.

Youths 9 to 15 can get a package for $55. Group lessons start at $20 per hour and a half, and private lessons start at $50 per hour with discounts for multiple hours.

Call 800-468-2442 for both resorts or visit www.big2 resorts.com.

Hidden Valley Resort, Hidden Valley (3 1/2 hours)

The ski school at Hidden Valley has been independently operated by one family for 30 years. School co-owner Erich Cabe says they "understand the importance of keeping the kids happy to keep the adults coming."

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