Pete Tyler has spent over 25 years in the action sports industry. He’s MD of active holidays specialist Neilson and it’s hard to work out what his biggest passion is – skiing, sailing, surfing, yacht racing, mountain biking…or food and drink.
Ski lessons aren’t just for beginners or nervous intermediates. After all, there’s a lot more to skiing than learning the basics of a parallel turn. Whether it’s moguls, ice, skiing powder, coping with narrow paths or variable snow, there’s mountain’s-worth of terrain to be mastered beyond the groomed piste.
If you like the idea of a more extended course – anything from two weeks and upwards – you could join one of the longer ski improvement courses.
There are whole new directions you can take the sport, too – for example, learning the basics of ski racing, or getting into freestyle in the terrain park. To do any of this properly, you’re going need the help of qualified ski instructor.
Even if you don’t want to push yourself too hard, you’ll find a bit of remedial work on your existing skills really useful, too. Many of us ski only once a winter, with no practice in between, and it’s a lot to ask of both mind and body to pick up where you left off, 12 months ago. Even a couple of hours in a clinic will do wonders for technique, and your enjoyment of your ski holiday.
There are other benefits, of course. You get to hang out with an inspiring, expert instructor, and a group of like-minded holidaymakers, who want to push themselves. Often, you’ll get to see parts of the mountain which you’d never find on your own: which is particularly useful in France and parts of Italy, now that ski-hosting is no longer possible.
Perhaps most importantly, you’ll feel the buzz that comes from being a better skier, and coping with tougher slopes. “Hey! I can do this!” is one of the most uplifting, confidence-boosting feelings you can get on a mountain, and it will feed into your skiing for days to come.
Here, I’ve picked out a range of resorts where you can take your skiing to the next level, using alternative or independent ski schools.
The Introduction Backcountry Coaching Camp is for ‘black run skiers and snowboarders’ with a maximum of five people per class. Basic off-piste techniques are taught, and courses are designed to improve your mountain knowledge, help you discover new itineraries and generally enjoy the area’s spectacular scenery. Mid-fat to fat skis and freeride boards are recommended.
Stay: at ski-in, ski out Chalet Le Lac Blanc I – right on the piste at Alpe d’Huez, and 30m from the main meeting point for ski schools.
The Technical Ski Clinic is suitable for blue run skiers and boarders, right up to advanced level. You can refresh and develop your skills with two sessions per week and it’s a good way to become proficient on all terrain. BASI instructor training is also on offer here.
Stay: in centrally-located Hotel du Golf in Arc 1800. It houses a pool and spa area, and a jazz bar with live music.
BB is the only British school in this fascinating resort in the Spanish Pyrenees. It offers the full range of group and private courses for holiday skiers, as well as half-day and full-day guiding sessions for advanced skiers and heli-skiing (Spain is one of the few European countries where there are few restrictions on heli-skiing).
The school also runs the only BASI and Gap Year Course in Spain, where you can take BASI 1 and 2 exams. Spanish classes are included in both courses.
Stay: at Chalet-Hotel Eira in the smart Tanau area of Baqueira Beret. The chalet-hotel has eight bedrooms.
The Piste Performance Course is run by British instructors over three half-days with a maximum of six pupils per group.
The course is suitable for any adult and teenager who is confident skiing parallel on red runs (you should be this level to make the most of Chamonix anyway) and wishes to develop skills needed to tackle more challenging terrain. It includes sessions in how to handle fresh snow, bumps, slush, and icy conditions.
Stay: at ski-in ski-out Residence Les Balcons du Savoy, three minutes’ walk from central Chamonix.
Les Deux Alpes
European Ski School
You can join an Intensive Improvement Course for three or six days that is held on the glacier every week of the summer, with a maximum of four pupils per class. Winter courses have a maximum of nine per class and, like the summer equivalent, also include video analysis.
Stay: at piste-side Hotel Aalborg in Les Deux Alpes. The hotel houses a children’s club.
Les Menuires & Val Thorens
3 Valleys Intense aims to improve your skills where you need it and help you discover one of the biggest ski areas in the world – both on and off-piste. You will need to be a strong skier already and have off-piste experience to be able to take part.
Stay: at Chalet Reberty, which is part of a small hamlet of chalets in the Reberty area of Les Menuires.
Meribel, Courchevel & La Tania
Marmalade Ski School
These How To sessions are small technical clinics of up to four people who want to learn new skills. The classes focus on one area of skiing at a time – such as how to carve, how to ski the bumps, how to ski steep couloirs, how to tackle powder, how to ski a half-pipe or do tricks in the park.
Stay: Chalet Chardonnet is perched just above Meribel and has eight en-suite bedrooms.
Milky Way (Montgenevre & Sauze d’Oulx)
Because of the demise of ski guiding, we are launching a Mountain Experts service for 2015/16 – a range of inclusive coaching and guiding sessions, exclusively for people staying at Mountain Collection properties.
These are run by fully qualified ski and board instructors who offer free guiding and coaching sessions throughout the week. They will guide you around the mountain with like-minded skiers or boarders whilst offering professional coaching at the same time.
Alternative: APeak in Sauze.
Stay: in stylish and modern Chalet Chaberton above Montgenevre resort centre. The ski-bus stop is outside the chalet. In Sauze d’Oulx stay at rustic-style Chalet Le Valentin, which sleeps 12 and is 800m from the nearest lift.
Morzine & Avoriaz
Avoriaz Alpine Ski & Snowboard School
Freestyle specialists will introduce you to the park, pipe and stash for four hours each day. You will be shown how to gain air safely, ride rails and also have fun on the piste.
Also on offer are Freeride courses for teenagers – giving a chance to explore the vast ski area, including some off piste and an introduction to the park. No technical stuff but a chance to try out new techniques on the move.
Stay: at Hotel des Dromonts, the recently revamped 1960s-built hotel in Avoriaz.
Here you can join a Steep and Deep Clinic for five mornings or a single taster day. You’ll be lent a backpack, transceiver, probe and shovel and can join a one-hour transceiver training session to teach you how to use a transceiver, probe and shovel correctly.
Stay: at Hotel Turquoise, 75m from the nearest ski-lift and containing a children’s club, in Belle Plagne.
Slide Academy is a new course for teenagers who want to have fun and blast about with others their own age. The course takes place over three afternoons and they’ll perfect their technique without even realising. This might be skiing through the trees, by skiing backwards or on one ski, or learning how to maintain balance in the fun park.
Stay: in five-bedroom Chalet Riviere, 800m from the nearest lift in the Villeneuve sector of Serre Chevalier.
Soldeu El Tarter
Instructor Training Academy
Gap Fast Track are four-, six- and ten-week ski and snowboard courses run by ex-pat instructor Gordon Standeven. This includes CSIA levels I to IV instructor courses and CASI levels I to III, which allow you to teach in Andorra and Canada – and level I Ski Guide Mountain Safety.
Alternative: Mountain Experts.
Stay: in family-friendly Hotel Del Clos that has a kids’ club in El Tarter.
Piste to Powder
This is a five-day Off-Piste course for those who want to improve not only their skiing skills, but also to increase their knowledge of mountain safety – with the aim of eventually being able to go ski-touring. Also available are half-day intensive off-piste courses.
Alternative: Ski Instructor Academy.
Stay: at Hotel Arlberg, a short walk from the Nasserein gondola on the outskirts of St Anton. The hotel has an indoor swimming-pool.
The Intro To Off-Piste Clinic is aimed at stronger skiers who want some pointers in a group of six skiers maximum. Each clinic is based on instructor/video analysis and group input, and at the end you get a DVD of the week’s skiing to take home with you.
Stay: in six-bedroom Chalet l’Armoise in Tignes Val Claret. The chalet is 500m from the lifts and 50m from a bus stop.
The Development Centre
The Discovery Clinic takes place over three half-days for strong blue run skiers who’ll be able to discover more of the mountain, learn how to ski more challenging terrain, increase their speed whilst maintaining control, and learn to carve.
Also offered are Confidence Clinics (green run skiers), Development and Development-Plus Clinics (red run skiers), and Challenges Clinics (black run skiers).
Stay: in the rustic Chalet La Vieille Maison at the La Daille end of Val d’Isere. The chalet was converted from a former farmhouse cottage.
Warren Smith Ski Academy
The Mogul Academy is designed to build and develop skill and confidence, to enable people to ski all types of terrain including moguls, steeps, powder, and learn how to carve on piste. Skills are developed by practicing specific exercises. Also on offer is a Junior Academy, BASI instructor courses for levels 1-4, a Return from Ski Injury Camp, and powder skiing.
Stay: Three-star Hotel Montpelier in Verbier, which has an indoor-swimming pool.
Zell am See & Kaprun
Ski Instructor Academy
The Freestyle Park and Pipe Camp is a tailored 10-day freestyle course for skiers and boarders who want to take on the parks and pipes. Other courses include a high-performance training clinic to master moguls and powder and conquer every type of terrain.
Stay: in Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten in Kaprun, which contains a spa and three different restaurants.
Summit Ski School
Slopestyle courses can be anything from using the terrain to help you enjoy the pistes, to jibbing around and practicing flatland moves – all the way up to hitting the park and the big kickers.
Lessons are taught only in English, and a small group size of up to six people means that everyone gets plenty of individual attention and feedback. BASI instructor courses are also on offer for levels 1-4.
Stay: Chalet Ulysse, 100m from the ski slopes in the Winkelmatten area of Zermatt.
Where Will You Go to Improve Your Technique?
This is just a selection of resorts and ski schools in the Alps and Pyrenees – there are obviously a lot more that offer good ski courses, too! Do you have any favourites to recommend? If so, make sure you share them in the comments box below.