Why would you want to get a snowboarding lesson? The obvious answer is to improve. But what do you get from a lesson on the hill that you can’t get elsewhere? How many lessons do you even need?

I recently explored the idea of learning to snowboard without taking expensive lessons. In this article, we’ll look at the things that a lesson does offer, and compare that with cheaper forms of tuition. The discussion applies to different levels of instruction: learning to snowboard, freestyle snowboarding, advanced riding and off-piste/freeriding.

On-hill snowboard lessons

Technique. Your snowboard instructor will prime you with the technique you need to improve your snowboarding, whether it be the first steps taken by a beginner, or more advanced techniques. They can show, demonstrate and explain how to snowboard. Correctly.

Structure. In addition to the technique required, your snowboard instructor will provide with a structure in which to learn. What to start with, what order to progress in. Some exercises to re-enforce the learning. If you get stuck, maybe they’ve got back-up methods to help out in certain areas. A lesson should structure your progression.

Guidance on the mountain. How to use a lift, which runs to use and what areas to avoid. The instructor works at the mountain. They know the terrain and they know the facilities. They may show you the perfect slope to practice on, a jump that’s great for trying what you want to learn, or good, introductory off-piste. They’ve got local knowledge – they can provide you with guidance on the mountain.

A two-way lesson. One of the main advantages of taking an on-hill lesson is that the information flows in both directions. First the instructor will give you something to try. The instructor then gets to watch you try it. That’s an important distinction. They may see something instantly that’s holding you back. Having the correct instruction is one thing, but getting feedback on your own technique is sometimes just as important – and sometimes more so. On the hill, you can ask the instructor questions and they can watch your progress. Important.

Confidence that you’re doing it right. Your snowboard instructor is a professional, teaching snowboarding is their job. That concept is often enough for people to stop questioning things, and just do what the instructor is telling them. That confidence in “doing the right thing” is useful for just getting on with it. For progressing.

Confidence in being safe. Again, learning in the care of a professional snowboard instructor gives you confidence that you’re in a safe environment. Left to your own devices, you have to make the safety calls yourself. This applies to the beginner snowboarder, unsure of the mountain; the freestyler, who follows the suggestion of their instructor to try a jump in the park; or the freerider who’s being guided off-piste. With an instructor, they make the assessment of what’s safe, which can make you more confident.

Encouragement. Sometimes you just need a push. A little encouragement. An instructor should provide this when needed. “You’re on the right track, just keep doing what you’re doing, it will come.” “A lot of people struggle with this part, don’t give up.” There can be legitimate information in that, e.g. the knowledge of how everyone learns, and sometimes it’s just motivational. Either way, there are times when you need encouragement.

How unique are these benefits? On-hill vs. video coaching

I’ve been recommending the Snowboard Addiction video instruction for a while now; they have lessons for both beginners and freestylers. They’re very good: they do the best possible in removing the need to ask questions back. They’re much cheaper than on-hill lessons. All-in-all, they’re a valid alternative for learning to snowboard.

So, when would it be better to take an on-hill lesson? What are the unique benefits of learning with an instructor?

Well, some elements of instruction are only possible in person. There are others that are much better delivered in person. But which ones? And importantly, do you need them now, at this stage of your snowboarding?

  • You want the encouragement, you want to be pushed, you’re nervous about something. A lesson may provide the presence you need!
  • You’ve tried it on your own, and it’s not happening. you’re stuck with something. You already know how it should be done, but it’s just not happening. You need someone to watch you, and tell you what you’re doing wrong. You need feedback.
  • You don’t have a clue – all your friends are new to snowboarding too, and you haven’t seen any instructional material
  • The safety element is high, or beyond your experience level. For example, you’re venturing into the off-piste, you’re learning avalanche safety
  • You’ve been given some tips, watched some videos, but you’re not confident trying them yourself.

Any double-edged swords? Yes. Beware, the quality of a snowboard instructor isn’t guaranteed. Not all lessons are great. That’s not specific to snowboarding; paying for an instructor in all different walks of life doesn’t mean you’re going to get someone good! Some instructors are awesome! Worth every penny and more. Others are good, some OK, and some should probably have a different job.

That’s one of the reliable things about the SA instruction, you can buy that knowing that many people have rated it highly, including me.

On this note, stay tuned for an article on “what to look for when booking a snowboard lesson”. If you’ve got any ideas on what to look for, or on the subject of what on-hill lessons offer, add them with a comment below.

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