Just about every ski resort operates a ski and ride school where never-evers can get a start or more advanced skiers and boarders can hone their skills. From the basic hour-and-a-half lesson, to an all-day adventure, a onetime class or a season-long program, there’s a huge variety of options. Let’s take a look at a few of the more unique snowsports school offerings in the region.
Pats Peak in New Hampshire is an easy drive from the more populated cities of Concord, Manchester and Nashua and attracts school programs from these and many other towns and cities, large and small, from the southern part of the state to the seacoast. These programs have been going almost as long as the ski area has been open — more than 50 years.
Students sign up through their school or town recreation program. Depending on the day of the week and the individual school, the kids might get out of school as early as 1:30 to arrive in time for an early afternoon lesson. Others arrive after school for a late afternoon or early evening lesson. Pats Peak has lighted slopes, so after their one-hour lesson, the students can continue to ski free until closing at 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 p.m. on Fridays.
The class levels vary from beginner to freestyle and are taught by regular Pats Peak instructors. The number of participants, mostly from elementary and middle schools, varies depending on the day of the week, with Friday being the busiest with 1,500 student skiers. Two five-week sessions are offered, early January to mid-February and mid-February to mid-March. Students can sign up for one session or both. The area charges a very reasonable fee for the program — $175 for a lift ticket and lesson. If students need rental equipment, the entire package including lifts, lesson and rental is $230. As an incentive, those going through the program receive the NH Ski and Ride Bonus. This includes a free ticket for a day of skiing at Cranmore, Bretton Woods and Pats Peak.
According to Lori Rowell, director of marketing at Pats, generations of families have gone through this program. Some turn into season pass holders, some continue to ski occasionally depending on their family’s interests and finances. For some kids, this is their only opportunity to get out on the slopes. Participants must be at least 6 years old or in first grade. But a child starting out in first grade and continuing through middle school can get in eight years of instruction and skiing or riding for a very nominal cost. And this is what the program is intended to do — give them the exposure and opportunity. Many resorts throughout New England have similar programs, but Pats Peak, because of its proximity to several larger communities, has one of the biggest.
Also offered at Pats, for the general public, is the Passport Program Plus. This is for beginner adult skiers 18 years old and up. For a prepaid price of $389, participants receive four beginner lift, lesson and rental packages good any time during the season. When they complete the four lessons, they receive a free pair of Elan skis and bindings plus discounts at participating ski shops where they can shop for boots. They also receive a free Pats Peak season pass good for the rest of the year and 50 percent off additional lessons in the same season. This is the fourth year of the program, which sees about 200 participants each season.
WOW — Women’s Only Wednesdays — is another offering at this smaller but very active ski area. Continuing for seven weeks, it’s exactly what the name says — a Wednesday morning program for women and instructed by women where everyone can feel comfortable and progress at their own pace. The group meets at 9 a.m. for breakfast followed by a brief discussion of ski-related topics. These might include boot fitting, exercises, confidence building and other subjects tailored to the interests of the group. Skiers are placed in groups of 10 or less according to ability and stay with the same group throughout the program. They spend the morning skiing with an instructor, come in for lunch and conclude at about 1 p.m.
“The Pats Peak WOW — Women’s Only Wednesday — program is now in its 14th year,” Rowell noted. “Many of the female instructors have been with the program since it began, which shows our commitment to the program. Every season our instructors tailor the program to the needs of the women participating to provide them with what they are looking to get out of it. Some women have been doing the program for years and enjoy the variety the program has to offer with its personalization to a particular group of women each year.”
Ragged Mountain, less than a two-hour drive from Boston, offers one of the most innovative lesson packages anywhere. The Bebe Wood Free Learn to Ski and Ride Program, named after longtime Ragged employee Bebe Wood, offers three two-hour lessons, with rental equipment and a lower-mountain lift ticket for no charge. Lessons may be taken on consecutive days or any time throughout the season.
The aim of the program is to get new skiers and riders into snowsports without putting a strain on their wallet and without the trepidation of whether they’ll spend a bundle of money and turn out not to like it. When students graduate from the program, i.e. complete all three lessons, they have the opportunity to purchase new Rossignol equipment, including skis, bindings, poles and boots for skiers and a snowboard, bindings and boots for riders, for a discounted rate of $299.
Upon completion of the program, they also can purchase a season pass good for the remainder of the season for $69, so it’s a good idea to start and finish the program early. And the year after graduation, a season pass is just $199 as well as discounted follow-up lessons and rentals should they not purchase equipment.
Registration is done online and is limited to ages 7 and up, and only for folks who have never skied or snowboarded before. Students progress at their own pace and are moved up when they are ready, so fast learners may go through several stations in one lesson while others are not pushed to keep up. During the 2018-19 season, there were 410 graduates.
According to program coordinator Carol Ramsey, skiers make up about 80 percent of the students, with snowboarders the other 20 percent. In addition to youngsters, participants have been in their 70s and 80s, so you’re never too old to start. This season, lessons will be held at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. There’s space for about 25 participants on weekdays and 40 on weekends. Reservations are absolutely necessary and should be made online at www.raggedmountainresort.com.
Wood, the program’s namesake, has a long history of skiing at Ragged. She was a ski bum in 1949 in Sun Valley at age 23 but had been skiing for at least 10 years prior to that. After returning east, marrying and starting a family, she began teaching at Ragged in 1964. A stint followed at King Ridge during the years Ragged was closed, but she returned in 1989 when it re-opened and continued working there as an instructor and later as an ambassador until she was into her early 90s. Retired now, she remains a fixture in the Ragged community, where there are many employees and pass holders who are her former students.
“Our Bebe Wood Free Learn to Ski or Ride Program provides an incredible experience for newcomers to inexpensively grow into this amazing winter sport,” said marketing coordinator Kyle Matzke. “This Learning Center program is an opportunity that remains the most affordable and unique within the ski industry.”