Ski newbies eligible for lesson deals in January |

Ski newbies eligible for lesson deals in January

DENVER (AP) – Dozens of U.S. ski areas are offering January deals on beginner lessons, especially ones for kids, as resorts woo newcomers during the lull after the December holidays.

During Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, never-ever skiers and snowboarders can learn for free at some ski areas from an instructor – not a buddy or relative.

“Part of the reason for doing this is to encourage people to take lessons from professionals. That’s key,” said Mary Jo Tarallo, executive director for Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, supported by industry groups.

Already this season, accidents have killed skiers and snowboarders on the slopes. Trained instructors emphasize mountain etiquette and safety but also know the latest techniques and equipment and their mountains intimately, said John Guay, director of skier services at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah.

Besides, “You really don’t want a friend or relative to have the wrath of your frustration on them,” said Jackson Hole Mountain Resort instructor Kurt Harland in Wyoming.

Deals and restrictions vary, but resort associations in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine are offering free beginner lessons Jan. 3-9.

Colorado resorts that have traditionally offered a few days of free skiing to Colorado fifth-graders who sign up are throwing in a free lesson with free rental equipment for first-timers this January. Some Utah resorts have packages available for less than $40, with low prices for repeat visits so beginners can practice, and Ski Brule in Michigan has free lessons on certain days.

Overall, resorts in at least 30 states are offering lesson discounts in January.

For years, the National Ski Areas Association has spoken of needing to lure new people to the sport to replace skiers who might drop out as they get older.

However, shaped skis and better grooming to make ski runs smooth have made it easier for baby boomers to ride longer than their parents did, and they’re bringing kids and grandkids with them, association President Michael Berry said.

“Baby boomers are sticking with us in a way that’s surprising even us,” Berry said. “Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month is really about bringing that next generation of young people to skiing and snowboarding.”

The National Ski Areas Association says about 89 percent of skiers and snowboarders last season were white. The median age was 37, and about 60 percent were male.

“The growth that we see is on the West coast, particularly among Asians and Hispanics, particularly snowboarders,” Berry said. Urban kids are being drawn by a skateboarding culture that’s crossing over into snowboarding, and they’re introducing friends to the sport, he said.

“To some extent, what will happen over the next 10 years as we go forward, we will be more ethnically diverse than ever before,” Berry said.

Tarallo estimates about 30,000 people took lessons in January 2010. Her goal is to double that this January, for the health of the industry and Americans in general.

Harland said big snowstorms are leaving fresh, fluffy snow for beginners to fall on.

Bill Donald of Cashmere, Wash., taught himself to snowboard around 1997 when he was 24, but he signed up his 6-year-old son, Jackson, for lessons at nearby Mission Ridge Ski and Snowboard Resort this week. After watching Jackson in ski school, he said he’d recommend lessons for adults too.

“I sat there and fought tooth and nail to get on the lift. He learned to grab the rope tow within two or three times,” Donald said. “It’s probably the best money spent.”

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