Ski season silver lining? Smaller classes, more one-on-one time with instructors

Planning ahead key for those hitting the slopes in Vermont

Pat Kinney, a snowmaker at Stratton Mountain Resort, in Stratton, Vt., checks the consistency of the snow from the snow machines on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, as they prepare to open for the 2020-2021 season. Photo by Kris Radder

By Chris Mays

Hitting the slopes requires patience and planning this season.

Vermont ski areas, including Stratton Mountain Resort in Stratton; Mount Snow Resort in West Dover; and Bromley Mountain Resort in Peru will all have limited inventory when it comes to daily lift tickets and rentals, and are requiring advance reservations for tickets, stays, lessons and dining.

While adhering to COVID-19 protocols means ski and snowboard lessons will have fewer people in each group, it also means more one-on-one time with the instructor.

“The main goal is to have smaller group sizes, less contact,” said Andrew Kimiecik, Stratton’s marketing communications specialist.

With that in mind, Kimiecik advises people to sign up for lessons ahead of time because smaller group sizes will limit the number of lessons. Private lessons at Stratton will be kept to four students, while group lessons will be limited to six.

Smaller class sizes aren’t new for Stratton, which already offered Max 4 lessons, where the number of participants is kept to four.

“We had it, last season, in our program as a more personalized experience; more instructor time,” Kimiecik said. “Having a model already proven, it was easier to implement it into following guidelines for this year’s lessons.”

The hope is to see more interest in the Teens Instructional Program or TIPS, which is designed as an eight-day training course for young people interested in becoming part of the Junior Mountain Sports School ski and snowboard staff.

The program, he says, is seen as a rite of passage. He anticipates local teens or those who are taking classes remotely and living in the area will be interested.

“It’s something to do,” Kimiecik said. “It’s a good way to get outside and be part of the community; more than an average weekend skier.”

An increased interest in skiing and lessons are expected this season, he said, after mountain bike, camping gear and skateboard sales soared during most of the pandemic.

“I think there’s definitely an appetite more than ever to get outside,” he said, “especially in an area like ours that’s heavily outdoors influenced.”

Crews prepare the terrain at Stratton Mountain Ski Resort in Stratton, Vt. Brattleboro Reformer File Photo

Stratton’s Nordic Center is now open seven days a week, instead of just weekends and holidays. The center offers more than 12 kilometers of trails and rentals for fat bikes, cross-country skis and snowshoes.

Kimiecik says the activities available at the Nordic Center are a way to get outside and stay away from crowds.

Newly available this year is a season pass for the center. Although, anyone with a season pass to the resort gets access to the center.

Stratton has implemented several safety measures this season, to help ensure both guests and staff stay healthy this winter. Lift tickets, rentals, lessons and lodging are available by advance purchase only, with limited inventory. Lodges will have limited seating, which is available by advance reservation. The resort has apps for guests to make dining reservations, equipment rental pickup and check-ins.

Mount Snow has also implemented a reservation system for tickets, that, according to its website, “prioritizes pass holders.” Ticket sales will be limited and all transactions at the resort are cashless.

According to its website, the Ski & Ride School is still offering group and private lessons, with a maximum class size of six. All lessons will meet outdoors. Lessons for 5- and 6-year-olds have a maximum class size of four, while lessons for 3- and 4-year-olds are being offered one-on-one. Childcare is not being offered this season.

At Bromley, pass holders are not required to make reservations, but are required to scan their pass at the entrance of each chairlift and provide staff with contact tracing information, as required by the state.

“You will be scanned every time you ride a lift or enter the lodge whether it’s your first day or your 100th,” Bromley’s website states.

Bromley also has redesigned its snowsports lessons for this season. Private and group lessons are available, although group lessons are limited to six people per class and all members of the group must be from the same household or travel group.

The Hermitage Club at Haystack Mountain is hiring new employees as the now member-owned private ski resort is reopening after being closed since the end of the 2017/2018 season due to financial issues. First-time ski instructors were encouraged to apply as the club has Professional Ski Instructors of America members on staff to train them.

Bill Benneyan, general manager at the club, says the resort has “a lot of wide-open space, nice customers and a nice, long season ahead of us.”

“If anyone ever thought it would be fun to be a ski instructor,” he says, “this is the place to do it.”

Chris Mays lives in West Dover and has been writing for the Brattleboro Reformer for five years. He spends his free time playing guitar, biking, snowboarding and hanging out with his Yorkie.

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