Much has changed over the course of time in the ski industry. Recent years have seen ski equipment evolve along with snowmaking capabilities and slope grooming.
The most personal aspect of skiing, however, had basically remained the same for generations, according to Dave Dekema, Snowshoe Mountain's marketing director. Resorts paid the price for a sometimes frustrating learning curve. The National Ski Areas Association reported that 85 percent of first time skiers and snowboarders were not returning for a second visit.
"The way people teach beginners really hasn't changed much in many years," he said. "People have been learning to ski and snowboard the same way their parents did and their grandparents before them."
Things will be different as Snowshoe Mountain during its 40th ski season in Pocahontas County. The resort is among the ski areas introducing an innovative terrain-based approach.
"We thought the initial experience – learning to get up, slow down, turn and stop – could be made better and more fun," said Dekema, who explained the concept of learning station-to-station on gentle slopes at the individual's preferred pace. "The terrain is helping them. It reduces a lot of the anxiety of pointing your skis or snowboard down the mountain for the first time."
Even the so-called "bunny slopes" could be stressful for first-time skiers of all ages, he said. Gone are the days of merely sending beginners off to the ski school, watching them struggle down a small hill and hoping they learn to stop without falling.
"Terrain-based learning is radically different from the way everyone has been teaching," Dekema noted. "This is a controlled environment with rolled hills and banked turns. The terrain works with them to help them understand the dynamics, pick it up faster and easier. It lets them build up confidence and feel more comfortable by reducing the learning curve on things like stopping and switching directions."
This style of instruction will have newcomers learning to link turns in small park-like stations. The snow will be shaped to create gentle, rolling terrain, which serves to control the student's speed. The mini courses are designed to be natural progressions, according to Joseph Hession, CEO Snow Operating.
"We have done years of research finding the key sensations that are memorable for the first-time skiers and boarders," he said in a release. "We design our features for the terrain based learning to give high-level sensations to beginner-level guests. This, coupled with a disciplined program designed for first-time guests, creates proven results that lead to a higher return of beginner skiers and boarders."
President and COO Frank DeBerry said the resort wanted to develop a top-level learning playground.
"It's a full cultural shift for a resort that focuses on removing anxiety and fear among first-time skiing and boarding and leaves the learner with the fun and excitement of snow play," he was quoted in the release.
"Instruction was overdue for a change," Dekema added. "We think it will bring people back more frequently. There's a lot of buzz about this. We anticipate a fast-growing trend throughout the ski industry."
Snowshoe offers three ski areas on the mountain at Snowshoe Basin, Silver Creek and Western Territory. The resort will continue to offer private and group lessons. Pending weather conditions, ski season will continue through March 30.
For information, call 877-441-4386 or see www.snowshoemtn.com.