Published On: Wed, Dec 4th, 2013

School is in session at Snowshoe Mountain Resort

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Ski School Instructor Brittany Melton, third from left, poses with her class of young snowboarders during the 2012-2013 winter season. Photo courtesy of Snowshoe Mountain Resort

Ski School Instructor Brittany Melton, third from left, poses with her class of young snowboarders during the 2012-2013 winter season. Photo courtesy of Snowshoe Mountain Resort

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Before you strap on your skis or snowboard and attempt to brave the slopes for the first time, visit the Ski School at Snowshoe Mountain Resort and get some pointers from the instructors.

It’s for more than just skiers and kids. Ski and Ride School Director Jen Shannon said there is no limit to what the school has to offer.

“We have a really broad range of products that we offer,” she said. “We have Kids World which is specific to four-to-twelve-year-olds. Those are group lessons. Then we also have our older kid/teen/adult group lessons. We do private lessons which are pretty much any age.”

The school also has a Pre-ski school program for children two-to-four.

“That’s become a popular product, getting those little guys out there,” Shannon said.

Between Snowshoe and Silver Creek, the school has anywhere from 120 to 150 instructors a year, ready to take on groups and individuals.

Although it varies from individual to individual, Shannon recommends that new skiers or riders take at least three lessons before heading out on their own.

“It varies from age, athletic ability. There’s so many variables,” she said. “What is so great about that is that kind of brings us to our new Terrain Based Learning which we’re really excited about. This is geared toward the first time beginner skier and rider. We shape and design the snow to make it a less intimidating, a less scary experience their first go round.”

Terrain Based Learning also takes away the fear of careening down a mountain as the newbies learn the ropes.

“What we’ve done is kind of taken that fear factor away because the way we designed all the features, there’s no way for them to just take off out of control and go down the hill,” Shannon said. “The snow is going to stop them or it’s going to help them turn. It’s going to help them learn to balance. Even after [a lesson], if somebody still doesn’t feel like they’re comfortable enough to go over the hill, they can totally hang out in these features all day and have a good ol’ time, and just keep practicing.”

Before they can take on students, the instructors go through extensive training to prepare them for the “classroom.”

“We have a pretty intense training,” Shannon said. “We do everything from working on their personal riding to explaining how to teach. It’s one thing to be able to do the movements, it’s another thing to be able to explain those movements to another person. We definitely focus on their personal skiing and riding, and making sure they are at least an intermediate skier and rider.”

Snowshoe Ski School works closely with Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) and American Association of Ski Instructors (AASI) to get all instructors national certification.

“They do certification levels for instructors, so especially with the new ones, we definitely bring them on and really get them pumped on that because it’s going to help them with that professional certification,” Shannon said.

After receiving certification, the instructors are required to shadow veteran instructors before they are given their own class or individual.

Training Center Supervisor Caroline Conner said the training for instructors continues through the winter season to ensure that all instructors are well versed.

“Aside from our new hire training, we have a full staff of ski and snowboard trainers and we clinic our trainers from day one until the end of the season,” Conner said. “We offer multiple clinics throughout the week. It’s not just an initial on board and training, and then they’re left on their own. Their training is very extensive.”

Shannon and Conner both started out as instructors and continue to assist as supervisors.

“I spent a lot of years teaching at all the levels from beginners through people who ride in the terrain park, so I just have a lot of experience under my belt – a lot of tricks in my bag,” Conner said. “As well as the new hire training and the on-going clinics that we offer, I’m a resource for the instructors to come to, along with our other trainers when they do run into those real time issues.”

Both ladies use their personal experiences as former instructors to assist new instructors with any issues that may arise.

“What we do is to make sure that each one of those instructors is able to the best of their ability to go on snow and provide just a killer experience for the guests no matter what their athletic ability is, no matter what their mind set is,” Conner said. “We get a lot of people who are very good skiers and very good snowboarders, but like Jen was saying, knowing how to do something is different from knowing how to teach it.”

Whether she’s training instructors or guests, Conner said she just enjoys being on the snow with people.

“It’s fun training instructors because it’s a whole different dynamic from working with students, which is also great,” she said. “The whole reason we’re here is the guests that come to the mountain. I love beginners personally. They’re like a blank slate and it’s fun to be that person that introduces them to this sport that we love so much.”

As well as teaching the ins and outs of skiing and snowboarding, the instructors also teach guests about the proper attire to have for a better experience.

“They need to have the right kind of socks, the right kind of layering,” Shannon said. “You want waterproof on the outside – waterproof gloves, eye protection. We also do rental helmets, which are required by twelve and under in lessons. Those older than that, they can rent a helmet, but if they prefer not, they would need to provide a beanie.

“That’s really important,” she continued. “A lot of people that we get are from the south and they don’t know what to wear. We’re always really trying to push – ‘you guys, your experience is going to be so much more enjoyable, just invest in some waterproof stuff and layer up underneath.’”

While most instructors are college students or recent graduates looking for a fun job, some are lifers with snow running through their veins, like Shannon and Conner.

“I’m from the beach, Virginia Beach,” Shannon said. “I was never a big fan of the beach. At the time I moved up here, my older brother was working here. He sort of talked me into it. I had just graduated college. I didn’t really have a game plan so I was like, ‘I’ll go there one season and try it out, see how it goes – and I never left.’”

Shannon is primarily a snowboarder but knows how to ski. She came to Snowshoe in 2001, the same time that Conner found her way to the mountain.

“I grew up in the desert,” Conner said. “I was raised oversees. My folks were in the oil industry so I was actually raised in Saudi Arabia. I never even saw snow until I was in my early twenties. My momma always said, ‘that girl’s got mountains in her blood.’ It was a whim that brought me here. I was living in Florida, in school, working two jobs and this friendly little bubbly girl came walking through where I was working, and we got to talking. She said ‘I’m on my way to West Virginia to be a snowboard instructor. They need instructors bad.’

“We showed up here in flips flops and shorts in January, little Florida girls,” she continued. “I fell in love instantly. I really didn’t know what I was doing and they had some great trainers at the time and they taught me what I was doing. It just kind of rolled and I became a trainer several years ago and started running the snowboard training program, and then moved into the Training Center supervisor spot.”

Every ski school instructor has a story that brought them to the mountain and both supervisors credit the success of ski school with the diversity of its employees.

“I think one of the reasons we are so successful and have people that are satisfied is because of our staff,” Conner said. “We’ve got kids that have never had a job. We have doctors, lawyers, engineers, retired folks. We have people with two and three masters degrees and we have people who have been ski bums their whole lives.”

“It’s a cool mix of people,” Shannon added.

Guests interested in lessons may call or go online to reserve a spot with the ski school.

For more information on Terrain Based Learning, Pre-ski Play Center, Group Lessons, Kid’s World Lessons and Private Lessons, visit www.snowshoemtn.com or call 304-572-1000.

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com

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