She was a new friend whom I was inveigling to try skiing. To
make it more fun for her, my husband who had given up skiing in the
1980s, joined the introduction-to-skiing class. As a journalist, I
tagged along and took photos.
I had never witnessed the entire process for teaching first-timers
before. So there I was at Snowshed's Arrival Center on a cold
February afternoon, as the two signed in.
With directions to the adjacent Learning Center, we entered a small
room where a personable instructor introduced himself and showed
the "never-evers" how to put on ski boots. He showed them where to
stash their gear and how to carry their short shaped skis to an
Yes, we boarded a bus, not a lift, and were let out at the top of a
learning trail. No fear of a lift before they could get used to
At the top of the learning area, two instructors demonstrated how
to get into the skis and assisted the group of five.
Next, one instructor stood at the end of a short incline and the
other skied to him. Funny thing, though, the skiing instructor
stopped before he reached the outstretched arm of the waiting
That was because the terrain imperceptively flattened so the skier
automatically slowed and stopped before reaching the safety net,
that arm. The instilling of confidence is a great thing to witness.
No one fell as they learned to slide.
This process continued with the initial straight runs followed by
the wedge. No wide-track snowplow on the six-plus foot skis we used
in the 1950s. No entangling. No embarrassing falls. They all wedged
on their 130-cm Elans and then progressed to turning.
Straight running over more terrain with built-in "speed bumps"
automatically slowed them and taught them to bend the knees to
absorb, providing they actually carried enough speed to get over
them in the first place.
I witnessed this group of first-timers ski two runs without mishap.
The specially contoured terrain helped them overcome any fears of
falling, injury or embarrassment. I even caught some smiles and a
glimpse of "piece of cake."
On the last crossover to the Snowshed slope my friend finally did
fall. That's when Gus showed her how to get up using the V push-up
maneuver. I had never seen that method before and was duly
I was also impressed by the thoughtfulness and better communication
that go into teaching today. It's all a far cry from the (advanced)
lessons I experienced in the 1960s and 1970s (from other ski
schools), with commands issued that twice left me leaving the hill
with big bruises. These instructors really knew how to keep a new
person in their comfort zone and having fun.
Killington Director of Golf and Snow Sports Dave Beckwith explains
that the orchestrated experience is definitely intentional.
Instructors with good communication skills build confidence in a
new skier via their thorough understanding of these step-by-step
progressions that leads to success and fun. This occurs not by
happenstance but through a serious approach to teaching that
provides a conducive learning environment, something that
Killington continues to pioneer.
Evolution of the Learning Environment
Killington was a national leader in the development of ski
instruction, starting with the implementation of GLM (Graduated
Length Method), which it developed in concert with SKI Magazine.
Highlights of various innovations over the years include:
1964-74 GLM uses series of three ski lengths to teach
1970-74 Accelerated Ski Method (ASM) uses 39-inch skis
for beginners, indoor movie; area invests $1 million in
learn-to-ski program R&D, terrain, rentals area, etc.
1974-76 Beginners start on four-foot skis, wedge
1970s Special learning areas
built and contoured for teaching fundamentals of edging, weight
transfer, and turning. Emphasis on creating a "controlled learning
1980s Killington offers ASM and
PSIA's ATM (5-foot skis for learners).
1981-82 Creation of Accelerated Learning Area (ALA
1982-83 Special Learning Stations areas built on
1984-85 Introduction of specialty ski workshops.
1993-94 Experimental use of Elan SCX shaped ski in ski
1994-95 Specialty clinic option for learning on new
1995-96 Use of Elan SCX incorporated into Ski
1996-97 Perfect Turn clinics debut; free, guided shaped
ski demos offered.
1998-99 Use of graduated lengths of shaped skis for new
Guaranteed Learning Method, an adaptation GLM. New
learn-to-ski-and-snowboard Discovery Center at Snowshed.
2007-08 Max 3 and 5 programs introduced for children;
Max 5 for adult groups.
In 1981 an Accelerated Learning Area was built off to the side of
the top of the original Idler Trail on Snowshed. It featured a
"terrain garden" or "teaching pod" where beginners could learn to
walk and slide on skis after being brought up to this area by a
shuttle vehicle. They could learn the fundamentals at their own
pace in an environment free from skier traffic (the original
learning areas on Snowshed were subject to fast skiers coming
through) and the potential embarrassment of having an audience. The
area also removed any fear of the sight of a ski lift for the
This concept caught on and the special learning terrain was
extended down the entire Idler trail all the way to the children's
area (a new Idler along side the Killington Road replaced the
original). The result was the Accelerated Learning Area trail, or
Illustrating just how evolutionary the approach to the teaching and
learning process is, then Ski School Director Steve Eccleston and
Tom Arzberger, first explored and built the concept for the
Accelerated Learning Area in a sand box. Henry Biathrow then carved
similar terrain on the actual hill with his bulldozer. With the
special snow grooming this area receives, Killington had its first
"graduated" learning trail.
With a continuing emphasis on R&D, the ski school continued to
try out many innovative teaching strategies over the years. Some
worked, some didn't. A stationary practice chair was installed and
later upgraded to a mechanical (moving) practice chair so beginners
could experience what it was like to board a lift (not necessary
with detachable quads).
Research methods extended to studying the skier. Anatomy, mental
attitude, left or right handedness, dominant side, two-legged
turning versus one-legged turning, and a whole host of factors were
looked at in an effort to create homogeneous classes that would
speed up the learning process.
The emphasis on R&D continued under Killington owner Les Otten
and his American Skiing Company (ASC). A former Killington trainee,
Otten was familiar with GLM and had seen the potential of the
shaped ski to reinvigorate the ski industry. He had supported its
use in ski teaching at Sunday River, including the use of shorter
Under ASC, Killington changed over the entire rental fleet to
shaped skis and used a shorter shaped ski to teach "never-evers."
The short ski proved to be a great teaching tool because it makes
everything easier for the learner.
This resulted in the new skier being put on a 130 cm ski for
learning. [The 150 cm is an average length for experienced women
today and 160-165 cm for men since there is a stability issue for
the better skiers who ski faster today.]
Beckwith notes, "We use 130 cm Elan's for most of our beginner
adults. They incorporate the E Rise technology, similar to the
rocker technology now popular in most ski manufacturers; only this
design is geared towards ease of entry to a turn for a
Today, Killington also uses a Max 5 approach to teach adults (group
lessons limited to a maximum of five learners). It is another step
on the evolutionary ladder to make learning easier, faster, and
What is so exceptional about Killington's teaching/learning
evolution is that it has always been predicated on finding a
"better way." The fears learners have are acknowledged and
addressed, not ignored. Progress is encouraged by well-thought-out
progressions and positive feedback from instructors who are
cognizant of one's comfort zone and always focused on what will
lead to more fun.
"Whether it is through technique, terrain, or technology, we are
wholly dedicated to seeking the best practices in snow sports
instruction," Beckwith says. "Guest needs and learning
circumstances evolve over time and we pride ourselves in rising to
the challenge of offering a contemporary learning experience in a
fun and safe environment for each and every one of our