Snow sports: New teaching methods gain popularity

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Learning to ski and snowboard has gotten easier at the Snowshoe year-round resort, thanks to a new program that makes the teaching terrain more user-friendly.

"It's a comfortable, controlled and fun way to learn," said supervisor Keely Hoffman, 27, a native of Somerset who learned to snowboard at Hidden Valley and taught snowboarding at Seven Springs.

Her sister, Amanda Rugg, 40, helps to oversee snow tubing at both of the resorts.

In her second season at Snowshoe, Hoffman is enthusiastic about the Terrain Based Learning (TBL) program the resort has introduced this season.

"There should be setups like this at every resort that has room for it," she said.

She was referring to the gentle snow-sculpted features in the teaching area that help beginners control their speed and maintain balance. The goal is to enable them to learn to slide on snow by reducing the anxieties and fears that often accompany a new experience.

On a visit to the resort Wednesday, I accompanied Hoffman to the teaching area, where she conferred with the instructors and watched fledgling skiers and snowboarders get their snow legs.

As one instructor showed a class of five snowboarders how to use one boot-covered foot to propel themselves in a circle while their other foot was secured in their snowboard binding, another instructor introduced a young couple to their skis while sliding into a gently-sloped half pipe.

The slope gave them just enough momentum to reach the other side of the half pipe, slide up a little bit and then a few feet backward. The instructor then walked in front of them, pushed them backward to the top of the half pipe and watched as they slid toward him again. Both remained upright.

Hoffman and I walked a short distance to a slow-moving conveyor lift in a 100-foot long yellow fabric-covered tunnel that transports beginners to the top of another gentle slope.

The couple we had watched in the half pipe were now sliding over several small rollers that led to a mound of snow that slowed them to a stop. Their instructor pushed them backward to the starting point where they repeated the exercise.

On the other side of the conveyor lift, several children were skiing -- one at a time -- down the slope while using several gently sloped banks of snow to help them turn to the right and left.

Hoffman said the beginners progress at their own pace from one set of features to the next during their lesson, and added that it eliminates anxiety or frustration about keeping up with the class.

A one hour and 45 minute group lesson costs $45 Monday through Thursday, $59 Friday through Sunday.

When they're ready, the beginners slide down to the triple chair that serves the Skidder slope.

They are shown the proper way to get on and off the lift. At the top, they can return to the Terrain Based Learning area or practice their new skills on the much larger slope.

"Terrain Based Learning has made such a difference," Hoffman said.

"Beginners enjoy themselves and make faster progress.

"It's the spark in the snow sports industry."

Information:; 1-877-441-4386.

Snow stats

As of Friday, Seven Springs had received 102 inches of natural snow since November.

Spokeswoman Anna Weltz said the resort's patented snowmaking system has made enough snow "to fill 996 football fields with exactly one foot of snow."

No matter what your preference in snow sports, or where you'd like to pursue it, this is the weekend to get out and enjoy it.

The snow conditions are the best they've been all season.

Larry Walsh writes about recreational snow sports for the Post-Gazette.

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