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Learn to Ski or Ride in January

If a friend offers to teach you how to ski or ride, thank that person. He (or she) wants to help you learn something good. Then quietly ignore the offer and make an appointment for a lesson from a snowsports school at a local ski area.

Why? Here are a few reasons. One. It's much more likely that your professional instructor won't leave you in the lurch by taking you to a spot on the hill that is too difficult for you.

Two. You avoid the drama that a difficult lesson can inflict on a relationship.

Three. Teaching is learned art, and not all who can ride or ski can teach. For example, a good instructor knows that it's useful to mix up verbal explanations, demonstrations, and guided exercises to get the job done--and knows when to use each. A good instructor understands the steps that you need to master to become a good skier or rider. In other words, that person has given some thought to what makes for a good lesson.

Four. With a trained instructor you're more likely to learn effective, efficient methods that have been honed through experience and careful thought, and not survival techniques that your friend has picked up haphazardly.

January is a great time to learn how to ski or ride. The snow is better than was earlier in the season (usually). Plus, it's Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, which means that a number of resorts are making a special effort (read: offering special deals) to reach out to beginners and novices.

Wild Mountain, where I was once an instructor, has several options. These include free lessons for adults and children who have not taken lessons before. There's also a "Get Hooked" package of three lessons (two hours each), rental equipment, and lift tickets, all for $99. On January 25, it offers a different twist, with "never-ending lessons."

Not sure you want to commit to three lessons? You can go for just one lesson, there or elsewhere. Buck Hill, for example, has a one-lesson equipment and ticket deal for $35. Afton Alps has a similar plan for $45.

Even if an area doesn't have a special this month, it will likely have a package deal that's worth considering. For example, Hyland Ski & Snowboard Area has Adult Learn to Ski & Snowboard packages for just $99. These include three lessons (90 minutes each), rental equipment and all-day lift tickets. They even come with an extra lift and rental ticket that you can use after your lessons end. Trollhaugen and Welch Village also offer lessons.

In all cases, check the website of the ski area you're interested in, as reservations may be required for some lessons.

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