Why You (Don’t) Need Lessons to Ski. Unbiased Pros Vs Cons

by Simon Naylor | Updated: October 27th, 2022 |  Skiing Articles

It's time to talk about ski lessons. Every new skier must figure out if they're going to take professional instruction, be taught by friends, or for the brave - figure it out on their own. 

The fact is, ski lessons will teach you to ski faster (faster in time not speed - but that too) than not having them. Learning with friends can be more fun OR a complete disaster. Whilst learning on your own can be an adventurous struggle.

ski lessons

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Learning To Ski On Your Own

Nowadays you can get professional coaching from expert skiers through free high-definition youtube videos. You could even load up the videos on your phone and watch them as you practice on the slopes.

The key difference? You'll receive no feedback or personal 1-1 coaching. There's only so much you can learn from watching someone else do something.

Without the instructor there in person to see how you ski and tell you exactly what you're doing wrong, it will be much harder for you to progress. That's not to say it's impossible to learn to ski on your own. Hey, someone had to learn to ski first!

ski lift view

So, why can't you learn on your own? Well, you can, but it's going to take you much longer, cost you more in the long run (ski passes cost the same whether you're falling over on the baby slopes or trailblazing across powder), and potentially lead to some injuries.

Now, I don't want to discourage you, if you're dead set on learning on your own...But I want to let you in on something. Skiing isn't easy. It's fun to learn, but it is also a pretty crazy sport.

There you are attempting to control slide your way down the face of a snowy mountain. To be honest, if no one else had done it before and no one was on the slopes with you, you'd think you were crazy for thinking it was a good idea.

learn ski

Thankfully some brave souls in the 1800s (in the US at least - the history of humans using ski-like tools across snow has been around for thousands of years) tried it out for us and figured out that, yes you can strap two planks of wood to your feet and slide down a mountain..and survive. 

Oh, and it's really fun. So where was I, oh I remember I was telling you that learning to ski on your own can be done, many have done it before BUT there are much easier and potentially better ways to go about it...Here's one...


Learning To Ski With Friends

Most people go skiing with groups of friends or family and chances are you someone in your circle can already ski. If they've offered to help you out and show you the basics. Then take them up on the offer of free tuition.

If you get on well with them and aren't prone to massive arguments then it will be a positive experience. They may get frustrated, you may get frustrated, but at the end of the day you're up a mountain learning to slide down it, it's going to have some fun parts, right?

Having friends coaching you to ski is going to be a laugh, and they'll probably be biting their tongue as they try to repeat what they've said in a new way so that it 'clicks' for you. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won't.

It is definitely possible to learn how to get around on a mountain without a lesson.

However if you get taught from a friend you should be aware that it is a much slower process, most likely also a highly incorrect technique for maintaining control and lastly also a much less safe process.

Thomas Bjarke, Professional High Level Austrian Ski Instructor / Quora: Can I go skiing without lessons

Even if someone tells you exactly what to do, it's not like you can just act it out perfectly. It takes time for muscle memory to develop, for your reflexes to tune in and for your mental barriers to overcome.

If you're not a sporty person and have a low level of fitness/stamina then it's going to take longer to learn. That's completely normal. If you're fit, an experienced athlete with balancing skills, and a background in skating or ice hockey - then you're going to pick it up much faster.

ski lesson

It's still a new sport and you'll have a learning curve, you'll just be able to climb it faster. Despite what I said earlier, be sure to watch some YouTube tuition videos the day before you hit the slopes with your buddies.

That way, you'll have a basic concept of what you're looking to achieve.  People learn in different ways, but nothing beats practice. Keep pushing your limits, enjoy the ride, and welcome to the world of skiing.

Why you need a ski lesson. (Pros)

Expert ski instructors know, through years of training, exactly how to teach you to ski. They're not only great skiers, but they also know how to teach. Obviously, not all ski instructors are equal, but if you're with a reputable ski school, then you will usually be in safe hands.

They'll be able to take you through a beginner roadmap. A step-by-step progression through the basics to get you safely skiing down the mountain. From snow-plow or pizza to wedged turns right through to the beginner holy grail - the parallel turn.

A ski instructor is going to lead you towards becoming a competent skier. Not only that, but they will install in you the skier's code of conduct. This teaches you to respect the slopes and stay safe on the mountain. As fun as skiing in, injuries are no laughing matter.

Many beginners will not be aware of the piste etiquette - like not stopping just below the crest of a hill. Now you can see the benefits of ski tuition. you might be wondering...

How many ski lessons do you need?

It depends on how long you have and to what level you're aiming. Here's a rough guide to ski lessons.

As a beginner, you will need at least a week of group lessons or a series of three two hour sessions to feel safe and in control on your skis or snowboard.

European Ski School / As a beginner how many lessons will I need to have before I can ski?

That's the clear-cut answer, but I'd recommend taking as many lessons as you can afford, up until the point that you want the freedom to carve your own path.

A single ski lesson should only be a starting point toward taking more lessons. You'll need more than a few lessons to really benefit from your instructor.  The obvious rule of thumb: The more lessons you have, the better you'll be.

do skii

Remember at least 20% of the lesson time will be spent queuing for OR being on the ski lifts - beginners ski lifts usually run about twice as slow.  (Here's a guide on using ski lifts.)

Beginner Tip: Share a lesson with a group of friends and split the cost of the tuition, it can also make the learning experience even more fun.

Ski instructors generally charge a base fee and then a bit extra per person. For example €40 per hour or €50 for three people.  To conclude, 5 days of lessons is usually perfect to get you ready to plow comfortably on your own. 

Why you DON'T need a ski lesson. (Cons)

The main arguments against taking ski lesson are as follow:


  1. They're expensive. 
  2. Friends or family can teach you instead. 
  3. I can watch youtube videos & learn on my own.
  4. I don't like being told what to do 😃

Counter Argument

  1. True, but you can split the cost with friends. If you think about how much faster you'll learn to ski, it's probably worth it. 
  2. They might not be able to provide the clear instructions you need.
  3. The YouTube instructor can't give you feedback.
  4. ...no comment.

Final Thoughts

As you can see there are three main options for new skiers. Go it alone, learn with friends or have ski lessons.  Whilst most agree that taking ski lessons is the obvious choice, there's no one rule that applies to everyone.

As Ski instructor Woodside explains, there is a massive range between people and how long it takes them to ski, whether they take a lesson or not. 

Only you will know when you are comfortable hitting the slopes without an instructor. I hit the slopes with no instruction, survived but was a rubbish skier. I have had students who are fine to find their way down a blue slope with a friend after two hours of instruction. I have had others who aren't anywhere near ready after 20 hours of instruction.

Woodsie / how many skiing lessons do you need?

Still, my advice:

Take professional lessons if you get the chance. You're very unlikely to regret it unless you get a particularly grumpy teacher.....I've yet to meet one, but I have no doubt that they exist! 

So, How long does it take to ski?

Funny you asked, I wrote about it over on this article.