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Originally published Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 7:01 PM

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Spring-skiing newbies: Don't let your sweetheart be your teacher

Want to learn to ski in the sunnier days of spring? Here are tips about choosing an instructor, including a program for women only.

Special to The Seattle Times

If You Go

This season's final Women's Escape session at Mission Ridge will be March 29. It includes a four-hour group lesson, lift ticket, lunch and equipment rental if needed. Cost is $60 if reserved 72 hours in advance, or $75 on the day of the event. More info: 509-663-6543 or www.missionridge.com/events/womens-escape.html.

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Want to learn to ski in the sunnier days of spring? Ski instructor Junell Wentz says there are many right ways to learn to ski — and one way that often ends badly.

"In the typical scenario, the man takes his girlfriend or wife out and says, 'Come on, honey, you can do it!' Then he immediately takes her way up on the mountain," she said. "These women have the most horrible time."

Wentz recently joined other female instructors in teaching skiers at a Women's Escape, an event Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort near Wenatchee holds a few times a season.

The purpose: to make women comfortable in a sport that some might otherwise find intimidating.

"A lot of adults, especially women, have had a bad experience somewhere along the line, and they are very apprehensive about skiing," Wentz said.

At the event, resort staffers met participants in the parking lot, guided them to rentals and quizzed them about their capabilities.

Three groups — one beginner and two intermediate — headed to the chairlift (or the rope tow, for beginners) to start lessons. After three hours of low-key instruction in light, swirling snow, they all met again for lunch and conversation.

Ways to learn

Wentz didn't ski much until she was an adult and started going with her husband, a skier since childhood. Although he was nice about teaching her, they butted heads.

She finally found she learned better by mimicking what he did than by following his instructions.

She says she "learned by leaps and bounds" when she started taking classes to become a ski instructor.

"It's just human nature," she said. "We learn better from someone we're not connected to, relationship-wise. With an instructor, you don't feel you have to live up to something."

Apprehension about skiing or snowboarding is a combination of things, not necessarily specific to women.

Adults might feel more self-conscious about failure than kids do. They pick up new skills more slowly. They have a sense of their own mortality that doesn't sit well with leaning forward to hurtle down a steep slope on a couple of sticks.

Adults literally have farther to fall than kids, and when they do fall, their injuries might take longer to heal.

That leads to another issue: Adults often have a sense of responsibility that children or teenagers don't.

"As adults, we think, 'I can't afford to get hurt. If I get hurt, it's going to affect the way I do my job, how I take care of my home and my kids,' " Wentz said.

Mixing ages, genders

Those fears can be magnified if newbies find themselves surrounded by teenage boys in a beginning skiing or snowboarding class.

"As women, we generally feel that guys want to prove how great they are on snow or how fast they can get down the hill," said Jodi Taggart, snow-sports director at Mission Ridge and a Women's Escape instructor.

While male instructors can be sensitive and compassionate, "we still generally feel more comfortable with women," she said.

Even more fraught with hazards than taking a lesson from a hot-dog instructor: learning from someone with whom you already have a relationship.

Sean Bold, who directs the Snowsport School at Crystal Mountain, says, "That never ends well, especially with the spouse or boyfriend trying to teach someone. ... I've seen some full-on, drag-out fights."

He says resorts have realized they need to expand their appeal beyond hard-core skiers to "lifestyle" skiers who may ski for a lifetime, but only for a few days a year.

This means they target lessons to help even clumsy types experience the joys of swooshing confidently down the slopes without humiliation or even possible relationship destruction.

Some tips on skiing for the less-than-confident:

Take lessons

Bold says it takes about three days, or 10 hours, worth of lessons for a beginner to feel comfortable on the slopes.

Most resorts have package deals for beginners that include equipment rental and lift tickets as well as instruction.

"If you're going to go with a well-meaning boyfriend or friend, more than likely, they've been chomping at the bit to go out themselves," Bold said. That means they're thinking more about their own skiing than about teaching you.

Pick the right teacher

When you schedule a lesson, offer plenty of information about your skill and comfort level and the kind of instructor you want.

It might feel embarrassing to admit you're not very good, but many instructors like working with beginners. "Beginner skiers/snowboarders are a treat to teach because you can get them going on the right track," said Taggart, who teaches both skiing and boarding.

Do it your way

Rather than trying to keep up with someone else, make your skiing experience about you, then do what makes you comfortable. "Pick a day that you can devote to your own personal schedule," Taggart said. "Give yourself plenty of time to get to the mountain, get your gear rented, take care of personal needs and get to your designated lesson meeting area."

Ask plenty of questions and speak up if something's bothering you.

Focus on the fun

Wentz says fear can crowd out the whole reason for learning to ski: It's supposed to be fun.

"It's really important not to push," she said. "You allow people to learn at their own level, whatever that is. The minute you're not safe and not comfortable, it's not fun."

Joining your friends and family on the slopes is a great reason to take up skiing or boarding, but don't feel pressured to go beyond your comfort level.

Wentz gives her students this advice: "Don't ski with them. Have them ski with you. There's a big difference."

Christy Karras is a

Seattle-based freelance writer.

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