Learning to Ski in the Catskills

A peek at Hunter Mountain and Windham Mountain Resorts ski lessons

Growing up in Maine, one would think I’d be a season lift ticket-holding ski bum, but that is not the case. I grew up cross-country skiing with Dad and snowshoeing with Mom and Dad, and I once took a snowboarding lesson with my older brother—because I had to do all of the cool things he was doing—but I ended up not wanting to pursue it. So when I got the opportunity to take private skiing lessons at Hunter Mountain and Windham Mountain Resort, both in the Catskills region of New York, I jumped at the chance to see what many childhood friends were so obsessed with every winter.

Learning to Ski at Hunter Mountain

After the nearly 3-hour drive from Manhattan to Hunter, I acquired my lift ticket and lesson pass, headed over to the Rental Shop, and checked in on a computer, answering questions such as experience level, height, and weight—all needed to ensure I got the proper skis. I was then fitted with boots, which should be snug but not uncomfortable to prevent blisters, and given skis, poles, and a helmet because as Mike, a rental attendant, said, “I like what I have between these,” pulling on his ears.

Once I had my gear, I headed out to the Learning Zone to meet Hans, my instructor for the 1-hour lesson. After asking what I knew about skiing (next to nothing!), Hans taught me the basics—how to turn, stop, speed up, and slow down. I practiced these skills on a low-grade slope for almost 20 minutes, and when he thought I was ready, Hans took me up a conveyer belt-type carpet lift to the top of Gramercy Park—a slightly higher-grade slope—where I continued to practice my new skills. After 20 or so minutes on Gramercy Park, I graduated to riding the lift to a slightly higher trail, Central Park North, where Hans had me focus on controlling my speed and making complete, round turns while skiing among others—nerve-wracking to say the least!

When my hour was up, Hans and I parted ways, but I stayed on the slopes for a while longer, practicing all the skills I had learned in the lesson.

kids learning to ski at hunter mountain
Courtesy Hunter Mountain
Hunter Mountain offers a variety of learn-to-ski programs for kids ages 3-17.

In addition to private and group lessons for adults, Hunter offers a variety of learn-to-ski programs for the whole family. Kids programs include group lessons available for Explorers (ages 4-6; skiing) and Mountaineers (ages 7-12; skiing or snowboarding); seasonal programs for Mighty Mights (ages 5-6; skiing), Junior Development (ages 7-12; skiing or snowboarding), Junior Adventure (ages 7-12; skiing and snowboarding), and Teen Pro Development (ages 13-17; skiing or snowboarding); and competition teams for ages 7-20. For the youngest non-skiiers, Hunter offers PlayCare for ages 2-6, which is a full-day, half-day, or 2-hour child care service with games, crafts, and storytelling. PlayCare also offers two learn-to-ski programs: the All Day Ski and Play program for ages 4-6 includes a 2-hour group lesson, lunch, and 5 hours of PlayCare, and the Just For Me Because I’m Three for 3-year-olds is a 30-minute lesson for children enrolled in PlayCare.

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Hotel Vienna

While both Hunter Mountain and Windham Mountain Resort have on-site accommodations, I stayed overnight at Hotel Vienna in Windham, which is conveniently located between the two mountains—perfect if you want try the slopes at both resorts. Hotel Vienna has 30 chalet-style rooms with King or Queen beds and a complimentary continental breakfast. The hotel also offers special Ski & Stay Packages that include lift tickets to Hunter and/or Windham. Bonus: Hotel Vienna leaves bath salts in the rooms so you can relax and soak your aching muscles.

Learning to Ski at Windham Mountain Resort   

I was up early for day two, and drove the 5 or so minutes to Windham Mountain Resort for day two. At Windham Mountain Resort, the check-in process is similar to Hunter’s—pick up lift ticket and lesson pass, answer questions on the computer, get equipment, and meet the instructor just outside the Rental Shop. I was lucky to have Franz Krickl, snowsports director at Windham, as my instructor for the 2-hour lesson.

I told Krickl what I learned the previous day and what I knew I needed to work on to feel more confident on the slopes—mainly controlling my speed, especially among other skiers. We warmed up on Whisper Run, and then moved up to Wooly Bear, where I worked on controlling my speed (speeding up, slowing down, and maintaining a consistent speed) and making complete turns. After nearly an hour on those two runs, we progressed to What’s Next?, which was higher up on the mountain and required using the lift. Throughout the lesson, Krickl would give helpful hints and point out what I should change to make skiing easier—mainly that to really control my speed, I needed to make my pizza wedge (toes pointed inward, heels out) bigger and how to really control and complete my turns.

At the end of the lesson, during which I had fallen two or three times, I skied a few more runs on What’s Next? to end my day on a high note.

Here I am with Franz Krickl, snowsports director, skiing down Wooly Bear, one of Windham Mountain Resort’s learning slopes, while practicing completing my turns and controlling my speed.

While Windham offers private and group lessons—for adults, it also offers a 50+ Midweek Program for those ages 50 and older, The Fear Workshop to help women face their on-mountain fears, and I Heart Snowboarding for women. Windham also offers a variety of ski programs for kids. Private or group lessons are available for ages 4-12, plus Mini Mogul Skiers and Riders for ages 4-7 (which includes a lesson, rentals, lift ticket, and indoor supervision and activities) and Mountain Master Skiers & Riders for ages 8-12 (which includes a lesson, rentals, and all-day lift ticket). Windham also offers child care services for non-skiers for ages 2-7 in full or half days, as well as Wooly Bear Club for ages 4-7, which includes a season pass, locker, and 15 days of winter fun.

Windham is also home to the second largest adaptive ski program in the country, according to Krickl. When I was at Windham, the Adaptive Sports Foundation was hosting its Warriors in Motion Learn-to Ski and Snowboard Festival for veterans injured in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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More Than Skiing

Don’t be fooled by the slopes—Hunter and Windham both offer more than just regular skiing and snowboarding. Hunter has a snowtubing park with 22 chutes, the Empire Terrain Park with rails and jumps, Kaatskill Mountain Club Spa, and New York Zipline and Adventure Tours. Windham has an Adventure Park with ice-skating, snowtubing, two zip lines, and kids snowmobiles; a big air bag to practice jumps; cross-country skiing and snowshoeing; and the Alpine Spa.

After seeing the variety of skiers on the mountain—from a preschooler learning with Mom and Dad to the injured veterans and the seasoned skier—skiing, and learning to ski, is a great activity for the whole family, and one which the family can progress through together. I ended the weekend with some sore muscles, two lift tickets fastened to my coat, and a new winter hobby I hope to enjoy a few more times before the season ends.

Main image: Here I am with Franz Krickl, snowsports director at Windham Mountain Resort, as we ride a conveyer-belt type lift to the top of Wooly Bear, one of Windham Mountain’s learning slopes. Hunter Mountain has a similar carpet lift set up in its learning area.  
Lisa Gorman

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