Have you ever tried to learn something new and quit after the first day because it was so frustrating to fail? Whether it’s riding a unicycle, hitting a golf ball, or balancing on a snowboard, teaching our bodies new skills is a process that can either be exhilarating or discouraging—depending on your learning style and how you’re taught.

We spend a lot of time thinking about teaching and learning at Antelope Butte. With modern equipment and good instruction, many beginners can be skiing or snowboarding on gentle terrain by the end of their first day. But, for those skills to really “take,” we believe beginners need at least five professional lessons to become comfortable and confident on the slopes.

Goals, expectations

“The most important thing about teaching anybody anything is figuring out where they’re starting, and understanding what their desires, needs and motivations are for learning,” said Patty Tobi, snowsports school director for Antelope Butte. “If a student’s vision is different than yours, as an instructor you need to figure out how to get on the same page. For example, a child who’s excited to be on the hill might have a goal to master the big lift by the end of the day. On the other hand, a child who’s been forced to take lessons might simply want to get through the class so they can leave. Each student is at a different place, and our goal is to wrap the teaching into a package so that each student can take something home. We try to eliminate any intimidation first-timers might have and instead give them a positive, encouraging experience.”

Different strokes

Most people have a dominant preference for how they learn new skills. These are the seven basic styles of learning:

• Physical or kinesthetic learners prefer learning by doing and using their bodies.

• Social learners like to be with other people, and are perfect candidates for group lessons.

• Solitary learners prefer to work alone, and may do better with private, one-on-one lessons.

• Visual or spatial learners benefit from watching others perform skills or viewing a video.

• Auditory or aural learners rely on their listening skills to absorb new ideas and information.

• Verbal or linguistic learners like reading the written word to gain understanding.

• Logical learners prefer to have everything explained in detail, step by step.

“Many of the students we teach are physical learners,” Tobi said. “They get bored with lengthy explanations, and just want to get out and try the sport.”

“So much of skiing and snowboarding is about moving your body in space, so it can be helpful to understand what someone’s previous experiences are that you can draw on. If a student has done a sport like ice skating or running, or if they have no athletic experience at all, it’s really valuable to know where they’re at physically. I use different tools and tasks to find a way to ‘tease’ out the movement I’m looking for, especially with beginners. When they get it, I give them positive affirmation so they begin to develop a natural feel for the motions,” she said.

First time to lifetime

We’ve all heard (or lived) the horror stories of a family member or friend trying to teach a beginner a skill using the “sink or swim” method.

Research shows that professional instruction increases the retention rates of beginners sticking with snowsports, which is one reason our instructors are certified by Professional Ski Instructors of America or the American Association of Snowboard Instructors.

Our five-week First Chair program for youth is designed to help beginners develop the confidence and skills to become lifelong skiers and boarders. During our inaugural session, six out of 10 students were first-timers. In a follow-up survey with parents, 71% indicated their child is “very likely” to continue participating in winter sports after completing the program.

One parent wrote, “[Our son] just loved the lessons and learning to ski. He thinks he is ‘hot stuff’ now and really enjoys it. The instructors were so kind, patient and understanding of each student and made it very comfortable for the kids.”

Teaching and helping people of all ages to develop a love of snowsports is at the heart of our mission. We invite you and your family to come to Antelope Butte Mountain Recreation Area and experience the thrill and satisfaction of learning something new.

John Kirlin is executive director of the Antelope Butte Foundation and Antelope Butte Mountain Recreation Area.