A North Lake Tahoe family ski lesson at Northstar

Recently, on a North Lake Tahoe winter trip, a friend and I were grabbing coffee in the Village at Northstar when she asked, “So, how long have you been skiing?” Reluctantly, I replied, “Actually, I’ve never skied.” A look of surprise crossed her face, before smiling and responding, “Well, you’re in the right place!” And I most certainly was.

For many families living near Lake Tahoe, skiing is a natural part of their winter. Weekend and weekday mornings are frequently spent driving up and down the mountain, be it getting a few runs in before work, or dropping kids off for team programs. 

However, I didn’t grow up near a ski area, only moving to California as a teenager. While my junior high school dubbed spring break “Ski Week," I didn’t partake. My family had other expenses to focus on, and honestly, I found the sport intimidating. The gear, the lingo, the cold, and the fear of falling down all made it a turn-off. Years later, I married a Brazilian, who despite his love for California, had also never skied.

But now as the parent of two boys living less than two hours from Lake Tahoe, a new reality has appeared, as I've found myself wanting them to learn to ski. And I thought, “If they are trying something new, why shouldn’t I, too?” So with a combination of excitement and nervousness, I planned a “learn to ski” weekend at Northstar a couple weeks ago.

Ski lesson prep

Since our family was starting from scratch, we decided to book a full-day family private lesson. We wanted to share the experience of learning to ski as a family, and later, have the memory of that day together. With the help of Northstar's website and the Adventure, Guiding and Learning Center, we easily made the reservations for a lesson and equipment.

Suiting up at the Adventure, Guiding and Learning Center at Northstar

Suiting up at the Adventure, Guiding and Learning Center at Northstar

The morning of the lesson, we met our instructor, Jake, at the Adventure, Guiding and Learning Center in the Village at Northstar. We were offered a latte while the pros helped us into our gear, with Jake offering a few tips, like how to carry our skis and adjust our helmets. We then excitedly headed to the gondola to ride up to mid-mountain.

Morning ski lesson

So what does a private family lesson look like? After arriving to mid-mountain, we began with a few exercises to get comfortable in our skis. Jake helped us make the right movements with our legs and identify which muscles to use. For example, a simple exercise of making a bowtie shape in the snow with our boots was the first step to learning how to control our skis later.

Our instructor demonstrating her skill and patience while helping my younger son feel comfortable on skis for the first time

Our instructor demonstrating her skill and patience while helping my younger son feel comfortable on skis for the first time

After about an hour of these simple yet effective exercises, we were feeling comfortable on our skis, but my kids were getting hungry. Jake walked them to the nearby lodge for hot chocolate and graham crackers, while my husband and I stayed and practiced using a wedge move to stop.

We then had the basics down, including how to walk in skis, how to push off, and how to stop. The next step during our Northstar ski lesson was the Magic Carpet. This conveyor belt took us up a small hill over and over again so that we could use the hill to learn how to control our speed. This part of the lesson was essential to gaining confidence. Once we could use the wedge correctly to control our speed, Jake knew we were ready for the next step. But first, lunch.


From mid-mountain, we took the gondola further up the mountain to the beautiful Zephyr Lodge. Located atop Northstar, Zephyr features a quick and easy cafeteria-style ordering system, but with elevated food options, like healthy Asian bowls and ahi sliders, and local craft beer (or a Bloody Mary) to wash it all down. We took in the views of the surrounding mountains from the floor-to-ceiling windows, and later, from the outdoor terrace until it was time to take the gondola back down for the rest of the lesson.

Afternoon ski lesson

Once back on the slopes, we had several practice runs of moving our skis from parallel to the wedge position, speeding up and slowing down. We were all starting to feel more comfortable on skis. Thus, we were then ready for the final part of the lesson, which was taking the chairlift to a longer run.

It was here, where Jake continued to demonstrate her expertise, knowing how to give us all different directions based on our individual levels of skill and comfort. On a larger, longer ski run, we learned to turn and control our speed. This was by far the best part of the day, seeing the fruits of a full-day lesson.  

Jake expertly sets up the four of us for our first run down "The Big Easy"

Jake expertly sets up the four of us for our first run down "The Big Easy"

Toward the end of our lesson, Jake could tell that my younger son was fading. Her experience with kids told her that it was time to stop before a meltdown happened. But I wasn't ready to be done, which she noticed, and offered to take me up one last time while my husband stayed with the boys. I had a blast following her with faster speed and tighter turns. While not a big deal for someone who knows how to ski, for us on the first day, it felt like quite the accomplishment!

While coming down that last slope, I felt high on life! I had tried something new and loved every minute of it. I never felt intimidated or embarrassed. Instead, it was all about going at our own pace and having fun. I can’t wait for next time when I hope to take another lesson to refine my beginner ski skills and develop new skills.

Meanwhile, see some of my tips below for first-time skiers.

What type of lesson should I take?

A private family lesson is a great value. You can gather a group of up to 6 people and have the personalized attention of the instructor all to yourself. Plus, you get to skip the lines, and have a reserved table at lunch, which we enjoyed atop the mountain at Zephyr Lodge. Bonus points: Ending the day back inside the warmth of the Adventure, Guiding and Learning Center with a complimentary glass of champagne and hot chocolate for the kids. The biggest perk, however, was Jake, who expertly managed our needs and skill level all day, while making us feel comfortable and safe. 

However, a variety of other lessons exist, including group lessons, kids’ lessons, and advanced lessons for those who want to take their skiing to the next level. When I asked if kids should start with skiing or snowboarding, Jake suggested that skiing is the better option for those smaller legs.

What should I bring to the lesson?

I had no idea what to bring for the day, but the folks at the Adventure, Guiding and Learning Center took care of everything. They helped us decide what to stuff in our pockets for the day and kept our shoes and bags for us. I only carried my phone, credit card, and a protein bar for a snack. I decided to leave behind my big camera and other personal items in my purse, while my kids each carried their ski pass in their pockets.

What should I wear?

We brought snow pants, winter jackets, gloves, and ski goggles from home, while we all rented skis, boots, and helmets from Northstar's equipment rental site. It's important to layer, which we did in addition to wearing thin socks under our boots and leggings under our snow pants. On the day of our lesson, it was a rather warm day, so we often left our coats to the side. Lastly, don’t forget sunscreen.

What's next?

At the end of the lesson, your instructor can fill in a report card (pictured below) highlighting the accomplishments of the day and indicating each student's level. I also asked my instructor what type of lesson, if any, would be necessary for each of us the next time. Jake also explained to me how families can get the best value on skiing by buying a season pass, including the Tahoe Local Pass, and by buying their own equipment to avoid the on-going expense of rentals. 

Jenna is a blogger, freelance writer, and full-time ESL instructor in Sacramento, California. On her blog, This Is My Happiness, she covers family-friendly travel in Northern California and beyond. She enjoys writing about the unique culture of a place to provide a deeper look at destinations and help people travel smarter. When she’s not writing or teaching, she can be found with her husband and two boys, ages 9 and 5, having as much fun as possible in their favorite places: Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, California wine country, and Brazil. Follow Jenna on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.