Do I need a ski instructor, guide, or instructor-led guiding?!

Published on 31st Aug 2018 by George Ross

What's the difference, and which one is right for you and your group?

At Ongosa, we only work with dedicated, qualified Ski Instructors, Guides and other adventure-sports professionals, who have fantastic reputations. This goes for both instructors and guides. We often find them through word-of-mouth, or even personal experience. We’ll only match our clients to the most enthusiastic, responsive instructors and guides: not only does it mean you’ll get the best experience possible – they’re much nicer for us to work with!

In general, you have three very different options: guiding, instruction, or instructor-led guiding each offering a different lesson style. The following summaries should help you to decide exactly who it is you need to hire, and the difference between private and group lessons or sessions. However, if you’d like to discuss your requirements further, get in touch for a chat about your trip or give us a call on +44 (0) 20 3290 0643.

(For the purpose of succinctness we use the terms ‘ski instructor’ and ‘ski guide’, but don’t worry snowboarders – we’re talking about you too!)

Guides

Hire a ski guide if you:

Are confident and have experience skiing off piste, or climbing and mountaineering in the backcountry. If you’re trying out an activity for the first time eg. Ski touring, split-boarding or ski mountaineering, we recommend you hire an instructor until you've learnt the ropes. After this, a guide is the best choice for in-depth knowledge of a resort’s backcountry: from taking you to the best lines on a powder day, touring in pursuit of untracked snow, multi-day or hut-to-hut tours, mountaineering and climbing.

Guides will:

An IFMGA guide is qualified to lead you around off-piste, or ‘backcountry’ terrain, in an informed and supportive way. They use their experience and qualification to make decisions on itineraries, taking into account weather conditions, safety and the goals and ability of the group. This could be from your first experience ski touring, or finding fun off-piste in a new resort, to a hut-to-hut high Alpine route, or scaling Mont Blanc or the Eiger. Guides will offer full-day or multi-day guiding, and are often happy to guide groups of mixed skier and snowboarders. They will sometimes provide additional off-piste equipment for clients, but this is not a guarantee.

Guides won't:

Teach you to ski or snowboard. By the time someone has qualified as an IFMGA guide, it’s highly likely they’re an incredible skier, and most will be happy to give you tips or suggestions, but they are not qualified as instructors and are not responsible for developing your skiing or snowboarding skills. Whilst you can hire a guide privately for your group; different activities will have different maximum head-counts, for safety reasons. In addition, guides generally work in the backcountry, if you’re looking to be led around a resort’s pistes, we advise you choose instructor-led guiding.

Instructors

Hire a ski instructor if you:

Want to try something new, or improve - at any level! A ski instructor can help with learning to ski or snowboard from scratch, all the way to refining racing techniques, tackling pillow-lines and tree-runs in the backcountry, or mastering a new grab in the snowpark: there is an instructor for everybody. Even if you’re a confident skier or snowboarder, there may be elements to your sport that you’re unsure about, or don’t feel is an ‘autonomous skill’ (on or off the piste). This is when you should hire an instructor. You can read about the difference between group and private ski lessons below.

Ski Instructors will:

A ski instructor will be qualified to teach you on the piste, off piste, or both. This could be from complete beginner to expert level. Lessons vary widely: from one-on-one, to groups where the maximum size is at the instructors’ discretion. You will find lessons from two hours, to full days. Lessons with an instructor will always be solely skiers or solely snowboarders, and the best lessons only have students of one level. You can define your level by using this guide. Ski instructors will assess your ability and then advise on what you need to do to improve your skiing or snowboarding. The best instructors are highly specialised, so if you want to take up a new activity, like split-boarding, or learn to climb with your skis to reach the ‘unreachable’ fresh snow, there will be an instructor ideally placed to take your skiing or snowboarding to the next level.

Ski Instructors won't:

Always take you skiing off piste. If an instructor is not qualified to teach you off piste, they can accept no responsibility if you want to ski or snowboard away from the piste. This is because they will not have the relevant qualifications to make safety decisions on your behalf, when skiing in avalanche or risky terrain.

Instructor-led Guiding

Hire instructor-led guiding if you:

Want to get to know a resort quickly, and make the most of your ski-time on holiday. Ski instructors will know all the up-to-date resort information on the pistes, lifts and weather. This is a private service, so your itinerary will be flexible and the instructor will work with you to find the type of skiing, snowboarding (or restaurant!) you like. Instructor-led guiding is perfect if you’re new to a resort. Additionally, why not follow one of our ‘Self-guided day tours’ to explore the pistes.

Instructor-led guiding will:

Show you around a resort’s pistes, finding the best conditions, hidden lunch stops and avoiding the queues, but don’t think you need much tutoring, you may find instructor-led guiding is your ideal option. IFMGA guides mainly work off piste so won’t want to be hired for on-piste activity. Instructors know the pistes inside out, and how to connect them all efficiently. They’ll most likely be happy to lead you on this kind of session, as they can take a break from tutoring and enjoy a cruise around! Instructor-led guiding works best when the group are all the same ability level, but can happily be a mixture of snowboarders and skiers.

Instructor-led guiding won't:

Take you off piste. Unless your instructor is qualified to teach off piste, and you have the appropriate equipment with you, you cannot expect them to lead you off piste. If you want off-piste guiding, you should hire a guide! Also please note, if you have paid a different rate for instructor-led guiding, than your instructor would usually charge for a lesson, it’s a bit cheeky to ask for any teaching. However, because they are qualified, and very nice people, ski instructors will usually offer a couple of tips!

Private Ski Lessons Or Guiding

If you’re hiring a ski or snowboard instructor privately, the itinerary, pace and level is generally up to you. Of course, your instructor will have ideas for what you should be doing, and where you should be skiing, to improve. Private lessons work well for new skiers or boarders who are nervous, groups of friends or family all wanting to ski together, or higher-level skiers or boarders looking for intense coaching. Similarly, with private guiding the itinerary is much more flexibly and tailored to what you’d like to do, than if you join a group guided session.

Group Ski Lessons Or Guiding

For a group ski or snowboard lesson you will join a session of pre-determined length and standard of ability. It is very important that you correctly define your level of skiing or snowboarding (on or off piste) before you commit to a group. Group lessons will always run at the pace of the slowest/weakest and therefore, are much more productive when everyone starts at the same level. Lessons in a group are more social and people often benefit from learning from others. Because there are usually more students per instructor than in private lessons, group lessons are less intense which suits some people but, means progress is sometimes slower. For this reason, group ski lessons are cheaper than private. Joining a guided group of skiers, snowboarders or climbers will also be cheaper than going private, for the same reasons as lessons, and the itinerary will most likely be pre-determined and much less flexible.

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