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At Breckenridge Ski Resort, I learned who should (and shouldn’t) get a ski guide or take lessons

Breckenridge Ski Resort
Breckenridge Ski Resort Nate Swanner / Nate Swanner

All major ski resorts have a feature you’re probably not taking advantage of. Ski guides, which are like the Swiss army knives of ski instructors, can provide a host of services you probably need but aren’t considering.

Eric Zerowin, who has been coaching and guiding visitors at Breckenridge Resort for 17 years, has seen it all and is qualified to do just about anything related to coaching and guiding skiers and snowboarders. We caught up with Eric to find out why a ski guide is a good idea, who should (and shouldn’t) get a guide or take lessons, and how to find the best ski guide for your abilities and interest level.

The difference between a guide and a coach

Zerowin tells us that, strictly speaking, a coach and a guide are interchangeable for those who want to improve their riding. Zerowin coaches and guides help skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels, but coaches who focus on more beginner-level instruction might not be able to provide the same level of instruction as a guide would be able to.

A guide can usually get a bit more granular, too, as they’re often senior-level coaches. You might want to focus on hitting tricks in the park, which is something a guide can help with.

At Breckenridge, guides are essentially private lessons. They cost the same; letting the resort know what you’re looking for when booking will help them know who to place you with, too. No matter where you book your guide or lesson, being clear with the person you book with about what you’re looking for from your time with a coach or guide is the most critical tip we can offer.

Who should get a ski guide?

Zerowin tells us some advantages guides offer:

  • You can jump the line. When resorts get busy, lines get long, and it can take quite a bit of time to get through the line. Ski guides “jump” the line because they can go through the “ski instructor” queue in the lift line, which is always going to be shorter on busy days. This is handy on holidays when lift lines are really long.
  • You want to explore places you don’t typically go. Guides have an intimate knowledge of the mountain and can safely guide you through off-piste terrain or tackle your first double-black diamond. If you’re looking to go into the backcountry, a guide is indispensable.
  • Ski guides can uncover secrets. Resorts have side hits, and ski guides know where those side hits are. If you wanted to spend the day nailing side hits, a ski guide will know where they’re at, and how to approach them.
  • Group lessons are good for a variety of skill levels. Group lessons don’t have to be for groups with the same skill level. Zerowin says when families book private lessons, he might spend some 1:1 time coaching a young child before guiding older siblings and parents around the mountain later on in the day.
  • Ski guides can call the shots. If you (or a group) didn’t know where to go or which direction to head, a ski guide can lead the way. A ski guide is a sensational option for resorts as large as Breckenridge.
  • Maps don’t tell you everything. You can look at a trail map and figure things out, sure. But we’ve noted previously that ski trail ratings aren’t an exact science. A guide can help you navigate the mountain for maximum enjoyment and can craft runs specific to your skill level, or help you find runs with just enough challenging terrain that you’re pushing yourself safely.

Who shouldn’t get a guide or take lessons?

Plainly put, if you don’t love skiing or snowboarding and don’t want to, a coach or guide won’t be able to help you much. Nobody can make you enjoy something, especially an activity as demanding as snow sports.

Zerowin reminds us that people who are externally motivated to ski or snowboard – someone whose spouse, friend, or family member is pressuring them to learn, for instance – probably won’t get much from a guide or a coach because skiing or snowboarding aren’t their passions.

A guide or coach can make your day fun and more interesting. You’ll learn a lot from them. But if you’re just not into skiing or snowboarding, there’s no point in getting yourself a coach or guide.

Do guides and coaches make a difference?

If you communicate your needs, a guide or coach can be indispensable. Zerowin underscores that guides and coaches are there for your needs, and communicating those needs (especially before the lesson, when booking) will help you get the most from your time with the coach or guide.

In our time at Breckenridge, we saw dozens of coaches and guides on the mountain, and the instruction or support always seemed to be bespoke to the person or people who booked sessions. We found “blue coats” sneaking skiers into fresh powder and helping larger groups of snowboarders stay upright on green hills.

Zerowin tells us finding a great instructor can help you upskill your riding and enjoy more of the mountain, and you’ll often forge a bond that’s more personal than booking lessons online and spending a few hours with someone “better” than you at the sport you love. As Zerowin reminded us, even pro skiers and snowboarders have coaches; if you really want to get better, having help is a smart move.

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Nate Swanner
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Nate is General Manager for all not-Digital-Trends properties at DTMG, including The Manual, Digital Trends en Espanol…
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