Ski schools aren't just for beginners anymore. As part of an overall resort revival, ski mountains are pouring millions of dollars into their instructional and guiding programs. "People are asking for more personalized coaching," says Andy Buckley, director of skier services at Northstar in Lake Tahoe. "When you struggle with something technical, it's analogous to work and life stuff – the psychological barriers, getting over the hump. The best ski coaches turn into life coaches." These days it's not uncommon for your instructor to be a local legend or an Olympic medalist; some resorts are engineering their runs so they have just the right angles and aspects to learn on; cat- and heli-skiing trips now often include a full master class on evaluating snow conditions. These are the best mountains, ski schools, and guided adventures to help you raise your game.
A Safer Approach to Chutes and Steeps: Squaw Valley, CA
INTERMEDIATE TO ADVANCED
"Squaw is like a jungle gym that you can train on," says former pro Robb Gaffney, the resort's best-known guest instructor, of its varied terrain. Last year Squaw acquired nearby Alpine Meadows, bringing the total skiable area, accessible under one lift ticket, to 6,000 acres encompassing eight different peaks (each of which has a blue-run backdoor, in case you chicken out). But there's black-diamond terrain off every peak too. Gaffney says Squaw is a great place to start tackling diamond runs, since Sierra snow is wetter and denser than that of the Rockies, giving you the cushion and stickiness you need while letting you get used to more extreme angles.
Monday's Chutes and Hikes clinic tackles intimidating runs that take a little extra work to get to. According to Dee Byrne, who runs Squaw's snow-sports school, "We almost named it Chutes 101 – it's meant for the advanced intermediate, the first-time chute rider." But it's not Squaw's only innovative teaching program: The ski school also offers the Masters Program race clinic. After skiing a few gates in the morning – an exercise that forces quick improvement – it's a day of free skiing with Olympic-level coaches, former pros, and even ex–national ski team members.
More information: Chutes and Hikes, $90; Masters Program, $70 per day; squaw.com.