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.
Mountain Skills Master Class: Kirkwood, CA
ADVANCED TO EXPERT
For its wild, ungroomed terrain and off-the-map feel 35 miles from South Lake Tahoe, Kirkwood is considered one of the birthplaces of extreme skiing. It's a place where signs marking cliff bands say caution instead of closed. Its craggy peaks and ungroomed faces are also the perfect venue for practicing the increasingly important side of extreme skiing – snow and safety awareness – and so Kirkwood is the place to go to build backcountry skills while skiing in-bounds. One of its oldest and best programs is Expedition: Kirkwood, a series of courses on everything from how to approach a cornice to making adjustments on technical and intense terrain. It goes beyond technique with instruction on how to read the weather and avalanche awareness (Kirkwood is the largest provider of avalanche certifications on the West Coast and has 12 permanently buried transceivers around the mountain) – both essential skills for a lifetime of ducking the ropes.
More information: Expedition: Kirkwood, $20–$500; kirkwood.com.
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