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"SKIING IS A SLIDING SPORT"--a skiing web manual: contents (topics at page bottoms of manual)

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by Bill Jones, Ski Instructor
Certified Professional Ski Instructor (Registration #110478), Level III
How To Reserve a Private Ski Lesson with Bill Jones

"Oh, no," said the skier to the instructor at the ski school meeting place,
"I'm not here to take a lesson. I brought my friend over for you to teach. I learned yesterday!"

 skill level 0? (1 is the PSIA minimum)

You'll want to get in a class at your same level and on a slope on which you can learn. You'll not learn as much or at all if you are under- or over-challenged. Although a professional instructor can help you decide what level to take, you will find it useful to know what standards and reasons he or she will follow in getting you properly classified. In a private lesson, your instructor will adapt his or her teaching to your level and needs. Some resorts will use descriptive terms instead of the number ratings, such as beginner, advanced- beginner, intermediate, parallel breakthrough, advanced, mountain master, expert, or 101, 201, etc. If you take a private lesson, you'll still want to know about skill levels so you can select an instructor who is able and/or certified to teach your skill level (see "Why Take a Ski Lesson from a Professional" and "How to Pick a Ski Instructor").

skill level 10? (9 is the PSIA maximum)

The myriad ways to classify skiers

One wonders whether the skiing industry could have made skill level classification more confusing if it had tried! The Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) has spoken of 9 recreational skier levels based on skills, but many of its member schools use descriptive terms that correlate imperfectly with these. PSIA uses 3 certification levels to classify its instructor-members. One ski magazine has used a system that attempts to relate skiing skills to lifestyle and attitude, with 10 levels (for instance, "Are you a confident banker, then you should ski like.."). Ski shops confront skiers with 3 skill levels when bindings are being adjusted and skis selected (see "For chart of settings for release bindings: exits" for this system). Here we first present a PSIA system, blending the "classic" wedge progression approach to learning to ski by initially using stem (i.e., wedge or snowplow ski positions.) with another system called "direct to parallel". Most ski schools are now using elements of both these approaches in their teaching, but you may find an emphasis on either, which may be due to snow or crowd conditions of the day or of their usual students' characteristics. Too, sometimes descriptive terms are used for the levels instead of numbers, like "first timer", "advanced beginner", "intermediate", "advanced", and "expert". And sometimes the level is based on the maneuvers you can do, like "wedge", "wedge turn", "wedge christie", "parallel", and "dynamic". Or the level may be based on the types of snow you can ski, like "learning slope", "groomers", "bumps", "powder", "steeps". Skill levels are also based partly or mostly on the ski slope rating, such as green (easier), blue (more difficult), black (most difficult) or even double black. The descriptive system for skier skill levels used at Keystone and other Vail Resorts Ski School is presented below after the PSIA system.

SKI SCHOOLS arrange skiers into skill levels to help get students into the most productive learning situations. In the United States, these levels usually follow those defined by the Professional Ski Instructors of America. Level 1 is a first-time skier (never skied before, can't stop or turn) and level 9 is the highest, expert, level (and is a higher skill level than is required for instructors teaching most classes).

There are tremendous differences in the finesse of actions skiers can perform at these various levels. Yet the physical factors dealt with at each level are the same. These factors are the human body with its individual characteristics, varying snow types, differing ski-slope angles, fast or slow speeds, equipment differences, intentions, and more. And so modern ski instruction uses consistent progressions of the same basic skills to master higher levels as one moves up the learning ladder.

Commonly the first several skill levels (say levels 1 through 4) are accomplished in one session each of  2 to 3 hours (8 to 12 hours of lessons). Some beginners may be able to move through a level faster, and some will need to either retake a level or practice its maneuvers before moving up. Because skiing can be a lifetime sport, it is better to build an adequate foundation than to leave fundamentals unlearned or to have to relearn the better way to do a particular maneuver after learning it wrong--it's always easier to learn it right the first time. It might at first seem that instructors are trying to sell  more lessons by having you move up the ladder one rung at a time or even to repeat a rung, but probably they will end up selling fewer lessons because folks will have a chance to get it right early on and thus avoid later fixes.

Progress is personal; it depends on factors such as other sports experiences, conditioning and functionality of one's body parts, attitudes, and equipment. Learning to ski is not a competitive activity.

Note in the levels outlined below, ski turns may follow the lines of the letter C (a single turn one way) or a backwards C (a single turn the other way), the letter S (linked turns each way, or Cs or Ss that are incomplete and/or have straight stretches before or after. Skiers speak of the parallel position of skis and of parallel turns. While parallel lines in mathematics always run straight, "parallel" lines in skiing may turn, just as "parallel" railroad tracks may. Note, too, that "parallel" in skiing means not only that each ski in the pair is aligned the same direction, but also that the bases are tilted at the same angle.

Skiers should aspire to at least skill level 6, that of solid parallel skiing, which will allow them to explore most of most ski areas with confidence and efficiency. As stated by the Professional Ski Instructors of America, "The parallel turn is your key measure to unlock the mountains' pleasures and treasures." While it is common for new skiers to progress up through level 4 or 5 with one lesson per level, higher skill levels usually require repeated lessons at the same level, more so if there is a time lapse between the sessions. If you can make the choice, take your initial lessons over a short time interval rather than over a whole season or more.

Again, ski schools may use a wedge approach to learning or direct-to-parallel. Both are valid. The choice may depend on terrain available and slope traffic any given day. Combining the two approaches is another way, and in the level descriptions below we include the skills learned in each of these ways to learn even though your instructor may introduce movements at different times than shown depending on which method is emphasized. In the earlier stages of learning, the direct-to-parallel method involves more tipping of both skis while the wedge method involves more turning of the skis with the feet and legs.

PSIA skill levels for alpine skiers

Level 1 Aspirations: (You have never skied before; perhaps you only want to try the sport out or you may already be committed to learn it.) Learn about equipment, how to walk and slide with skis parallel, climb using ski edges, turn while standing in place (bullfighter turn), turn while sliding by stepping, tip skis to turn, turn using the gliding wedge (snowplow, skis are in a V with the point in front), stop gradually using the braking wedge, how to fall and how to get up, and ride a surface and/or chair lift. Learn basic ski skills: twisting the legs, tilting the skis, and managing the amount and distribution of pressure on the skis. (Level 1 is the hardest ski lesson you'll ever take; it will give you the alphabet to "read" the "book" of skiing and you will learn the most in any lesson you will ever take; you might not complete all the elements above but if you can adequately turn and stop on the learning hill, you should be able to go on to level 2 ; look forward to level 2 for more fun.) Ski on practice slopes ("palest" green).  Below are links to videos and apps to help new skiers understand what they will learn in ski school. (Links below exit this site; return with back arrow. If any problem please report to Bill Jones.)

Rent or buy ski equipment? exits. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=kEh4ghSch9E)
Ski clothing: exits.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtKwmDHRhnk&feature=player_detailpage)
Choose ski gear: exits. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=4iyaGPL5vTc.)
Choose skis: exits. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtKwmDHRhnk&feature=player_detailpage)
Carry ski boots, poles, skis: exits.
Ski safety rules: exits. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=18boWb6F7bo
Putting on a lift ticket: exits. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=_nFDInLKFqw
Snow conditions: exits. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=6RkXChVwKFY)
Putting on and taking off skis: exits. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDbaPPms4xs&feature=player_detailpage_
How to use ski poles: exits. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=HuUBKKsXHTg)
Get on and off a skiing carpet: exits. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?   v=QmaWscv6aaI&feature=player_profilepage)
Learn to load a lift: exits. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhiM2RNS0Xo&feature=player_profilepage.)
How to recover from a fall: exits. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=72sydWWoAY8
Skiing stance and straight run: exits. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9t0aSfDfRkc&feature=player_profilepage).
Learn the gliding wedge: exits. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_profilepage&v=_qnCg1VzB9Q)
Learn the wedge turn: exits. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_XY0cwvYuc&feature=player_detailpage)

Level 2 Aspirations: Groove in what was learned in Level 1. Add elements not covered earlier. Then, with foot tilting, turn the skis up the hill to slow and stop, then down the hill to make a complete turn. Also learn more about foot steering to change direction, improve gliding wedge turns and link them in S's, vary turn shapes, ski slightly faster speeds, improve balance, traverse. Ski on steeper parts of practice slopes ("pale" green).

Level 3 Aspirations: Still starting turns by tipping the skis or in the gliding wedge, either maintain the skis parallel or steer them (as in a wedge christie) with the feet to parallel by the turn's finish, with skidding; ski a bit faster speeds than in level 2 so that speed that comes with steeper slopes can be managed. Move to easier green (easiest) slopes.

Level 4 Aspirations: Still starting turns either by tipping skis while parallel or using the gliding wedge, with the feet maintain or steer skis (making an intermediate wedge christie) to parallel in mid-turn ; sideslip; do skidded parallel turns to a stop (hockey stop); ski faster speeds. Move to steeper green slopes, longer runs.

Level 5 Aspirations: Still starting turns either by tipping skis while parallel or using the gliding wedge, with the feet maintain the skis parallel or steer skis (making an advanced wedge christie) to parallel before mid-turn;  optionally begin using ski-pole touches; explore easier blue terrain; experience uneven slopes and easier ungroomed snow conditions; ski still faster speeds; explore more of  the mountain and begin to experience the full pleasures and joys of skiing. Ski steeper green slopes, more difficult parts of green slopes and easy blue slopes.

Level 6 Aspirations: Stay in the parallel position throughout turns, tipping and steering skis with feet to produce turns; begin learning pure edged turns and pure steered turns; use ski poles in varied ways, experience shallower powder and smaller bumps, adjust skiing speed at will regardless of slope angle or snow type, vary turn shape, optionally run gates. By level 6, start analyzing what you hear about skiing equipment and technique so you know it makes sense to you and "try it before you buy it". Your personal goals and body attributes may indicate special choices from the buffet available. Ski more difficult blue slopes.

Level 7 Aspirations: Expand skills into powder and bumps and ungroomed snow. Link short-radius turns. Isolate the skills of turning by pivoting the skis versus turning by tilting them, run gates, ski advanced terrain. Start making tactical choices to apply mechanics to situations of snow texture and terrain. Ski blue and  black slopes.

Level 8 Aspirations: Apply tactical variations to turns for effect in varying conditions or for intent, let tilting the ski become the main tool for turning you instead of you twisting the ski with your foot, except in special situations like bumps or quick stops. Explore alternate turn entries--converging, parallel step, diverging, inside ski, one ski. Ski on black slopes and possibly double-black (extreme) slopes.

♦♦Level 9 Aspirations: Ski bumps with short or long-radius turns, ski deep powder, ski steeps, run gates; use the carved turn as your principal turning method but apply tactical choices accurately for conditions or intent; get into organized skiing as a racer, race official, instructor, or patrolman. Ski all slopes in all conditions is the ultimate goal, recognizing that Olympic racers and extreme skiers are in another zone of level 9.

SKIER SKILL LESSON-LEVELS USED AT VAIL RESORTS SKI SCHOOLS  (including Keystone, Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek/Arrowhead, Heavenly Valley, Northstar, and Kirkwood)

Standards for skill lesson-levels are implemented by Vail Resorts, shown below. 

Within each lesson-level, when most elements are performed consistently, advancement to the next lesson-level may be recommended by the instructor; otherwise it is to the student's interest for the instructor to recommend retaking the lesson-level. Thus, only when a student has mastered most of the elements of a lesson-level, say lesson-level 5, is one called a Level 5 skier and is then ready to take the lesson-level 6, In private lessons, however, adherence to level standards and/or the sequence in mastering them is up to the student and the lesson-levels may be completely ignored if desired. Even so, the elements within each lesson-level are generally useful to advance skills most effectively and efficiently.

LESSON-LEVEL 1--Yellow See the source image

  • Aware of the Responsibility Code
  • Put on/take off equipment and complete flat terrain activities
  • Demonstrate side stepping and movement patterns from foot to foot
  • Learn to get up independently after a fall
  • Glide in a straight run and use counter slope to stop
  • Glide with varying wedge size
  • Safely ride the Magic Carpet
  • Demonstrate balanced, dynamic stance while sliding


  • Develop balance and mobility, skating and herring bone
  • Comfortable gliding in a wedge and adjusting wedge size to stop
  • Demonstrate slight direction changes through turns in a gliding wedge
  • Turn out of the fall line to a stop in both directions (J turn)
  • Control speed by starting to link turns in both directions
  • Demonstrate Edge control movements


  • Knows the Responsibility Code and skis in control
  • Safely ride a chair lift
  • Control speed and direction through linked turns
  • Match skis between turns
  • Demonstrate varying turn sizes and shapes
  • Skid skis slightly at the end of the turn in both directions


  • Ski beyond the beginner chair lift
  • Balance on outside ski while completing a turn in both directions
  • Steer inside foot to match skis at end of turn
  • Manage speed through skidded turns on varying green pitches
  • Control speed through varying turn size and shape on green runs
  • Consistently ski in a parallel stance after the fall line


  • Models the Responsibility Code
  • Demonstrate proper pole position and usage
  • Consistently hockey stop in both directions
  • Perform skidded and carved turns in both directions
  • Comfortable linking turns in control on gentle blue terrain
  • Consistently ski in a parallel stance slightly before and across the fall line


  • Demonstrate dynamic movements to match more difficult blue terrain
  • Balance and turn on one ski (outside ski to outside ski)
  • Consistently use poles for timing and rhythm
  • Blend dynamic turns and tipping movements into skiing
  • Ski un-groomed blue terrain
  • Ski easy bumps in control
  • Ski a groomed black run in control
  • Consistently ski in a parallel stance throughout the turn


  • Demonstrate the Responsibility Code
  • Demonstrate rail road track turns on green and blue groomed terrain
  • Confident in bumps on more difficult blue terrain
  • Ski groomed black runs in control with confidence
  • Blend technique and tactics to match terrain
  • Make short turns with upper and lower body separation


  • Understand big mountain safety
  • Demonstrate dynamic turns on steep terrain with confidence
  • Confident in bumps and trees on more difficult blue/black terrain
  • Comfortable on off-piste terrain
  • Center of mass consistently moves down the hill
  • Blend technique and tactics to match more difficult blue/black terrain


  • Demonstrate big mountain safety
  • Identify and ski different lines in variable conditions, powder and crud
  • Blend technique and tactics on all double black terrain
  • Use poles to stabilize upper body in off-piste terrain
  • Ambassador of the Ski & Snowboard culture

Similar standards are developed for snowboard lesson- levels. See Vail Resorts' EpicMix: exits website for these. Also see there virtual Certified Pins that may be earned for maneuvers at levels 4 through 9.

This "Skier Skill Levels" page last modified November 16, 2021. Did you come here from a link on another website? For latest version of this page, copy to your browser: http://www.SkiMyBest.com/skilevel.htm. Copyright © 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022. William R Jones.