Back when I first went skiing in college, taking a lesson seemed unnecessary. Just channel Jean-Claude Killy, the Olympic champion who was on TV all the time when I was a kid. That worked out fine for the 20 times I've skied since — until last weekend, when I heard Ho Ming Lu, 48, of San Diego, shout out loud, "This is great! For the first time I feel under control, like I actually know how to ski!" At that moment, doing a remarkably stable turn called a corkscrew, I realized he had just spoken my thoughts — and probably everyone's in the class on the slopes of Big Bear's Snow Summit mountain.
In two hours, I heard the words "under control," "more confident" and "exhilarating" uttered again and again by seven novice skiers ages 14 to 61 with experience levels of two days to four decades. The bottom line: I love you, Jean-Claude, but it's really fun (and much safer) to suddenly be a lot better at something.
Snow Summit Snow Sports School, 880 Summit Blvd., Big Bear Lake. snowsummit.com
Aura: Ski School (and Snowboard School) has two-hour beginner and intermediate classes that can be taken consecutively. Skiing can be scary for beginners and novices. That's why each class is tested, subdivided into small groups by ability and given its own instructor. Our's was Alan Dosa, 57, a calm, friendly Chatsworth hospital laboratory manager who teaches skiing on weekends. We followed him to the lift and assembled at the top of the easy Summit Run.
Effort: No sweat. Skiing is all about letting gravity do the work, not muscling it, said Dosa. The closer you followed his instructions, the more effortless it felt. His strategy, which taught us how to stop and stay balanced and in control before going fast, built confidence and safety. He'd explain a maneuver for three or four minutes, then ski down 30 yards and have us do it one by one so he could provide individual feedback. A quick overview: Turn safer and faster by squatting low and leaning forward with body and hands — even on the super-steeps.
Style: Heading to the steeper slopes, we put it together in the final minutes of the lesson: Putting hands wide in front, standing tall to gain speed, corkscrewing into the turn, keeping momentum and repeating. For 14-year-old Michael Truong of Palos Verdes High, skiing suddenly felt as natural as mountain biking, his sport; maybe he could keep up with his dad on the slopes now. For me, having gotten by for decades on a gonzo attitude and no skills, it was like upgrading from a jalopy to a BMW. The rest of the day, I felt safer, faster and — dare I say it — Jean-Claude-ier.
Cost: Adults, $80 and $95 for a two- or four-hour lesson with lift ticket. Kids (including equipment) pay $85 and $100.