All across the Heartland each winter thousands of ski and snowboard lessons are provided at the 100-plus ski areas scattered across the region from South Dakota to Ohio.  Many will become lifelong devotees to the sport, and that's why you need to get it right from the start.

Four ski instructing veterans from across the Midwest share their thoughts on the subject.

Mike Nesheim, a 20-year instructor at South Dakota's Great Bear Ski Area, says, "Friends don't let friends teach friends how to ski or snowboard.  If you take a lesson from an instructor, you're going to have success and likely will continue with the sport.  Learn with a friend, you will probably have a miserable day, be frustrated, and never come back.

"The first time people take a lesson, they kind of get it," Nesheim elaborated.  "The second time out you see them getting more comfortable with the technique, and by the third time many are ready to take off on their own.  Those people will probably continue skiing or riding for years to come."

Tony LoBianco, ski school director at Iowa's Sundown Mountain, feels that with the new equipment even those who may have tried skiing years ago and gave up, should come back for another try. 

"The new shaped skis are fantastic.  You ski on a shorter, more maneuverable version of old traditional skis.  They are more stable and much easier to turn.  Skiers are jumping from a beginner lesson to intermediate lessons more quickly than in past years, and they tend to stay with it."

Rollie Westman, longtime ski instructor at Wisconsin's Trollhaugen, remembers the days of wool sweaters and stretch pants.

"People stay warmer and drier now, because the clothing has improved over the years.  It's a much more enjoyable experience for beginners now, which helps keep them in the sport," he points out. 

Westman has been teaching skiing for over 50 years.

"The first time I tried gliding down a slope I felt like a bird flying.  I wanted other people to experience that feeling, but to experience it the right way.  Take a lesson and get the right start.  Don't develop bad habits.  It's something you will enjoy for a lifetime.  I have, and I'm still passionate about teaching people how to ski.

"The Midwest is a great training ground for both skiers and instructors.  If you go to a Western ski area, at least a third of the instructors probably learned how to ski and teach in the Midwest," Westman laughed.

Kathy Schofield of Michigan's Apple Mountain agrees.

"If you learn how to ski or snowboard right, you're going to enjoy it so much more because you have a good foundation.  Hometown hills, like Apple Mountain, provide a nice, controlled learning environment.  Beginners are comfortable learning here." 

There are "hometown hills" scattered all across the Midwest and all offer affordable learn-to-ski and learn-to-snowboard packages that combine rental equipment, lift ticket, and lesson.  Many offer lessons for children as young as 3 and 4.  The younger you start the more lifetime you will have to enjoy the sport. 

Vice versa, you are never too old to get started.  Get out and start enjoying winter.  You won't be sorry.  Besides, the older you are the cheaper the sport gets.  Most resorts offer senior rates and many let you ski or ride for free when you turn 65, some even a bit younger.    

More information. Apple Mountain; Great Bear Recreation Park; Sundown Mountain; Trollhaugen Ski Area.