Canada Olympic Park may be a training facility for wintersports athletes. But it addresses the beginner end of the spectrum, too. It specializes in getting first timers on the snow to learn to ski or snowboard.

The Calgary park put 8,000 newcomers on skis or snowboards last winter, using its four conveyor carpets. School programs, daily lessons, and multi-week programs get beginners on the slopes to discover what skiing and snowboarding is all about.

The resort is so keen on getting kids on the slopes that it designed a special station teaching system for accommodating large groups of school children at various ability levels. "We get a lot of kids here at one time. Up to 800 kids per day with an average day having 500 kids," Andrew Lunt, ski and snowboard school supervisor, told OnTheSnow. "There are kids everywhere, but they are all with instructors who demonstrate each skill."

The unique program, the brainchild of Director Heather Robertson, works due to the volume of kids that visit in school groups. "Kids progress at their own rate with passports attached to their jackets. Skills are checked off, and they move on to the next station," explained Lunt. "Some pass through really quickly, and others can stay and have ample time to learn a skill."

Lessons are also offered daily for first timers. The 90-minute Discover Skiing and Snowboarding classes are scheduled multiple times per day and in the evening, giving first timers several options for starting. Children and adults learn together in a class with one instructor to eight students. Sessions with more than eight students break into two groups based on age. "They learn the basics of putting on equipment and sliding," said Lunt. "The aim is for them to discover the sport rather than push them as far as they can go."

A follow up class, called the Next Step, is available daily to teach turning. Some classes progress to the chairlift, but most tend to stay in the learning area. "People can take it as many times as they want, but the idea is to go out and practice," added Lunt. Discover and Next Step classes, which can be taken on any day during the season, cost $49 weekdays and $59 weekends and holidays. Rates include the lesson, lift ticket, and rental equipment.

Beginners also can get going with a three-week lesson program that meets once a week at a certain time. Programs are available for kids, adults, and women. Even 3- to 5-year-old kids have a program available. Rates vary by age and program.

Reservations can be made for all learning programs by phone. First timers can sign up for Discover and Next Step programs onsite on the day of classes, too.

More information. Or call 403-247-5452.