Sliding down a snow-covered hill in a controlled manner on a pair of skis or on a snowboard is not an intuitive process. Most people strapped into skis or a snowboard for the first time generally will sit back - and promptly land on their aspen - when speed or control gets out of hand. It's just human nature.
Many times those pratfalls will lead to more than bruised bottoms and egos - the fallen often don't return to the sport.
So it behooves first-timers to get some guidance from experienced and knowledgeable instructors. But what should a neophyte skier or snowboarder look for, other than just the essentials of learning balance and edging movements?
"There are two keys to a good school," says Mike Iman, the chief trainer and selector for the U.S. demonstration team (which is sort of the Blue Angels of skiing).
"One, how good is the resort's children's program. If it is rated excellent or gets rave reviews, the rest of the (teaching) program will follow that.
"Two, make sure they have a passion for the sport. If they have enthusiasm for skiing or snowboarding and they have a willingness to be informative - like explaining what the program is and what a student can expect - then that's a good place."
Ski and snowboard schools are not limited to teaching never-evers. Even the most experience riders can use a brush-up once in a while.
"In those programs," says Iman, "look for places that maximize the vertical and minimize the verbal. The more straightforward the program the better it is. The key here is rather than being instructed you are being coached. Look for programs that emphasize the art of teaching rather than the science of teaching."
Other things to consider when scouting out a ski/snowboard school are finding instructors that match your goals, not vice versa, and making sure that the pupil-to-instructor ratio in group lessons are fairly low.
"Another thing you can do is go out and watch the people on the hill," says Iman. "If their basic mechanics are good, you'll probably see more of the same thing in the ski school."
Where are the best places to find these types of ski and snowboard schools?
"Destination resorts," says Iman, "are where you can usually get multiple days with top-notch instructors."
The following is a short compendium of Washington and Oregon resorts that fit most of these criteria:
* Children's programs: Look for a resort that has a section of the hill - preferably fenced off from the rest of the terrain -- totally dedicated to the little ones. The best ones are the Summit at Snoqualmie, Mt. Bachelor, and Willamette Pass.
Another thing to consider is who is running the show. If the head of the children's program is passionate about kids - and not just some junior member of the ski school working his/her way up through the ranks and running a baby-sitting program - you've found the right sport.
* Beginners should look for terrain and lifts that are exclusive to that skill set, and Mt. Bachelor has two chairs and a decent amount of acreage dedicated to those skiers and snowboarders just starting out. Hoodoo and Willamette Pass also do a fabulous job of getting neophytes up - and down - the hill.
* Perhaps the best option for racers wanting to hone their skills is Crystal Mountain, which has a couple of former U.S. Olympians on its staff. Mt. Ashland and Stevens Pass also have distinguished racing programs.