Dreaming of making first tracks through a field of untracked powder or carving high speed turns on a blanket of groomed corduroy? Then the place to begin is in ski school. Learning how to ski has never been easier because of the advances in equipment and teaching techniques. But, where should you learn how to ski?

There are hundreds of ski areas across North America, and nearly all of them have snow sports schools. Some of the areas are small with only a few hundred acres of skiing terrain, while others are huge, with dozens of runs. The good news is the vast majority of the ski areas teach the same technique.

The Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) is the organization that oversees professional ski instruction in the United States. PSIA began teaching the American Ski Technique in 1964 at all of their participating resorts, regardless of size or location. So, you should receive the same consistent instruction, whether you're taking a beginner's lesson at [R488R, Wachusett Mountain], Mass., or an expert lesson at [R404R, Snowbird], Utah.

Avoid taking well meant tips from relatives and friends if you've never skied or snowboarded before. Instead, start with a beginner's ski school lesson from a PSIA certified instructor. Certified instructors will teach you all about your equipment, demonstrate the proper stance, while teaching you how to safely glide, turn, and stop.

Many resorts offer special deals that include equipment, lessons, and lifts in one affordable package. Most beginning students can learn skiing or riding basics in one day of instruction and ski or ride beginning runs after two or three.

You may prefer a more personalized approach. Just take a private ski lesson. Private lesson instructors focus their attention on your technique, instead of teaching at the level of the group. This generally means higher quality results in less time. (See related story on group vs. private lessons.)

Skiing lessons are particularly important for children. A fun and safe experience early in a child's on-snow career can insure the sport can become a favorite life-long activity. The best way to start children skiing or riding is by enrolling them in an all-day camp, taught by instructors who are versed in teaching skiing to kids.

[R400R, Snow Summit] in Southern California's San Bernardino Mountains, for example, offers four hours of instruction (two in the morning and two in the afternoon) for kids 8 to 12 for $59. Little Bear Camp for kids 4 to 7 costs $109 a day and includes snacks, lunch, lift tickets, and discounts on equipment.

It's a good idea to include at least one lesson in your vacation itinerary, whether you're just beginning or have skied all your life. Savvy skiers and riders who are interested in improving their technique and learning what the latest equipment has to offer, plan on taking at least one lesson a year - preferably at the beginning of the ski season.

Taking lessons from certified professionals will help insure that you and your family stay safe and get the most out of your skiing vacation.

(Allen Smith is a veteran ski instructor at a Rocky Mountain destination resort.)