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 ski school director at Sugar Bowl who is also 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."

Of course, ski and snowboard schools are not limited to teaching never-evers. Even the most experienced 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 is 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."

The best places to find these types of ski and snowboard school?

"Destination resorts," says Iman, "are where you can usually get multiple days with top-notch instruction."

The following is a short compendium of California resorts that fit most of these criteria:

Children's programs are preferable at a resort that has a section of the hill - preferably fenced off from the rest of the terrain -- totally dedicated to the little ones, and the best ones are [R227R, Mammoth Mountain], [R299R, Northstar-at-Tahoe], [R169R, Heavenly], and [R419R, Squaw Valley].

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 spot.

Beginners will want terrain and lifts that are exclusive to that skill set, and Mammoth has two chairs and a huge amount of acreage dedicated to those skiers and snowboarders just starting out. Northstar, Heavenly, and [R432R, Sugar Bowl] also do a fabulous job of getting neophytes up - and down - the hill.

[R362R, Sierra-at-Tahoe] and [R261R, Mountain High] have snowboarding programs that will get you shredding - and shredding well - in no time.

More adept riders can look to Squaw Valley, Mammoth, and [R5R, Alpine Meadows] for guidance in negotiating the super steep and deep. They've got the mountain to give you the experience you need.

Squaw Valley, which has produced the likes of Tamara McKinney, Daron Rahlves and Julia Mancuso, is perhaps the best option for those wishing to hone their racing skills.  As one old hand says, "The mountain is the best coach here." Heavenly and Mammoth also have distinguished racing programs.