California Rambling: Learning to ski with Zeal

By From page A4 | February 18, 2013

Learning to ski or snowboard has, to some extent, been a process driven by technology. Previously, it was advances in equipment that influenced teaching. Though now, at El Dorado County’s Sierra-at-Tahoe ski area, advances in digital videography are allowing ski instructors to show their students videos of their runs while still on the mountain. Tiny video cameras inside instructor’s goggles do the recording.

The new method of teaching was conceived by Sierra-at-Tahoe ski school Directors Booie Alward and Ben Fok who, after hearing descriptions of Zeal HD Camera Goggles from a friend at Maui Jim — the parent company of Zeal Optics, conceived how the new goggle might be used in teaching skiing and snowboarding.

Alward and Fok reasoned that video could be incorporated into private lessons, providing students with on-slope video replay, as well as a record of their lesson to take home or share with friends and family.  For $30 added to the cost of a three-hour private lesson, the instructor wears a Zeal goggle that has an iON 1080p quality camera incorporated into it. The instructor then records the lesson by either following the student down the hill or demonstrates turns, then records as the student approaches.  Later, the student and instructor stop at an on-hill studio to see the recorded runs, while the instructor comments.

“Seeing what you’re doing, while hearing an instructor analyze it, makes it much clearer what you need to change,” said Fok. “We give students a thumb drive containing videos of their runs, to review later or share with friends. The videos are also a record of their progress.”

“What we didn’t anticipate,” said Alward, “was the reaction of parents who can now see their child’s first run, share it and have it to show for years to come. They love it. After all, who wouldn’t like to have had a video of their first run? I sure would.”

The Zeal HD Camera Goggle has even spawned a “The Goggles Don’t Lie” program each Friday in which HD videos taken while skiing or riding wearing Zeal Goggles that day are posted on the Sierra Resort’s Facebook page, providing proof of current snow conditions. Steve Hemphill, the area’s communications director, said this truth-in-advertising social media effort is not only attracting interest in Sierra-at-Tahoe, but also generating sales of the goggles in the area’s sports shop at the base of the mountain.

Hemphill continued, “It’s just added to our reputation as a good place to learn to ski. We’ve always had great instructors, we’re priced right and we’ve thought instruction through, from how we teach, to the equipment we rent, to dedicated lifts for beginners, to actually grooming the terrain to build confidence and improve learning.”

Sierra-at-Tahoe’s learning experience begins in the ski and snowboard school’s rental shop which is apart from the area’s general rental shop.  Hesitant beginners are immediately reassured and assisted by Snowsport School associates.  There’s no wondering if they’re in the right place or getting the right equipment.

Rossignol skis with autoturn (a design that increases under-foot camber, enhances on-snow grip, assists with steering, and improves overall control) and Burton snowboards with beveled edges (that reduce the chance beginners will catch an edge, resulting in a sudden fall) are supplied at the ski school rental area.

“Our attention to providing the best possible introduction to beginners continues on the hill,” said Alward about the resort’s sledding hill that was relocated to create  an 11-acre beginner area called Easy Street that is fenced to reduce the number of skiers and riders passing through. Easy Street is served by two magic carpet lifts on which beginners stand and “Broadway,” a detachable quad, an easy-to-ride though expensive chair lift, that’s not usually dedicated to a beginner slope.

The snow on Easy Street has been contoured as part of Sierra Resort’s “Smart Terrain” program, providing gently banked turns and shaped features that naturally glide learning skiers and snowboarders into turns and stops, so that they are able to pick up the basics quickly and reassuringly.  The basics of teaching skiing and snowboarding remain the same, but the equipment and design of the slope make the difference.

One would think the best comes at a price, but Sierra-at-Tahoe has the lowest cost learn to ski or ride package in the Tahoe Basin. A 2.5 hour learn-to-ski package, including lesson, rental equipment and lift ticket is $39 (online). The all-day package is just $20 more and includes five hours of instruction.  With Sierra Resort’s 3-Pak, the school guarantees you’ll ski or ride Sugar ‘n Spice from the top of the mountain to the bottom after the third lesson, or the fourth lesson is free.

Sierra-at-Tahoe General Manager John Rice said embracing technology is what will keep skiers and riders coming back, “Kids love technology and how it expands the fun. We saw that through the success we had opening the Burton Star Wars Experience last year and at Wild Mountain, our wildly successful children’s ski and snowboard school. Now, instruction has gone digital, and we’re embracing it with Zeal.”

More about the Sierra-at-Tahoe Snowsports School and its programs is found at

John Poimiroo of El Dorado Hills is a travel writer who specializes in California destinations.

John Poimiroo

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