How to Develop & Teach Season-Long Group Lessons

(PSIA Nordic Team member Greg Rhodes wrote this story as a part of a series the Nordic Team is working on with the Cross Country Ski Areas Association (CCSAA) to grow cross country ski participation.)

Many of us cross-country ski for the serenity of gliding through the woods, however, joining an organized group of skiers can help our skiing in many ways. As an instructor, creating season long groups that you coach can also provide unique opportunities to adjust your teaching and connection with your clients in a unique way to develop longer term business growth.

I began my snowsports career as a snowboard instructor at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, Colo. This experience helped me become very good at teaching a consistent product of one-to-five daylong lessons to a rotating group of clients. I left Aspen and headed back to Minnesota to attend graduate school and discovered that establishing multi-week cross country skiing training groups provided me with consistent teaching and income. Being able to plan around a guaranteed weekly group of skiers provided me with the opportunity to establish deeper relationships with my students and also increase my return clients for future seasons. 

Establishing fall and winter multi-week lesson groups challenged me to build lesson plans that met the needs of a wide variety of skiing abilities, and also allowed me to build relationships that led to growing my business through word of mouth advertising. Individual instructors and Nordic Centers alike can use multi-week programs to develop repeat clients and predictable revenue streams.

I start training groups in the fall by focusing on dryland technique—e.g., ski walking, bounding, balance, and specific strength, while also helping create group cohesion amongst a group of skiers. Bringing individuals together and connecting them to a group enhances their enjoyment of the activity and helps them feel connected to both the group and the instructor/Nordic Center. An additional benefit to establishing groups in the fall is it allows you to get information out about events that you will be hosting or involved with throughout the winter. This early advertising of events can lead to preregistration and help you grow and better plan for your larger events during the winter season.

I normally run my fall groups as either an eight to 12-week program ending the week prior to Christmas, or as two consecutive 6-week programs. Advertising these as programs that will prepare skiers for a successful transition to on-snow skiing gets people excited about the upcoming season while offering them something valuable to their development as a skier.

I then begin winter programs right after the first of the year and run them as 6-week programs. I usually can be confident I will have good trail conditions during those first 6- to 7 weeks of the winter, and not have to cancel sessions because of low snow. After a 6-week progression of technique, many people are ready to head out and ski on their own. Additionally, you've helped your students develop a routine of visiting your Nordic Center. Once this routine, and the connection to the larger group is established, you've created a customer base you can greet by name who feel like your Nordic Center is their “home” trails.

For me, the benefits of establishing these multi-week training groups, is not seen until either the following fall or winter. The small groups that I started will grow, with each skier bringing friends and neighbors with them the following year. For example, one group I started from five friends has grown to a group of over 35 skiers within two seasons! This growth allowed me to hire other instructors and expand the program into a year-round masters training program that will still exist after I have moved away from Minnesota. 

Seeing the sport of cross country skiing grow and more people finding how wonderful it is to glide through the woods on well groomed trails is what keeps me excited for teaching and winter to return.

For more cross country education learning tips, visit the Cross Country Ski Areas Association "ski instruction" section, featuring more articles from Greg and PSIA Nordic Team member Emily Lovett.  

Greg Rhodes is a member of the PSIA National Cross-Country Team and Exercise Physiologist. As a native of Minnesota, he has been exploring the ski trails (and country roads) of Minnesota and Northern Wisconsin for over 30 years.

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