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It's a common story: Friends take a friend skiing, take him or her to the top of the mountain, point the direction down and ski off . . . and are friends no more.

Or, one self-taught skier tries to teach another, and accomplishes little more than body-packing a ski run.Or, a husband graciously agrees to teach his wife something as simple as skiing and ends up in a complicated divorce settlement.

And the saying goes, it's easy to get on a chairlift and ride up a mountain, but a full range of problems, such as fear, physical limits, equipment limits, etc., enter in the downhill ride.

It always looks so easy when done by someone who knows how, and it looks so difficult, watching from the chairlift, as someone struggles with the simplest of things like standing.

And, the people who struggle and fall typically leave the hill with little more than bruised egos and sore behinds, where those who are able to walk and move without always falling, begin to understand just what fun and pleasure skiing can deliver.

Proper procedures and methods are vital in learning to ski and help minimize the infusion of bad habits. Bad habits are, as one ski teacher said, "harder to shed than unwanted pounds."

And there are other reasons good ski instruction is so important in the sport.

Safety, said Alan Engen, director of the Alta Ski School, is a good reason.

"It's much better to start off and learn the right way of doing things. This greatly reduces the risk of injury."

Also, "If you try skiing and enjoy your first experience, you learn and develop good ski habits. Also you learn more quickly because you enjoy what it is you 're doing."

Skiers, too, like most athletes, find they hit plateaus in their development. Trained ski teachers can help an individual over the flat spots and back to a upward movement in the learning curve.

"It's very important that you take a lesson from a professional the first time, and take the first lesson in a group. You can learn a lot from the other skiers. Then it's up to you to decide if you learn better in a group or a private situation," said Craig "Roper" Pearson, director of the Park City Ski School.

And how often should a skier take a lesson?

"When you've accomplished what it is the instructor taught . . . making a certain turn or skiing different terrain. Then it's time to take another lesson and move to the next stage in your skiing. Another great time is if you haven't skied for a long time. Or, if you're having trouble skiing the snow conditions or terrain," he said.

"And don't always wait for that bluebird day. Ski in all conditions. You'll find if you're skiing well then you'll enjoy the day, no matter what the weather's like."

One of the main reasons, of course, for being introduced to skiing the right way is purely and simply to make skiing more enjoyable and less work. Skiing needn't be that difficult or as painful as some make it look.

Getting the right instructor, of course, is crucial. In most cases, the instructor has been certified by the Professional Ski Instructors Association, a national organization that sets teaching standards, procedures and steps.

One common problem with friends teaching friends, or parents teaching children is that the friend, father or mother may enter the teaching phase with expectations that are higher or even lower than the student is capable of achieving.

This, of course, is one of the areas ski schools work hard on developing in their teachers. Instructors learn to evaluate and then set achievable goals for students.

Junior Bounous, director of skiing at Snowbird, says one thing that has made both teaching and skiing easier these days is the equipment available today. Also, teaching techniques have been modified.

"30 years ago, teaching was much more technical," he notes. "Now it's been simplified. The simplification of new teaching methods has been aided by the introduction of new and better equipment and better terrain at the ski areas."

Today's equipment is safer, more comfortable and easier to maneuver. This makes it possible for students to learn more easily and quickly.

Another secret to good learning, he said, it picking the right ski school.

"People should go through a great deal of decision making when they try to choose a ski area or ski school. My advise is to communicate with the school. Call on the phone and find out if the resort has programs for you level of ability. Also, by asking questions you can find out if there is an interest there in teaching you. Most resorts now have good beginner and kids programs. Ten years ago I couldn't have said that. You might also go to the resort and watch the way instructors handle themselves."

Certainly, ski lessons can be a big help in the learning process. And, as anyone who has tried to learn by guesswork can attest, far less painful.