Thursday, February 07, 2013

TAKING A YOUTH GROUP TO THE SKI SLOPES

My last post was about getting your group safely to the snow.  So if you're thinking about taking your youth group the the slopes,  check that first.

But once you've gotten them to the slopes, you're not done yet.  Here's the details you'll need to know about taking a group of 20 or more to the ski slopes.  My experience is that if you don't have at least 20 people on the slopes, you won't qualify for a group rate.  But once you do, there's some stuff you should know.

CONTACT GROUP SALES:  
Contact the ski resort that you're going to be using and ask to speak with group sales.  They'll have their own office and staff dedicated to just that task.  Tell them when you're coming and about how many you're bringing and they'll send you some stuff to get your trip going.   Some of them have limits on how many groups can come on any given weekend and some have a requirement for how far in advance you need to contact them, so don't just get the info off the web and then wait till the last week to make this call.

MINIMIZE YOUR OPTIONS:
The ski slopes you're going to will likely have tons of things they offer.  All kinds of rentals, lift tickets, lessons, package deals, etc.   I never publicize them all.  It just complicates stuff.  You're a group coordinator, not a custom travel agent.  I always give students only 3 options included as check boxes on the brochure.   They simply check off the ones that apply to them and add them to the base cost of the trip. 
  • All Mountain Lift Ticket Only :  I have my own gear
  • All Mountain Lift Ticket and Snowboard Rental / Lesson Package
  • All Mountain Lift Ticket and Ski Rental / Lesson Package
[Side note, I also round these up to the nearest simple number.  If it's $73 for the package, I just make it $75.  It makes life easier and is still a lot cheaper than them buying the individual stuff without our group anyway. The extra few bucks just helps offset the cost of other details.]

CHARGE YOUR LEADERS: 
I never charge my adult volunteers for anything, but I do charge them for whatever this trip costs on the slopes.  They pay for their own rental and lift tickets.  The only exception to that is if I get enough students that the slopes gives us some free tickets.  Then I share the love. I've never had anyone complain to me about this. 

RENTALS:
Getting your rental gear will be the biggest issue of this whole process.  If you've never checked 20+ people in for gear rentals, READ THIS CAREFULLY!  WHAT I'M ABOUT TO TELL YOU WILL SAVE YOU TONS OF HEADACHES.

RENT AT HOME IF AT ALL POSSIBLE: In Nor Cal, we were on the slopes for 2 days and we told students to rent all their gear at home.  Trust me, if you can pull this off, you will save yourself HOURS  in lines and forms. Just have the students rent their gear and bring it.  You will need masking tape and some sharpies to label gear however, because everyone's rental gear will look almost identical and no one will know whose is whose.  So we just have a volunteer whose only job at check-in is putting masking tape on all boards/skis/ and each boot and then writing a last name with sharpie.  Trust me, labeling stuff will be a miniscule detail compared to the MOUNTAINS of stuff you'll have to do to rent at the slopes. 

IF YOU RENT AT THE SLOPES, EXPECT PAPERWORK. PAPERWORK. PAPERWORK.   You're going to have lots of this.  In our local resort, (Snow Summit in Big Bear, CA), everyone on the slopes needs a general waiver (regardless of if they rent or not) and a rental form filled out if they're renting.   Some require a drivers license on every sheet.  Some require a credit card number.  There are lots of signatures.

In my case, since we only board one day and since we live in San Diego, it's cost prohibitive to rent local.  So I had 28 students to check in.  Each of them required 10 signatures on the rental form- not including the ones their parents had already signed before the trip.  I become the "guardian" for the day and have to do 280 signatures.   Yup. 280.  Yikes.  Just bring another volunteer with you and divide it up.  It's gonna take some time to get through the rental process. Be patient.

GET THERE EARLY.  I mean EARLY!  Last weekend, I saw the line for rentals go over 100 people deep by 9:30am.  In that case, your new students will MISS their lesson and your experienced students will miss hours on the slopes.  Trust me, this process takes a while- especially for a group. So don't delay on getting to the slopes. 

SHOES: oddly enough, shoes will be an issue. In the rental process, everyone has to get out of their shoes and into their boots and then onto the slopes. This will leave students asking, "Where do I put my shoes?"  Last weekend, this meant 28 pairs of shoes that needed to be dealt with.  I can't rent enough lockers for that and it's a pain to send them all to the car.  So we bring black trash bags and have a volunteer collect all the shoes as they exit the rental office.  Then we take the shoes and lock them up in the cars during the day.  Then we return with the shoes at 3:30 pm to wait for students to arrive and return their gear/pick up their shoes. 

DISCOVER THE PROCESSI already outlined some of this, but the only way to fully do this is to ask LOTS OF QUESTIONS of your local slopes and even then, you'll probably miss some stuff until you do it once.  Here's how it works at Snow Summit and what you might have to do at your slope of choice:
  • Before you arrive: 
    • contact group sales and get paperwork sent to you.
    • sign a group waiver and send it in with your reservation and payment at least 72 hours in advance. 
  • When you arrive: 
    • show up at the group rental office as close to opening as you can with all your individual group ticket waivers signed.  (Snow Summit Group sales opens at 7:30am)
    • pick up group tickets and make any last minute changes.  (I always have some)
    • pass out tickets to your students
    • send the students with rentals to rental line  (in my case, I don't bring the students to the slopes until 8:45am or so. But we're really close so while they're eating breakfast,  I go to the slopes and get all the tickets and check everyone in through the initial line at the snowboard rental.  Then I get the vouchers, give them to the students, and when they arrive, they go straight into the rental process and skip the LONG LINE for the pre-rental paperwork).
    • Even then, I still have to sign paperwork for daaaaaayyyyyyzzzzz inside the rental shop till all the students have gear and rentals are complete
    • send the newbees to their lesson
    • get on the slopes and have fun.
LESSONS Force your new kids to take the group lesson.  If they say, "no, my friend is going to teach me."  Tell them, "Your friend is a horrible teacher, will ditch you after you don't get it, and will not be your friend after you let them attempt to teach you to snowboard.  If you're dating, you will break up."  I swear, it's true.  Don't let them ditch the 2 hour lesson.  It's so going to save everyone a ton of headache and keep the peace in your group.  If you think you're going to teach them, go ahead and slap yourself.  Bad idea.  You all can "teach each other" after the professional lesson if you want.

LUNCH:  Will cost you 5 million dollars and 3 hours in line if you buy it in the lodge.  We always bring our own lunch and meet at the cars at a pre-determined time.  In our case,we always meet at noon because the lessons are from 9:45-11:45 for the new kids.  They then go straight to lunch and practice what they learned afterwards.

For lunch we use gallon ziplock bags and kids write their name on them, fill them with lunch stuff the night before.  They then set them in a bin we take to the slopes.  If you like hot meals, we have had a parent who was not on the slopes boil water and pour it into drink coolers and meet us at lunch in the parking lot.  We used it for boiled hot dogs one year and for cup-o-noodle another.  

If you try and meet in the lodge for lunch instead of the parking lot, here's 2 warnings:  #1. Some lodges kick you out if you bring in outside food.  #2. Finding or reserving room for your whole group is all but impossible and you'll end up frustrated.  The parking lot is always a better meeting spot for a group.  Plus, if your students leave their boards laying around, they risk getting them stolen.  I lied, Warning #3:  don't let them lean the boards against your vehicles. They will fall over and they will make awesome semi-circle and permanent scratches on your paint.  Just simply set them on the ground with the waxed side up and it will all be fine.

MAXIMIZE YOUR TIME:  Seize your lift lines and chair lift rides.  So many epic conversations happen for me while just hanging out talking about life and faith and stuff.  Seriously, it will be the highlight of your day.  Challenge your leaders to seize those moments too.  Avoid the temptation to pop in your ear buds and listen to your tunes. 

NO ONE RIDES ALONE:  remind your group to partner up.  Spending the day on the slopes alone is horrible and the opposite of why you came as a group.   Getting on the slopes first thing is always crazy.  But after lunch, we try and do several runs with as many of us together as possible on some sort of medium difficulty run that most people can manage. 

SAFETY STUFF:
  • FIRST AID BINDER:  I always have a binder of everyone on the slopes with their permission slips inside.  I then put a cover on the binder that has my name and cell phone number. Then I take it to first aid (every slope has a big first aid office that you should know where it is as well).  I then explain that we have a group on the slopes, and leave the binder with them.  If they need it, they have it.  If they don't, which is my goal, then I just pick it up at the end of the day.  (NOTE: write yourself a FAT reminder and tape it to your steering wheel or something.  It's super easy to forget and leave all those permission slips in 1st Aid , especially if you didn't need them)
  • RADIOS:  The same radios you used for carpool are great for the slopes.  I give one to a key leader in the lodge, a few to leaders on the slopes, and attach one to the first aid binder when I drop it off.  I leave the 1st aid radio off, but if they turn it on, they can use that to get a hold of me if need be and my cell is not working. 
  • PLANT A VOLUNTEER IN THE LODGE:   I always try and have a lodge sitter who is someone that students can find if they need help or that can be free to solve problems.  Sometimes that's helping a student who is hurt, sometimes it's helping with lunches, sometimes it's just someone who a student can find who then can find me if needed.  Mom's who don't want to ski are awesome for this job.  Tell them to find a spot they love by a window, bring a good book, and you agree to buy them all the java they can drink :)  
  • INJURIES:  I've had years with none.  I've had stretches where someone got hurt every year.  Just know that if you take a group to the slopes and you only have the bare minimum in adults to drive your students, if one of your students is hurt and needs someone to go to the hospital or the ambulance with them, you'll be stuck.  Also, know that for legal reasons, the slopes will likely require any head injury to be given an ambulance ride to be checked out.  So if you get a head injury in your group, you're going to need help- regardless of its severity or lack thereof.  Bring some extra people (preferably a parent or two) "just in case" to help with this stuff if it comes up. 
END OF THE DAY MEETING SPOT:  Most slopes close at 4pm.  Most students will be done by 3pm.  Life on the slopes is exhausting.   I tell my students to meet me at the vehicles by 4pm.  If they have rentals, they need to return them first, I tell them to stop riding at 3:30pm. 

Well, there you have it.  If you've never done this, it sounds like a lot. And I guess it is.

But like all great memories, this one is worth the effort.  Dang I love snowboarding and while this stuff always cost me lots of energy, it's always so worth it.  Rarely do I get thanked in youth ministry.  After this trip, several students always do.  Epic. 

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San Diego, CA
Husband. Dad. Jesus Follower. Friend. Learner. Athlete. Soccer coach. Reader. Builder. Dreamer. Pastor. Communicator. Knucklehead.

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