Schools in ski towns have a unique opportunity to get their students outside and encourage recreation in the winter. Local Valley elementary schools send students out to ski and snowboard with their friends each week and take advantage of living in a community known for its outdoor recreation.
Waitsfield Elementary first- through sixth-graders hit the slopes of Sugarbush Resort or Mad River Glen every Wednesday for approximately two hours. Both mountains provide lift tickets free of charge and the PTA funds the program, including instructor time and assistance with rental equipment for families that need it. The annual Ski and Skate Sale at the school helps fund the program.
Groups are led by instructors from the mountain, in addition to parent volunteers who have experience with ski or snowboard instruction. Additionally, community volunteers chaperone each group. The program is always looking for more volunteer community members (all volunteers must undergo a thorough background check).
Waitsfield’s ski and snowboard program has been in action for well over 20 years, WES principal Kayia Korb said, “We live in a spectacularly beautiful environment. It allows kids to get outside and enjoy their environment and build lifelong wellness skills. It’s so important that all kids in the community have the opportunity to enjoy what’s offered.” Of the 118 students in the program, Korb said 15 or 16 had either never skied or snowboarded or only done so once or twice. She mentioned one sixth-grade student who loves to snowboard and this is her only opportunity to get out and build her skills.
Korb said both Sugarbush and Mad River Glen are “deeply generous” and supportive of the program. “There’s no way we could do it if we had to pay” for lift tickets, she said. The school tends to go to Sugarbush more than Mad River Glen to allow students to snowboard, which is not allowed at Mad River Glen.
Warren School students get out on the slopes at Sugarbush and Nordic trails at Blueberry Lake for two hours each Thursday in the winter at no cost to families (the program is paid for by the PTO). School staff, community members and Sugarbush instructors lead groups of kids.
“The recreation piece is really fantastic,” Warren School principal Sam Krotinger said, “especially in the winter, and especially during COVID. It’s a real confidence booster” for kids. For children who have behavioral issues or other challenges in school, “It disappears when they’re on the mountain,” he said. He called the experience of being outdoors therapeutic for students. He also added, “It gets kids skiing from families who don’t do much outdoor recreating in the winter. It’s really fantastic.”
Fayston Elementary School students go to Sugarbush and Mad River Glen on Thursday afternoons. In the past, the school has offered other options like skating, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, but this year they are offering only skiing and snowboarding.
“There is a small fee for families to participate,” said principal Celia Hooker. “There is financial assistance available to participate whether that be the cost of the program, ski rentals or appropriate winter gear. Our PTO is always willing to help support our program if we need additional funds. Additionally, our school community donates gently-used ski gear that no longer fits their children. We then offer that gear (helmets, goggles, warm ski socks/layers) to students so that they can ski.”
Groups are led by a mix of teachers, community volunteers and coaches from the respective mountains. The program has been running since the mid-1970s.
“Our winter season in the Northeast can be long, dark and isolating.” Hooker said. “It's important that we expose our school children to activities that spark joy and keep us healthy during these longer months. Providing children the opportunity to try a new sport or continue to gain skills in a sport they are already familiar with is a gift. This experience is one that could inspire a healthy, life-long passion. We're fortunate to live in a place that allows us easy access to such beautiful mountains and terrain.”