Learn to Ski

Local Program Introduces Eagle County Students to Snow Sports

For many of those who grew up in the mountains, ski days were no foreign matter and often gifted students with unforgettable moments. What could be better than a day off school for some fun snow?

Perhaps some lessons to go along with that snow.

In the Vail Valley, Eagle County public schools have partnered with Vail Resorts to create Learn to Ski, an incredible tradition for local students. Every year, kindergarten through eighth-grade students in the Eagle County public schools are invited to join Vail Resorts instructors for two days of professionally taught ski or snowboard lessons.

"I feel like skiing is such a huge part of the culture in Vail, and it was a part that I felt like I was missing out on a lot of the time. And, Learn to Ski kinda gave that back a little bit." Hannah Nelson, former Vail Valley student and resident.

The program is truly designed to provide Vail Valley children with an accessible way to connect with the mountain and surrounding community. “From us in the ski school, it’s probably one of the most rewarding lessons we offer,” shares Schetrompf. The experience provides students with a chance to connect in anew environment and have fun in a safe, supportive space. “And, the kids get so excited, because they are getting to miss school to go skiing,” shares Justin Miller, who has been a ski instructor for this program for close to 18 years now. Afterall, it’s not every day that students get to take their classes from the snow-covered mountains of Colorado.

“The Learn to Ski program is a program that started decades ago that was really developed to make sure that youth in the Valley had the opportunity to learn to ski and snowboard at an affordable rate,” explains Jason Schetrompf, senior manager of the Vail Ski & Snowboard School. The program includes two full days of instruction, equipment rentals and specialized resources for those who may need it, all for around $60, with financial assistance options available.

Yet, even with these beckoning mountains at our doorsteps, many in the Valley do not have the opportunities or resources to connect with them. “There is actually a pretty big population in the Valley that doesn’t [ski],” Miller acknowledges. With ski prices continuing to rise, snow sports can be inaccessible to some. Plus, in an area where the mountains have become so closely tied to the Valley’s identity, those with little to no relationship with the mountains may feel left behind or even isolated. Such was the case with Hannah Nelson, former Vail Valley student and resident, who found the Learn to Ski program to be very meaningful to her own connection with the Valley.

“I really enjoyed [the program], because my family couldn’t get out to ski much, since my parents worked so much and ski passes are so expensive. So, for me, Learn to Ski was pretty much the only time in the year that I actually got to go up on the mountain,” Nelson shares. “And that was really nice, because I feel like skiing is such a huge part of the culture in Vail, and it was a part that I felt like I was missing out on a lot of the time. And, Learn to Ski kinda gave that back a little bit,” Nelson explains.

Ski instructor with students at Beaver Creek.

Photo courtesy of Beaver Creek Ski & Ride School.

With the mountain being such a prominent aspect of the Vail Valley lifestyle, presenting local students and families with opportunities to better understand snow sports and their influence can be monumental. “[Learn to Ski] brings the community together for the sake of the mountain, to enjoy it all together,” explains Cindy Cassidy, longtime local and special education teacher with Eagle County Schools. “[The mountain] is a very important part of our community, why we’re here,” Cassidy shares. “So, I think it really does get populations that don’t have exposure to skiing and snow-boarding a chance to do that,” she adds.

While the program may seem few and far between, the influence it has upon the younger generation and the local community as a whole is remarkable and well worth the effort. “Most students don’t have that kind of opportunity at their schools,” Nelson explains. “And, it just made me appreciate the education that I got in the Valley more and the emphasis it placed on physical activity and the outdoors, those kind of learning experiences that weren’t just lecture or classroom-based.”

With support for the program coming from many directions, Vail Resorts and Eagle County Schools hope to continue offering this resource for many more years to come. “We are commit-ted to this,” explains Schetrompf. “[It’s] close to our heart, and we are fortunate to be involved in the program.”

“It’s a little chaotic, but once you get through that chaos, it’s really cool. It’s a lot of work, but very rewarding,” Miller shares.