Many of the students you take away may never have been before, and may only get this opportunity once in their lives. It is really important to spend time thinking about what is best for them, and how you can make the very most of their money, as well as fuel their passion for the future. It may be tempting to think of where you would personally like to visit, but this may not work best for you and your party. With this in mind, we have tried to write this guide with that principle in mind.
The points are not listed in any particular order, however some of the key ones do appear near the top. For best results, download the workbook.
As you would expect, price is usually one of the main drivers for a school ski trip. Undoubtedly, and quite rightly, your SLT will emphasise that the trip be accessible to all pupils at the school in terms of cost, and usually this means that a European destination comes out ahead of USA or Canada options. It may be that as a result of this, your school decides to run a ski trip either annually or once every two years, or offer a trip to Europe one year and then further afield the next, in order to maximise choice.
Often when looking at ski trips online, or in brochures, the price is usually an attractive, eye-catching base price, with quite a few added extras and exclusions in the small print. Be sure to read the quote and trip notes fully. If the deal seems like it’s too good to be true, it usually is. If you have to collate some comparison quotes, then be sure you are absolutely getting like for like quotes so that nobody is misled. Here at Max Ski, we like to make things as easy for our Trip Leaders as possible, so what you see is what you get
‘An essential part of my pre-trip preparation for the last 3 years. Thank you.’
There is just so much choice; Europe, USA, Canada, Scandinavia… how do you even begin to narrow it down? Be ruthless in your initial ‘discarding’ of resorts would be one of our top pieces of advice from us. Some resorts are super expensive, so be realistic and take them out of the mix. Of course, if your ski trip budget can run to resorts like Verbier, Klosters, Courchevel, Lech-Zurs, Aspen or Whistler, then great stuff!
For many, the logical and natural choice seems to be to opt for the areas they either know or have heard a lot about. Austria and France seem to feature highly as countries of choice, and of course there are some fantastic resorts with some wonderful skiing. This popularity can push up prices however, and make availability limited or compromise something critical, like accommodation or ski lesson times, not to mention making the slopes extremely busy at key times. Considering other, less obvious countries and resorts will definitely ensure your budget goes further, without compromising on the experience of your students.
Snowfall record, snow making capacity and ski elevation
Ski elevation (the height of the ski area above sea level) and surety of snowfall is something to consider, depending on the time of year you are going. If your trip is during February half term for example, it does not much matter, as lack of snow should not be a concern. If you are skiing pre-Christmas however, or over the Easter holidays, then this aspect will take more of a priority.
Often we are tempted to think ‘the higher the better’, especially in the early part of the season. Whilst this may be true in some cases, consider that the higher the ski area, the more exposed it is to the elements. If your group is mostly of beginner level, then cloud and high winds on exposed mountain sides is not the most desirable of situations. If you can access a resort which is a bit lower down for example, with north facing slopes, with access to great snow-making facilities then that is a much more favourable scenario. Tree lined slopes are way more friendly to beginner skiers; they offer some protection and a visual reference point if the clouds do come in.
Extent and level of ski slopes
The size of the ski area may be of particular consideration if you have a mixed group, with a fair few intermediate to advanced skiers. It may be that depending on your choice of destination, you can spend several days on one mountain/in one area, then mix it up with another (USA being a typical example where this is quite common). Look for resorts which offer ski pass extensions to wider areas, and be sure to select a resort with plenty of variety in terms of difficulty of slope and good, fast lift networks. Simply looking at a resort’s ‘kilometre’ measurement of skiable terrain (or even more confusingly, ‘hectares) can be misleading, which will be discussed further below.
Something to be conscious of is claimed extent of pistes; many over state the size of the area. A strong move is afoot to get all resorts to measure their resort runs down the ‘centre line’ (how the FIS measures downhill courses). This movement for quantifiable parity is being headed up by Christoph Schrahe, whose research showed that some resorts overstated their ‘skiable terrain’ size by as much as 100%. The Austrians appear to be at the forefront of this movement for now, and the hope is that more and more resorts will become ‘verified’ using the centre line method in due course. So, although it is worthwhile looking at the kilometre figures for a general idea, please do approach them with caution, as there is still vast inconsistency and even confusion in some cases. In our opinion, you can’t beat getting the piste map out yourself and having a look at the extent and variety of slopes. Better still – talk to someone who may have been to that resort, or try and get yourself on an inspection visit before committing your school to it 100%.
Distance from airport
Understandably, everybody wants to be an hour from the destination airport when it comes to resort choice. This is possible in some cases and although this is desirable, it also worth considering that these resorts can be hugely busy. Sometimes it is well worth adding on some time at the front end to get to those resorts a little further afield; they are often higher, less busy and more snow sure.
Hotels and other accommodation
The standard, type and location of hotel can be tailored to suit all budgets. With budget being a main driver for school trips, we believe there are some key areas to focus on when it comes to selecting the hotel for your group.
‘Ski-in, ski-out accommodation’ is always a popular cry and is possible in some resorts, but this can usually be either one of the most expensive options, or an experience where the accommodation is not quite up to standard. Often hotels which are just a few minutes walk from the nearest gondola are of a much higher standard, and with on-mountain ski deposits available, the walk up to the gondola station are not always as arduous as you may fear. Good social areas, clean, sizable rooms and a good restaurant are some of the key things to consider.
Your students enjoyment of their ski trip really does hinge quite significantly on how well they progress in their lessons and how they interact with the ski instructor. Longevity and familiarity with that resort, and direct experience of using specific ski schools is therefore extremely important. Ski schools which have been fully certified, and are long established in the area are key things to consider, and you should ask your Tour Operator these questions when this aspect is discussed.
In terms of arranging your package, it is desirable to have the option of having your ski lessons run from either 4 or 5 hour options. This flexibility is important given the dynamic of your group, and the extent of the ski area.
Safety around town
Several factors may come into play here when it comes to considering the size and safety of the resort. If you are taking a younger group away, consider volume of traffic and pedestrianised areas in terms of safety; the smaller and more containable the resort the better really. A few shops, consisting of a gift shop and a pizzeria usually does the trick! If they can go out unsupervised, then so much the better as your job will become significantly easier in terms of managing their free time.
If you are planning on taking an older group away the emphasis may change. You may wish them to have more choice in terms of shops and free-time venues, but a more unwieldy resort in terms of size may impact on your management of them. Availability of alcohol in various bars and nightclubs will also increase risk the bigger you go.
Some trips do involve the parents as part of the group, and there can be a conflict of interest in terms of what they may wish to do in the evening compared with that of the students. Managing their expectations ahead of the trip is the key to really finding the right resort for the students.
Once the ski day is done, you really do need a focus for the rest of the evening, as the students will need to be entertained if they are to be kept out of mischief! In some cases the evening activities are optional add-ons, so be sure to check the small print of whoever you are booking with. Be sure to ask the relevant questions: how many activities are free, how many are hotel based, how much are the additional activities, how long do they last, what time to they start etc.
A variety of activities is a good way to stave any any discontent within your group. A week’s worth of in-hotel quizzes may wear slightly thin and result in an element of cabin fever, so a mixture is preferable and will cater to everyone’s personalities to a greater or lesser extent. Here at Max Ski, we are absolutely straight up with our Evening Entertainments and have everything included, so all the thinking has been taken out of this process for you.
Sometimes the best way to select a ski tour operator is via word of mouth. You may have a colleague who has been away with a particular company, and their recommendation and first hand experience is enough to convince you of the merits of a particular destination or company. The jungle drums can sometimes work in this respect, but if you are just scouring through websites there should be a ‘Testimonials’ area on the website of the company you are considering where you should be able read about others’ genuine experiences.
Once you have been through your checklist of possible destinations, companies and aims you may benefit from an Inspection Visit, which many companies offer (usually over a dedicated weekend). The price of this trip is usually free, with any costs being built into your future trip. Not all resorts may be offered however, but the bigger, popular ones usually are.
Some schools require you to have attended a formal and recognised course if you are to organise a Ski Trip with your school. Many tour operators offer the SnowSports Organisers Course to Tour Leaders, or the Alpine Snowsport Course Leader. They are all Third Party agents of SnowSports England, and these can easily be arranged on your behalf, or you can sign up directly.