How Colorado Ski Country USA Keeps Kids on the Slopes

For nearly two decades, a trade group for Colorado's ski industry has offered fifth-graders a chance to ski or snowboard at 20 of the state's ski areas for free. It's a success story based on a simple idea: Hook 'em while they're young.

Don’t let the warm weather fool you—we’re not that far from the winter months, a season of ice, snow, and, if you’re in Colorado, lots of skiing and snowboarding.

But the state didn’t become a hotbed of wintertime recreation by accident. In fact, it required laying a lot of groundwork. And the strategy of Colorado Ski Country USA has been to get the state’s skiers and snowboarders to start young.

Since 1996, the industry group has offered the 5th-Grade Passport Program, which allows the state’s fifth-graders three free days of skiing and snowboarding at each of 20 Colorado ski areas. (For an ambitious 10-year-old, that’s a total of 60 free days on the slopes.) The parks offer students new to the sport a day of free rental gear, along with free lessons in January through a First Class Lesson Program. A Passport plan for sixth-graders costs $99—but the older students get four free days on the slopes per park.

More than 250,000 students have taken part in the program over the past 18 years. It even has a big-name sponsor in the Chipotle restaurant chain, which was founded in Denver.

“We strongly believe that every child should have the opportunity to learn our state’s signature winter sports and become lifelong skiers and snowboarders,” said Colorado Ski Country USA President and CEO Melanie Mills in a statement. “The First Class Lesson Program ensures that fledgling young skiers and snowboarders receive high-quality professional instruction for that memorable first day on the slopes.”

And in the spirit of starting early, the organization’s Passport page is already set up to register new snow-loving kids for the upcoming winter season.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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