Vail reverses ski program rate hike for kids on Fed lunch list Reduces lift pass benefit to Snow Sports volunteers

Kids ski at Okemo Mountain. Photo by Jarrod Harper

By Cynthia Prairie
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Vail Resorts has rescinded its announced price increase for those local families on the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program whose children want to participate in school ski and snowboard programs at Okemo Mountain, according to those close to the situation. The Chester Telegraph reported the initial rate-hike story on Tuesday.

The rate raise — to $100 — will remain for children not in the federal lunch program.  This amounts to a $19 to $20 increase over last year for the children attending Cavendish Town and Chester-Andover elementary schools.

The rates for families qualifying for the federal lunch program will return to last year’s rates of $55 at Cavendish and $53 at Chester-Andover. The program for each school runs half a day per week for eight weeks, weather permitting, and begins at the end of January.

While she did issue a statement on Thursday announcing the change, Vail spokeswoman Bonnie McPherson refused to confirm the exact dollar figures or explain why Vail changed its mind.

On Tuesday, Dec. 11, Okemo announced that it was raising its rates across the board to $100 and eliminating the reduced rates to families with children on the federal lunch program, prompting the Snow Sports coordinators at each school to begin Go Fund Me campaigns to pay for the hikes and keep the charges to parents level with last year.

As of Thursday night, the Chester campaign is more than halfway to its goal of $3,000. You can access the Chester-Andover Go Fund Me campaign here. The Cavendish Town Go Fund Me campaign can be viewed here. The Cavendish campaign has exceeded its goal and has been halted.

Cavendish Snow Sports coordinator Jarrod Harper said on Thursday afternoon that because of the monies raised through the Go Fund Me campaign, “I’ll definitely be able to offer scholarships like I’ve done in the past and probably give every family some sort of price break, as well as put away money for next year.” He added that he will make those decisions “over the next couple of nights.”

Cindy Cole, Chester-Andover Snow Sports coordinator, is giving donors to its Go Fund Me campaign the option of a refund.”Or know that the money they donated will go directly to our winter sports scholarship fund for next year,” she posted on the fundraising page. She asks donors to email her at cindy.cole@trsu.org to let her know how they would like their donation to be handled.

Volunteers’ ski lift benefit restricted to ski program day

In the meantime, Okemo also announced that it was cutting back on benefits that the ski programs’ volunteers receive for their work over the eight weeks. Volunteers, many of them parents of participating students, used to receive a day’s lift ticket for each day that they volunteered.  Now they will only be allowed to ski for free on the day they volunteer, or as Harper put it: “Instead of a full day, they’ll get about an hour on the slopes.”

Both he and Chester-Andover Snow Sports coordinator Cindy Cole are concerned about losing volunteers. The ratio of volunteers to students is 1 volunteer to 3 students at Cavendish Town and 1 to 4 at CAES.  Cole added that with a bigger kindergarten class than CAES has had in years, if more kindergartners entered the snow program, the volunteer pool would be diminished even more since the ratio for them is 1 to 1. Luckily, she said, most chose to participate in the in-school program instead.

Harper knew there would be changes under Vail’s ownership but had been hoping that it would be more in line with what Vail was offering at its other Vermont resort, Stowe. According to a November article in VTSki+Ride magazine, “Since Vail Resorts bought Stowe in 2017, chaperones have had to work two days to earn a non-transferable lift ticket (previously they earned a lift ticket for the day they volunteered and one to share for another date after just one day of work).”

As for moving to a different ski mountain, both Cole and Harper seemed reluctant, but willing to consider it. Harper said, “We’ve talked about switching but the distance is a problem. I’d love to keep the kids in the community. ”

Cole said, “When Diane and Tim Mueller owned Okemo, they looked at the children and said that these children will bring their children and their children. They always wanted to give back to the community.”

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Jill B. says:

    To echo Jarrod – there is still time to get this right, Vail! This ski program is a gift to us locals, and also plants a seed for the next generation of skiers who may otherwise not have access to such an expensive sport. Reducing the reach of the program (taking away the vouchers) means my kids will only be skiing on program days and we will no longer be able to go as a family. Though we are still immensely grateful for the program, it is in Vail’s best interest to keep this tie to locals strong. Please reconsider and support local families!

  2. Jarrod Harper says:

    The Muellers, Okemo’s previous owners, were very generous and I never expected that the program would remain unchanged under the new owners. However, I was hopeful that they would offer a reasonable alternative and match similar volunteer benefits that have been reported at Stowe.

    I was also hopeful that Vail would reach out to the Snow Sports coordinators to discuss the program and the changes they were proposing. They have stated they want to be a positive partner in the community. There is still time!