Ski programs at Cavendish Town, Chester-Andover mount fund-raisers Okemo hikes rates, ends reduced fee for qualifying families

Kids ski at Okemo Mountain. Photo by Jarrod Harper

By Cynthia Prairie
©2018 Telegraph Publishing

Winter sports program coordinators have scrambled to set up Go Fund Me campaigns to ensure that children at Cavendish Town and Chester-Andover elementary schools can participate, after Okemo Mountain Resort raised prices from $19 to $47 a child and eliminated lower fees for families qualifying for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program.

The fund-raising efforts are intended to pay for the hikes and keep the prices that families pay level with last year.

Access the Chester-Andover Go Fund Me campaign here. You can view the Cavendish Town Go Fund Me campaign here. The Cavendish campaign has exceeded its goal and has been halted.

The snow program begins in late January and runs for eight weeks, a half day each week.  Students get from school to the slopes and back on school buses.

“I understand it. … It’s a business decision …
Okemo has raised fees in the past.”
Jarrod Harper
CTES Snow Sports coordinator

In the past, said Cavendish Snow Sports coordinator Jarrod Harper, Cavendish families who could afford it had been paying $80 for the entire program: $15 to participate in the program and $65 for the equipment rental. Families qualifying for reduced priced school meals had been paying $55: $15 for the program fee and $40 for the equipment rental. And families with significant need were charged a flat $20. Between 62 and 64 Cavendish children sign up for the snow program, with slightly more than half participating in the federal lunch program, Harper said.

Cindy Cole, Snow Sports coordinator at Chester-Andover, said Chester and Andover families who can afford it had been paying $81: $25 for the program fee, $48 for equipment rental and $8 for helmet rental; and families qualifying for reduced priced meals had been paying $53: $15 for the program fee, $30 for equipment rental and $8 for helmet rental. Cole said 78 CAES children participated last year and she is expecting more this year.

But now, Okemo has eliminated the scaled fees and raised the price of the program fee to $35 and the leveled the equipment fee at $65 so that all families will now be charged $100 for the entire program.  Harper, who has been coordinating the Cavendish program for six years, said that he learned of the changes on Tuesday, Dec. 11, when Okemo sent out the fee hike information to all snow program coordinators. Three days later, he set up his Go Fund Me page.

According to a copy of the memo to coordinators obtained by The Telegraph:

  • Program fee will be $35 for students. … (This is a standalone discounted rate for all students who enroll in the program)
  • Rentals will be $65 for Nordic and Alpine (this includes a helmet if needed for alpine) $25 for Skating (kids and volunteers). These are discounted rates for all students who enroll in the rental program.

The $3,000 from its Go Fund Me campaign and other donations will be added to money from the CTES program’s annual fund-raiser, which brings in $400 to $800 a year. That fund-raising, which has been going on for three years, consists of cleaning and selling the contents of Okemo’s annual lost and found collection. “Ski pants, snow pants, helmets, gloves …” Harper said, adding that  sales “depend on the inventory.” During ski program signups, parents can also opt in to donate a little bit extra, he added. “I believe I can keep the costs the same,” he said.

Cole said she hasn’t had to do fund-raisers in the past, and has been able to roll over money from the previous year to help the next year. “It would have been nice if Vail had said that it would deal with the changes next year,” she added.

Harper said the cause of the hike “was fairly obvious … It’s Vail,” which closed on the purchase of both Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow and Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire from Tim and Diane Mueller in the early fall. But, he added, “I understand it. … It’s a business decision … Okemo has raised fees in the past” when it was under private, local ownership. But he said, the issue that has upset people the most is that there was “no consideration for the families” who qualify for free and reduced priced school meals. “I just have to do what I have to do to get kids on the mountain.”

Cole also said, “I’m told that there will be more changes coming to the program next year.” But, she added, “From what I understand, the rates for the West Coast programs are higher than what they are charging us this year.”

Days after the price hike was announced to Snow Program coordinators, Okemo’s Communications Manager Bonnie McPherson responded to an email query from The Telegraph on Saturday, writing, “all that I know about the school programs is that they will continue. Beyond that, I have no additional information.” There has been no response to an email sent out on Saturday to Vail’s media contact person.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia 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, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Karl Fuller says:

    I would suggest that Magic would possibly be a better alternative. It was where we always went in the 1970s.

    That should be looked into for next year. It is very important to get these children on the slopes regardless of their families financial situation.

  2. kurt voight says:

    I was concerned when I heard Vail was buying Okemo. They should, if anything, reduce or eliminate the cost of the program as many ski areas out west do, in an effort to say thanks to local residents who have to put up with the negative effects of the industry like increased traffic etc.
    Instead we get a war on townies.

  3. Charlea Baker says:

    Both my sons were able to learn skiing and snowboarding through this program.

    As a single mom in the 1990s, there was no way I could have afforded to even consider participating in this rich man’s sport. (And thank you to “Dan” who ran that fabulous second hand ski shop here in town.)

    My kids got out in the fresh air, developed athletic skills, grew strong, enjoyed good clean fun and adventures with friends, all under the family friendly mountain and caring eyes of adults and parents from our community who worked (and skied) there.

    I am dismayed that Vail corporate culture is imposing the “haves and have nots” divide in our community. It is short-sighted to turn Okemo into an exclusive enclave of the out-of-state wealthy.

    Less affluent kids of the 1990s continue to enjoy time with their families on this mountain and others. They are raising the next generation of skiers and snowboarders.

    An important part of sustained business success is understanding local market resources and assets. Tim and Diane understood this very well. How many of our kids learned essential skills at their first job at Okemo? (I think earning lift tickets was even more incentive than the money.)

    I am surprised that Vail for all its reputation for business savvy handled this change in such a abrupt flat-footed way. I would have expected more finesse. That being said, this program is important for the healthy physical and social development of our kids.

    It is important to have an established fund available to cover the increased cost. Subsidies to less affluent families are appreciated, but there is (I speak from experience) some awkwardness and shame involved. Chester should be able to provide this wonderful program to all of the children seamlessly so they all participate feeling on an equal basis with their peers.

    I would like to see if Vail would adjust its expectations (and be informed of the broader resource potential they are choking off). Let’s figure out a long-term solution to ensure all of our children can continue to benefit from learning a healthy exhilarating outdoor sport and have a good relationship with our beautiful “Home Mountain.”

  4. Cynthia Prairie says:

    Hi Arlene,

    The Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program has only been used by snow program coordinators to identify children who could use that extra financial break to participate in the snow program. It has nothing to do with providing lunch for the snow program itself.

  5. Arlene Mutschler says:

    Can’t the schools provide a box lunch for all the kids? This way no one will know who is on a reduced price lunch. If they were in school, they’d eat in school anyway, right? And they wouldn’t have to rely on the high priced cafeteria food. That would help to offset the higher program costs.

    I do think this is rude of Vail to not at least give a year’s notice on this increase. Or increase a little, saying it would go up more next year? How about checking out the other mountains for next year. Perhaps Magic or Bromley might be willing to take on the programs. Magic is not that far away. Just a thought.

  6. Susan Leader says:

    This conversation seems to touch a nerve with me! I worry about the class divisions that open up when there are school day activities that cost extra money or involve publicly coming forward to ask for financial relief.

    It seems to me that a public school must be one place where all students can expect to be treated equally, regardless of family income.

    For instance, what about the proportionately greater financial hardship this price hike imposes upon families with multiple children?

    A family may not qualify for reduced lunches, but it does not necessarily follow that it is not financially stretched… My belief is that if we choose to continue the ski program, it should be budgeted and paid for in one lump sum, either with school system funds or by a parent-run fundraising group, rather than be the responsibility of individual families.

    The Muellers being community minded, as well as astute enough to recognize the inherent value in bringing up the next generation of local down-hill skiers and workers, were VERY generous to our community. Vail does not seem to get this. My suspicion is that there are already many kids who cannot afford to participate in the ski program, even with the traditionally generous subsidy.

    I believe that all regular programs that take place during the school day, and subsidized by the school transportation system, need to be free and open to all kids, without parents having to worry about their ability to pay.

    Thank you, Susan