Local News

Pico school program gives kids the gift of skiing and snowboarding

By Brooke Geery

Not every child in Vermont has the chance to go skiing or snowboarding, but Pico Mountain’s school program aims to change that. Since 2016, the resort has worked with area schools to bring groups of students from kindergarten through 8th grade to the mountain to experience the sports, part of the resort’s Play Forever pledge.

By Brooke Geery, courtesy Killington Resort
A Pico snowboard instructor helps a student learn to stand up and find balance.

Pico Ski and Snowboard school manager Andy Haskell went through a similar program himself in the 1970s and has been obsessed with skiing ever since. His office is decorated with thank you drawings sent by the students, and he beams with pride when talking about the program, through which thousands have passed.

“A couple years ago when we were doing this, there were 150 kids that would come all at once. It was a madhouse,” he said. “They were just out there on the rope tow, and it was great, so much fun. The bottom line for this is, I don’t particularly care how many skills they pick up, I want to hook ‘em!”

Every student participating in the program receives rentals, six hour and a half lessons, and a pass good for 12 days on snow. The cost for each student is $99, and that is covered by the schools.

“We’ve known for many, many years that it is not a money maker for us,” Haskell said, “but exposing local children to what we do here, that may not normally get that opportunity, is so important. Statistics show that when you start children skiing when they’re in kindergarten, the likelihood of them sticking with it is so much higher than even if you start kids in 7th or 8th grade.”

Of the six schools taking part in the program this season, none has embraced it quite as wholeheartedly as Orwell Village School. The K-8 establishment initially brought its entire student body — nearly 120 kids. Unfortunately, Covid-19 shut down the program mid-season in 2019/20, it took a pandemic pause in 2020/21 and for 2021/22 it has been scaled back so that only one school group of 50 children can participate at a time. Orwell has shifted its approach, bringing students in two groups — grades 4-6 on one day and grades 3, 7 and 8  on another.

Orwell program director and school board member Peter Stone said the program is a hit with nearly everyone.

“Out of the whole school, there might have been 15 kids that could go skiing, and because of the program now you have all these other kids that can go. We had a family of four students that didn’t ski because their parents didn’t ski, but now that the kids started skiing, and their parents have figured it out so they can take their kids other days,” Stone said.

Initially, the funding for the program in Orwell was thanks to a local mom who loved to ski so much herself, she wanted to let every child in on the fun. She raised money with other town residents to make it happen. It was such a success, the school took over, and now there is enough money allotted in the school’s budget to not just cover the cost of the program, but bussing every student to Pico, as well.

The program doesn’t just benefit the kids, but the parents, too, Stone explained.

“For parents who haven’t been skiing before, it can be daunting to take their kids up to the mountain because they just don’t know what it’s about. Even though (Pico) is very helpful, it’s still a lot for someone who’ve never done it. Many parents have volunteered to help and then they are also able to see what skiing is all about. We have had some parents that went up and took the training and became instructors for Pico. Some of them kept going after the program ended and would teach classes on other weekends.”

This season, Pico Mountain can accommodate and instruct 50 students at a time in morning and afternoon sessions on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Haskell’s just glad to have the program back this season and is hopeful it will return to the participation levels seen in the early days.

“I certainly plan on expanding in the future when the world gets back to somewhat normal. Hopefully we’ll have more staff to bring in on it, because it is a very popular program,” he said.

The biggest reward for Haskell is witnessing the kids on the hill. The thank you letters they receive afterwards are a bonus.

“We had a letter that came in five or six years ago, from a girl Anika, about how discovering skiing has changed her life,” he said. “A bunch of us still have it. It gets really deep; the emotion you can get out of these kids. It’s a neat thing, especially these days when it seems like every other kid doesn’t have a two-parent family and they need some sort of structure. So coming here, and learning this, they really grab ahold of it.”

Mountain Times Newsletter

Sign up below to receive the weekly newsletter, which also includes top trending stories and what all the locals are talking about!