A recent report stated that “when compared to state schools, independent schools were less likely to choose Austria as their first-choice skiing trip destination, and more than twice as likely to choose the United States.” Which begs the question: why are more and more independent schools looking to fly across the Atlantic when the Alps are on our doorstep?
There’s no doubt that trusted snowfall records are a factor. When the snow is only just arriving across the Alps, it’s often already a different story on the other side of the Atlantic. Tales of deep powder from North America are always enticing, as are stories of yet another bumper season for the US’ north-eastern resorts.
Snowfall aside, you’ll discover that our North American cousins often benefit from lighter snow (the physics bit: the resorts are usually further away from the sea and the snowflakes thus less dense, creating the fine powder snow so beloved by skiers), as well as immaculately groomed, tree-lined slopes complete with modern lift systems and virtually non-existent lift queues. They also offer good value (with dining options both on and off the slopes), great, typically American hospitality and – most importantly for schools – superb tuition for all abilities and ages.
But there’s also a more practical reason why the USA and Canada are attracting more schools each year, particularly when it comes to older age groups. The minimum legal age for alcohol consumption in both countries – 21 years – offers undeniable reassurance for both teachers and parents alike.
Another point in favour of North America is that, unlike in Europe where you’ll often share space with skiers of all abilities, American resorts will provide dedicated areas for beginners, allowing for safer, more controlled learning. And everyone knows that the best snowing conditions are found the further up the mountain you travel, which is why green and blue runs often start from the top of the resorts, giving the learner a chance to ski the whole mountain – rather than staying stuck at the bottom, dreaming of higher climbs.
To further enhance what is already an uplifting skiing experience, the option to include a city stopover to New York, Boston or Toronto adds a valuable cultural dimension to the trip. This works particularly well for school ski trips to North America, when transferring back to a major city airport is essential in any case.
To ensure that everything fits into term-time breaks without compromising skiing time, resorts in the USA and North America tend to offer five five-hour days of skiing, rather than the six four-hour days offered in European ski resorts. What’s more, around 62% of the skiing on North America’s Eastern Seaboard is tailored for beginners and intermediates.
There’s also something to be said for that great American hospitality, with the community feeling certainly warming hearts. Everyone – from hotel staff to lift operators to fellow skiers – seems dedicated to making the whole enterprise as calm and welcoming as possible. People talk easily and comfortably to strangers with that wonderful, friendly American courtesy – helped, of course, by the fact that 90 per cent of US skiers are Anglophone. The invaluable added benefit of having English-speaking instructors certainly helps students to progress just that little bit quicker.
So stop and think before you book that next school ski trip – because there’s something to be said for taking that marginally bigger leap across the pond!
Dan Cross-Bates is National Ski Expert at inspireski, the ski division of school sports development tour providers inspiresport.
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