Methow Valley Cross Country Trails Free For Kids
The 200 km trail network at the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA) amidst the Cascade Mountains in and around the town of Winthrop in eastern Washington offered one of the most liberal age policies in the nation last winter.
The ski area gave a free cross country ski or snowshoe trail pass to kids 17 and under. Such “Kids Ski Free” trail fee policies for children are typically for kids under 6 at xc ski areas, but the MVSTA staff saw extending the age as a way to make it easy for families with young or teenaged children to decide to come and xc ski.
“Our goals were to target families and try to make cross country skiing more accessible to the next generation of skiers," the association’s Executive Director James DeSalvo said. "Conceptually the idea was inspired by data that shows the child obesity epidemic in the USA and the positive impact of getting kids active outdoors.”
The MVSTA underwent a rigorous revision of its master plan leading to the “Kids Ski Free” program among other decisions. They were prepared to take a short term financial loss to ensure longer term financial stability by investing in future customers. The intention was to expose kids to a great family experience and hope that they would come back into adulthood or with their kids.
The MVSTA was surprised to find that the incentive helped contribute to an overall increase in skier days even in the short term. In the initial year of the “Kids Ski Free” program kids’ ski visits were up 141 percent and total paid skier days (not including kids) were up 10 percent from the prior year, which was a record. It is amazing to learn that this occurred while there were 29 fewer ski days last winter compared to the previous year.
Some of the young skier focus includes a cross country ski terrain park for kids at the Town Trailhead and there are three ski loops that have illustrated story book pages on panels displayed along select trails.
Families were targeted with the Kids Ski Free campaign on all MVSTA social media outlets, press releases, trail maps, and websites. They also discussed the program with local businesses to explain their intentions early on. There are local lodging and retailer companion deals to the free trail passes and they are working directly with local businesses and organizations to offer more direct deals and discounts for this upcoming year.
“My dream is that the cross county ski industry would jump in and all ski areas would offer the same benefit for kids across the country. The timing is right for some sport/industry to take up the cause of kids’ health and I believe we are poised to do it,” DeSalvo said.