What To Look For in a School Ski Trip27/02/2020 10:25:09
Physics teacher Gary Taylor has organised the annual school ski trip for his school, Coombe Boys' School for over ten years. In this guest blog he shares some advice for fellow teachers leading their first school ski trip.
My name is Gary Taylor and for the past ten years I’ve organised ski trips at my current school. Organising a ski trip can be a hugely daunting proposition, but with effective systems, time and a little bit of luck, it can be enjoyable not onerous, and offers enormous benefits not just to the pupils who attend, but also to the wider school community.
Who am I?
I work at Coombe Boys’ School in New Malden on the leafy outskirts of South West London. My current role is that of a Lead Practitioner (Science), but over the past 15 years I have held many roles including Head of Year and Deputy Head of Science. Our school is truly comprehensive, serving the local community and we are very proud to be part of the Coombe Academy Trust, comprising of two secondaries and three primaries.
What about our school ski trip?
Our ski trip is offered to secondary age pupils from both Coombe Boys’ and Coombe Girls’ in years 8, 9 and 10. I first proposed the idea of a ski trip to our then Headteacher at the boys’ school in 2010 and have run trips every year since. For the past 6 years the trip has been a joint venture between the secondaries, which I oversee.
Over the years we have visited many countries and resorts and, as time went on, became clearer on what works best for us as a school. Experience is key!
Halsbury has sent us to some fantastic places; Artesina and Sansicario in Italy, and Alp 2500 in Spain 4 times.
After visiting Alp 2500 for the first time we knew it was something special, and after a year's hiatus to visit Italy again, we eventually settled on that resort as ‘the one’. It really is a very special little resort. Bigger is not always better!
In terms of choosing a tour operator, there are obvious things that we have looked for and then there are some that are not always so obvious, but just as important - if not more so.
Of course, cost is an important factor. I have always tried to keep prices as low as possible over the years, in order to make the trip as accessible to as many pupils as possible. However, I also believe that you get what you pay for, and experience has taught me that the best price does not always equal the best service.
When, as a trip leader, you are responsible for the safety and enjoyment of 60 young people, you want to make sure your tour operator offers value for money. £50 per pupil difference in price between tour operators can have a huge impact on the quality of service, hotels, ski school, equipment rental, reps and travel arrangements. This all has to be investigated thoroughly before taking the ’best’ price.
Then there is the service from the tour operator itself, to you the trip organiser. The stress of organising a trip largely comes before you set off, and the quality of communication can vary wildly between operators.
We could not have been happier with the service at every level from Halsbury in the past 6 years.
James in the sales team has felt like a friend of the school at times. He works closely with us, listens to what we want and is always spot-on when it comes to suggestions.
The fact that he has visited our school 4 times to speak with parents speaks volumes. The office staff we work closely with are professional, prompt in their replies and never seem to get annoyed at constant emails!
Celimen has also worked closely with us over the years and the systems in place to gather information from pupils have always worked seamlessly for us.
In resort, Halsbury’s service is second to none.
Having used other companies in the past, it comes from experience to say that Halsbury reps are chosen carefully. They are attentive, professional, speak the language and, importantly, are good with our children.
All of this coupled with keen pricing keeps us coming back. In fact, in light of the support we receive when things go wrong (sometimes they do!), we won't be looking to switch providers anytime soon. What do they say about holding on to a good thing?!
Why do you keep going back to Alp 2500?
‘You're going back there again!?’ I must have heard this at least twenty times a year for the past three. Why would we choose to visit a little ski resort in the lesser-known Spanish Pyrenees for the 4th time? Surely the Alps have so much to offer? Or a big Andorran resort? The skiing! The nightlife!
Well, let’s get this straight. La Masella in the Alp 2500 region of Spain is THE perfect place for our ski trip. That is a very important point - OUR ski trip. The place you choose has to match the context of your school and the pupils you take. So, what do we look for?
We take pupils in year 8,9 and 10. The Alp Hotel is perfect for them. It has spacious rooms, a huge social area which they love to hang out in (so important), meeting rooms for us to use, friendly staff who actually like children (important!), other school groups, amazing food, hot lunches, a pool, a games room, a disco, an area to meet outside…I could go on.
The point is it matches our needs perfectly. If I was taking year 12 or 13, perhaps it wouldn't, but for us it works. Decide what works for your pupils and choose accordingly.
This is clearly a vital aspect to choosing a destination for your trip. Often new ski trip leaders will immediately think about their own experiences as a skier/snowboarder and will subconsciously favour some resorts over others.
I implore you to clear your head, focus on the experience you want your pupils to have and think about the logistics of ensuring your pupils are safe, and enjoy what is often their first experience of the alpine environment.
The ski area in La Masella is a 5-minute walk from the hotel. This matters to me and it makes life very easy in terms of organising boots and skis at the start and end of the day. It also means that any pupils who are ill or injured are able to be comfortable during the day without being too far; we can swap staff easily.
Having run trips in big French mega resorts, Alp 2500 with its 120km of piste seems like it wouldn't really match up. However, this is precisely why we like it. Excellent, north facing slopes with a huge beginner area that caters for everyone.
Slopes which challenge all, but that all pupils can access by the end of the week. The beauty of La Masella lies in its simplicity; nearly all of the runs lead to one central meeting point.
Now, as a school group this could not be better, and with staff on duty at the bottom of the slopes in a sunny open bar with a huge terrace, it means we can respond to situations quickly whilst ensuring staff are comfortable.
The medical centre lies at the foot of the slopes in the same area - a key consideration when taking 60 beginner skiers. The hospital is 10-minute drive away. This works well when the unforeseen happens, as it often does.
On one occasion I received a call from an instructor that one of our pupils was injured. This happened in a large resort and I was at least a 30-minute ski away at the time. No such problem in La Masella, you are never more than 10 minutes away at most. These factors are what should make resorts attractive to trip leaders, not 500km of unobtainable piste that only a few get to enjoy.
At La Masella the ski school instructors are excellent teachers, personable and most importantly able to form good relationships with our pupils. Nobody likes grumpy instructors, least of all children!
Pupils are skiing for up to 5 hours a day, the importance of fun, responsible and skilled instructors is absolutely vital to the success of your trip. Check out reviews of the ski school you are booked with first, and do not be afraid to ask for a change; this can make or break a trip.
La Masella is a quiet place, and that is how I, as a trip leader like it. The hotel offers a full entertainment program, and as it is so well run, there is no need for our pupils to leave the hotel after skiing and après-ski crepes/hot chocolate.
In 4 years, I have never had a pupil ask to ‘go into town’, firstly because there isn’t one, and secondly because with such a well-chosen hotel, they don't feel the need. The devil is in the detail - we plan it that way for the benefit of the staff and the pupils.