AVSC youth programs: Increasing prices, priceless experience
The cost of the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s SnoWarriors program, for kids in grades 1-12: $325.
Price of a season ski pass: $124.
Fee for season ski rentals: $93.
Estimated expense of your child eating lunch at an on-mountain restaurant during the nine-week program: $90.
The experience: Priceless.
Many local parents flinch when it comes time to register their kids in the Ski Club. It isn’t cheap to learn to ski.
But most parents agree it’s well worth it. The hundreds of kids in the SnoWarriors program go out each Saturday for nine weeks with an instructor from the Aspen Skiing Co.’s ski and snowboard school.
Break down the $325 fee for the program over that nine weeks and it is a “very affordable” $36 per week, noted Aspen attorney Ted Gardenswartz, who has two kids in the program.
“I think it’s a great program,” he said. “My kids seem to have learned a lot. They like going.”
Gardenswartz also said the Skico offers a good deal by selling a ski pass with unlimited access to the slopes for $124.
For younger children, ages 3 1/2-kindergarten, the Aspenauts program offers a free season pass and a seven-week, lunch-included program for $272 ” a significant sum, but an incredible value by any measure.
A downvalley parent, who asked not to be identified, acknowledged that “price is definitely an issue” when enrolling his two kids in SnoWarriors. But he credited the Ski Club with getting his kids out on the slopes and providing excellent instruction.
“It’s worth the investment, making sure the kids get the skills,” he said.
His family is able to tap into the financial aid that the Ski Club offers and that makes it more affordable. While the program strains his household budget, he also noted that the price paid to the Ski Club doesn’t fully pay for the service provided.
The Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club made a tough philosophical decision two years ago to charge fees that more closely reflect the cost of providing them. The SnoWarriors program increased 80 percent, from $180 during 2000-01 to today’s $325.
Fees for the Club’s variety of other programs also increased. They still don’t cover expenses, said director Mark Cole.
“Just look at the fact that we have to raise 40 percent of our budget through fund-raisers,” he said.
Fees account for only 60 percent of the cost of offering the programs. Two years ago the fees didn’t even cover 50 percent of the program expenses, Cole said.
The proposal to raise fees was “a controversial thing.” Some people in the organization and on the board of directors didn’t support the move. To make it more palatable, the Club also made more money available for financial aid.
“I don’t want our fees driving people away,” said Cole.
This winter, $110,000 was available. Two years ago only $65,000 could be offered. This year 375 families are receiving financial aid. Two years ago 240 families received it.
Cole credited the Skico for essentially subsidizing the program. The fee paid to the Ski Club for SnoWarriors, for example, comes with five hours of instruction on each Saturday of the nine-week program. At the market rate, 45 hours of group lessons through the Skico would cost substantially more.
He also credited the Skico for making skiing affordable for valley youth by offering the $124 season pass for students. “That’s outstanding,” Cole said. “Where else can you get that?”
Students in programs like SnoWarriors receive the largest share of financial aid, simply because there are more of them. Cole said fees for families with kids in competitive programs are significantly higher because they are receiving specialized instruction from coaches.
Jim and Marlene Mickey have two daughters, ages 10 and 13, in competitive programs, which creates a financial strain for the family.
“It’s a lot of money but it’s well worth it,” said Jim. “We really are fortunate to live here and have our kids in the Aspen Valley Ski Club.”
Both parents said the program isn’t just about skiing. It’s about learning life skills.
Jim said he and Marlene are “W2 people,” who depend on their paychecks to get by. To pay for the kids’ racing instruction, Jim took a second job at the Grape and Grain liquor store in addition to his regular job at the Steak Pit. Marlene also works multiple jobs. They also receive financial aid from the Club. “Without [financial aid], it would be really prohibitive,” said Jim.
The cost of the J IV program for younger racers tops $1,000. The J III program for their oldest daughter tops $1,500. There are roughly 67 days of weekend and holiday training and 39 training days after school.
Marlene, who also went through the Ski Club while growing up in Aspen, said she and Jim consider it worth whatever sacrifice to send their daughters through the program.
“As long as they enjoy it, we’ll find the money to do it,” she said.
Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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