First Timer Primer


Welcome to the Senior Ski Team Program on Whistler/Blackcomb to all you who will be skiing with us for the first time this year.  We know that you're not first timers to skiing or even to ski improvement sessions.


The purpose of this letter is to not only welcome all of you to the Senior Ski Team Program to your first season but to also give you a primer on what the Senior Ski Program is and is not so once you've read and listened to this email, you should be semi familiar with the operational side of things. 


There is a video blog accompanying this that was made with the intention of putting a face and voice to the name especially this year with all the COVID protocols we will be following. 


Note: This video was made November 16, 2020 and it is now November 2, 2021.  I will update the message by mid month to include the updated protocols on the operational side of things.


A Short History Lesson


Unlike many or most programs on Whistler/Blackcomb, we have always been "a word of mouth" program with well over 90% of the people like yourselves learning about us from other skiers, friends and acquaintances. 


We started with 7 intrepid skiers 19 seasons ago and 4 of them are still within our ranks; all now in their 80's and as keen as ever.  In the second season we had 49 skiers then 96 then 180 and so on until we reached 250 around year 5,  I had to cap it for 2 or 3 seasons just to find and train coaches to keep up with the demand and we are now at about 340 skiers; with the bump attributed to the return of the Covid refugees.  The number of new skiers has remained about the same at about 50 people.


Our skiers have remained very loyal over the seasons and in the year before Covid, we had our highest retention rate at over 90%.  Last year, it dropped to about 83%. However, we continue to enjoy a loyal following with at least 50% of our returnees, have been with us for 5 years or more.


How did we get to be known as the Senior Ski Team? 


At first, the program was conceived to be a pass holder attraction/perk for skiers 65 years and older; so true chronological seniors but today we welcome seniors in training at 55 years + but ask for ID. (just joking)


In the beginning, the core had no interest in 'drop in style lessons' and wanted to have the same instructor session after session.  In fact, they weren't even keen on the 'lesson idea' so much as they wanted to be grouped with similarly aged people with safety and camaraderie as the core tenets.


It didn't take long for us to refine the language and quickly we became known for conducting sessions instead of lessons and the instructors soon became coaches.


We conducted surveys every season and formed an advisory board to continue the search for what people wanted and didn't want.   This is how the SST Questionnaire Skier Profile evolved. 


As the seasons went by, it became crystal clear that people didn't like interlopers.  At one point, we let people 'makeup' missed sessions by letting them drop in when it was convenient for them to do so.  This didn't go over well with the "Teams" though and it became clear from the feedback that something had to be done about it. 


The year after I made 'drop ins' a thing of the past, our retention rate soared.  That was many years ago now and as they say, the rest is history.  So you can see that the groups eventually truly want to see themselves as teams. 


Becoming a team usually doesn't happen overnight and first year groups often remain just that, a group of skiers skiing together for a season.  There's always that trade-off to find between free skiing adventure and ski improvement.   At some point, a 'core' will come together as the season progresses and the following season new skiers will be added with similar profiles and organically, the group becomes a team.


You are allowed to ask to 'Switch teams or days' once the season is over and registration starts anew.  Sometimes, you will be asked to switch groups once the coach has assessed you relative to the rest of the group.  Historically though, our switch rate is less than 10% including switching days as well as teams unless the whole or part of the team wants to switch coaches and that happens too.  This year with Covid, I've tried to go over all of your skier profiles with a fine toothed comb with the goal of minimizing movements as much as possible to comply with covid protocol.


By hook or by crook, teams will come together as people just love the continuity and structure of the team.


When and where does the SST Program operate?


We started with sessions on Wednesday's only but once we got to in excess of 160 people, we pretty much overwhelmed the traditional meeting places inside of Pika's and the Rendezvous restaurants.


So we asked people if we were to add another day, what would be their preference?  They asked for Sunday and Tuesday and both started up with one or two groups on each day. 


This year, we will have 7 groups on Sunday and 8 on Tuesday.  Monday's were added a few years ago and this year we will have 13 groups; second only to Wednesday which has always been our most popular day with 25 teams this season.


Because of Covid, last year we had to meet outside and the meeting places varied to comply with numbers allowed to converge in one spot.  This season, the protocols are somewhat different but you'll need to wait another couple of weeks in order to get the plan.  No matter what, as you are all new, you will be asked to come up and introduce yourselves to me at a designated place and time and I will then introduce you to your coach from there.  I will be sending you out the name of the coach I have you assigned to in advance.  However, because of our age group group, I'm quite realistic and don't get upset any longer when you can't remember who you were assigned to and I'll have my trusty Master Sheet with me at the Meeting Place just in case (you forgot). 


We meet 12 times throughout the winter, 6 times on each mountain starting on Blackcomb and alternating back and forth.  We always start with sessions in week one and two of December which is easy to remember as it follows US Thanksgiving which falls in the last week of November. week 3 is the Bye Week and week 4 is Christmas of course.  We start up again in the first week of the New Year.


You're allowed to forget your coach's name but there's absolutely no excuse for mixing up which mountain we are meeting on and ending up on the wrong mountain though; really! 


Are there any real goals of the SST Program?


When we first started, we thought that we'd like to be known as a 'kedge' for skiers that would make their SST day a reason to get up on the mountain and out of the valley no matter what the conditions were perceived to be and the hope was that this would get people incentivized enough to get up there a day before or after on their own and double up their skiing time.  We're happy to say that this has been achieved in spades and our average skier tells us they ski 21-40 days a season so not bad for old farts eh?


So what happens when a scheduled day needs to be cancelled or postponed?


We have built a Bye Week into every month of The Schedule from December thru March and if a session can't go for some reason, there is an alternative week each month to do the makeup.


What if my coach can't be there for a session?


Over the years, we've discovered that having the same coach for every session is ultra important to you and your team's development and we encourage the coach to reschedule her/himself with you on one of the Bye Weeks.  Only as a last alternative, will we have a replacement coach ski with you.  She will either turn out to be infinitely better than your coach or he will be so bad that it was just a waste of time. 


Moral of the story, since we encouraged the coaches to fill in for themselves by rescheduling a missed day into one of the BYE Weeks, our coach turnover is almost nil and of course our best coaches all have wait lists of people wanting to join their groups.


Well, I could go on here and in fact, I will do a Part Deux for you next week as a wrap up.  In the meantime, if all this reading hasn't put you to sleep and has triggered a question or two, drop me a line and I'll do my best to fill in the blanks.


Thanks for reading and here is the link to the Video Blog.

First Timer Primer Part Deux

I must have been as clear as skiing in a whiteout as there weren't a lot of queries following the update other than a bunch of thank you's.


Clearly, what type of mask/face covering is either acceptable or recommended was a popular query and here is what I know about that to date.


First and foremost, follow the provincial guidelines as posted by Dr. Bonnie Henry and company and you can google those if you haven't already.


I have actually been in contact with 3 different ski mask specific providers asking that same question.  One manufactures a neoprene one, another a plastic addon that snaps on to the bottom of goggles and covers your nose, face and chin and the 3rd makes logo style cloth masks; basically ubiquitous other than for the logos. 


They all came back with the same response that they provide face coverings and do not make any claims such as the makers of N95 masks do.  Even if you read the fine print on the box of the standard blue mask, they don't make any claims either.


Certainly this is a fluid topic and will be subject to updates as more information becomes available.


In the meantime, use your best judgement and wear what you think is most appropriate for you and others.  Bring more than one to the mountain with you.  They are bound to get wet or become casualties as you learn to adjust to wearing them while in ski lines, gondolas, lifts and washrooms.


I also had some of you submit new email addresses that you'd prefer to receive your updates on.  By default, I am using the one you provided on your skier profile.  Let me know if you prefer another.


Finally, If you know you won't be joining us until a specific time, this is the time to let me know so that I can add it to your file before it will be sent to your coach.  The coaches receives a limited amount of information about you as illustrated in this example:


2   Jane Skier 1/6   68  55  4


The 2 refers to your stated goal

1- Ski Off Piste / Backcountry

2- Ski Powder Snow With Ease

3- Ski Groomed Runs/Icy Conditions with good technique


Jane Skier is Your Name

The 1/6 means that you've told me your ETA for the first day will be January 6


63 is your age

55 is number of seasons skied

4 is number of days of cardio you do in the off season


On the first day, you and your coach will exchange contact info.  The default method to do this is she/he will give you their business card with their preferred contact info and you will then reply by email once you're home with your preferred contact info.  Just that easy and you will be connected going forward.


Finally, in the next week or so, I will be sending you your coaches name and where and when you will meet up on Blackcomb on the first day.  I also follow up each week with updates on that week's meeting spot and so on so you should be fine.


Think schnee!