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. Even though you are a First Timer with the Senior Ski Team Program, 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 and 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 this introduction, you should be semi familiar with the background and 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 Skier Profile Questionnaire 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 where space was available 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.
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 be 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 5 groups on Sunday and 10 on Tuesday. Monday's was 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 22 teams or so this season.
In the Covid years, we had to meet outside and the meeting places varied to comply with numbers allowed to converge in one spot. The protocols are back to normal and we meet in the Rendezvous Lodge on Blackcomb and in Pika's, downstairs in the roundhouse on Whistler. As all of you are new to the program, on the first day, 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 along with all the details every week in advance of the sessions.
Because it is common for people our age group to forget things, I'm quite realistic and don't get upset any longer when people can't remember who they were assigned to as I'll have my trusty Master Sheet with me at the Meeting Place just in case (someone forgets).
We meet 12 times throughout the winter, 6 times on each mountain starting on Blackcomb and alternate back and forth from week to week. 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 the Christmas Holiday 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!
Here is the link to the full SST Schedule; add it to your calendars.
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(er) 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 the session 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.
First Timer Primer Part Deux
We are now somewhat in the post Covid era but that doesn't mean that there isn't still danger of catching colds, flu or even Covid through the winter months, historically referred to colloquially referred to as the Flu Season. Officially, masking is no longer obligatory in the gondolas or restaurants. One thing I've learned personally over the past 2 years that wearing masks and being around people wearing masks reduced my sick days due to colds, flu or Covid down to nil. So, there is still a very good case for masking while in crowded public areas.
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. If you think that masking is still appropriate for you, 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.
Email Address on File and Start Date
I have had some of you submit new email addresses to which you'd prefer to receive your updates on. By default, I am using the one you provided on your skier profile. To be on the safe side, update your email with W/B to the same one on file with us; duplicate emails can cause avoidable problems.
Finally, If you know you will be missing a session or two and won't be joining us until a specific date, let me know when you know so that I can add it to your file. This way, we will know when to expect you on your first day.
Coaches Roster & Contact Info
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 1 of 3 goals for the season you chose from:
1- Ski Powder Off Piste / Back-country
2- Ski Powder Snow With Ease
3- Ski Groomed Runs/Icy Conditions with good technique
Jane Skier is Your Name
The 1/6 is the date you've told me your ETA for the first day ; in this case, January 6
68 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, the plan is for you and your coach to 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 email and phone number. Just that easy and you will be connected going forward. This can also be done in the lodge prior to going out to ski.
Finally, before the season starts, I will be sending you your coaches name and where and when you will meet up in the Rendezvous Lodge on Blackcomb on the first day. I also follow up each week with updates on that week's meeting spot (in case there are changes) so everyone is on the same page. Once you have formed as a team and have an alliance with your coach, they will sometimes decide on an appropriate meeting place other than the official one that meets specific circumstances particular to the group. The coach then informs myself and the rest of your team and you will meet at the specified spot and time.
Because the morning "scrums," the time where everyone meets up a half hour before ski time, is so popular, most teams meet by default at the official spot most of the time.
Enjoy your ski season and think schnee!