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September 2013

Raising the Bar

When it comes to looking after our littlest guests, there are many ways to keep them, and the parents, happy.

Written by Iseult Devlin | 0 comment

One small hour of freedom is all a busy parent may need to recharge or reignite a lost passion for snow sports.

“There’s a sense when you have young children and babies that you have to put your ski life on hold,” says Shelly Schaffer, director of Treasures Child Care at Smugglers’ Notch Resort, Vt. “We can reassure even a new parent to take a two-hour ride [on snow] and come back to nurse the baby to sleep,” adds Schaffer.

And that’s just part of the assurance game. Aside from flexible scheduling, including one-hour day care, Smugglers’ has upgraded its cell phone coverage for all carriers to ensure parents can receive text messages or make phone calls to the center to check on kids as often as they feel the need.

Getting parents past the barrier of leaving kids at a childcare facility is just as crucial as convincing them to spend the money to do it. But texting photos of the child to parents while they are skiing is one way Smugglers’ has helped get parents to feel good about dropping their kids off in an unknown environment.

Quality, affordable daycare has become a priority for active young parents, and many snowsports managers across the country are responding. From expanding daycare space to implementing price programs to offering tech perks for worried parents, childcare specialists are improving the experience for not just the kids, but the parents, too.

While some parents may not think twice about paying a fee of $100 or more for a full day of daycare at the slopes, others just cannot afford the price of childcare plus tickets and everything else.

To address the cost issue, Vermont’s Bolton Valley offered Ski and Play Days on Wednesdays last winter. The program provides a parent with a lift ticket and a full day of daycare for just $79, a 40 percent discount off the retail rate. The deal returns this coming winter, and also is available on Sunday afternoons.

In addition, Bolton offers a day-care 10-pack for $600, effectively pricing a full day, including lunch, for $60 instead of $75. “It’s great for stay-at-home parents, and it fills some space when we don’t have people in there,” says Josh Arneson, director of sales and marketing.

Bolton views day care as a service, not a profit center. “For us, daycare has never really been a money maker—it’s a value-added resource,” says Arneson. “It pays for itself and that’s about it.”

On the other side of the country, Sierra-at-Tahoe, Calif., also offers a volume package deal with its three-pack for $165, no blackout days. The regular full-day cost is $99, while holidays cost $109. “We are trying to offer the guest as much value as possible,” says Steve Hemphill, communication manager.

Sierra-at-Tahoe also has the relatively new Parent Predicament Pass as an alternative to putting a child in daycare. It allows both parents to use one ticket while taking turns watching their child. “It’s a great option for people who are hesitant to put children into daycare,” says Hemphill.

Day care by the hour is another way resorts are tackling both cost and separation anxiety. Price varies. For instance, Sierra-at-Tahoe charges $35 an hour and $89 for a morning session; Smugglers’ is $15 for an hour and $85 per day. “Families can build daycare around their schedule with an hourly rate,” notes Schaffer, who adds that being flexible also relieves parents who might worry about getting to the daycare by a certain hour.

Other packages: Smuggler’s Family Fest package offers daycare for $42.50 a day—50 percent off the daily rate when booking and staying at the resort. Loon offers a seasonal daycare program for $1,959 for up to 40 days.

Mountain managers are also modernizing daycare facilities so that children can have a good experience.

“Our daycare was remodeled last summer, so there is now a dedicated soundproof sleeping room for babies, a room for kids who need to be rocked, and a larger play area [for the toddlers],” says Tim Wolfgram, Loon’s snowsports director. He is hiring a new childcare supervisor who will create a more structured program with a curriculum.

“Not only will the kids be having fun, but they can learn something while they are there,” Wolfgram says. “We have a lot of games, toys, and a well-trained staff who loves children.”

Learning while playing is a focus at Snowmass, Colo., where the expansive Treehouse Kids Adventure facility houses all kinds of activities, including daycare. Children learn about animals and nature while enjoying their stay. The building features themed rooms for children eight weeks and up, including a butterfly room for infants and a beaver dam room for older kids. Puppet shows, climbing walls and other interactive activities are all part of the program to entertain and calm the children. (For more, see “”The Ultimate Treehouse,” SAM January 2008).

“If we can capture a skier from an early age, they will want to come back and grow with us,” says Meredith McKee, Aspen Snowmass PR manager.

The ultimate objective for progressive daycares is to get the kids on the slopes at a young age.

“Our goal is to get them on snow as early as possible,” says Hemphill. Sierra-at-Tahoe partnered with Burton and Lucasfilm Ltd., to use iconic Star Wars themes and characters to introduce children ages three to six to snowboarding. Although it’s pricey at $135 a day (including rentals, lunch, and instruction), a three-pack brings the price down to $81 a day. (For more, see “Sierra-At-Tahoe Debuts Yoda's Riglet Park,”

Sierra-at-Tahoe also has themed adventure zones featuring terrain teaching elements such as rollers, mini jumps and banked turns to keep children entertained. Animated characters also help educate participants on local history and animal species in areas known as Teepee Town, Pony Express and the Bear Den.

While some resorts wait until age four to introduce children to snowsports, a growing number offer all-day programs for three-year-olds. Smugglers’ even starts them at two-and-a-half, with one-on-one lessons using a 30-foot Magic Carpet, enclosed in the daycare playground space. Cost: $129, including equipment. “Most love it and by day three they are looking for more,” says Schaffer. From there, kids move up to a 300-foot Magic Carpet that’s also near the daycare, so if children become fussy it is easy to bring them back inside.

At Loon, three-year-olds can opt to ski/ride for one hour in the morning and afternoon, or go on a field trip, such as riding on a wood-fired train.

Daycare facilities at mountain resorts are typically licensed by the state. Most facilities strive for a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio depending on the day. It’s not uncommon for resort daycares to take babies as young as six weeks, although six months is also a common starting age.

Standard practice includes lunch and snack. Smugglers’ also offers clean linens and blankets and washes all dirty clothes. Some resorts go beyond the basics, such as Snowmass, which has an on-site nurse.

Security is crucial. Parents spend time on the first day to go over details such as the security procedure for pick-up.

Most daycares offer parents a close-in parking area for bringing children in. “There is a drop-off zone 10 steps from check-in,” says Wolfgram. Loon also has a parking lot at the back of the children’s center (and close to the slopes) that parents can use for a fee.

All in all, resort daycares have made huge strides over the last five years in an ongoing effort to offer parents added value and peace of mind while they enjoy the slopes.