Winter Park Volunteer Mountain Hosts

I got a nice compliment the other day, from my ex-employer surprisingly enough, in the form of “don’t you do enough work as it is”? I actually met him at the top-end of the Village at Winter Park Ski Resort in CO, by the Cabriolet, in my capacity as Volunteer Mountain Host – something I have done for the first time this season after having lived in the valley 20 years.

Those of you that ski this Colorado mountain will no doubt have see them (us) dotted around at the base early morning and later in the afternoon, as well as on the mountain during the day, in our dark yellow and black jackets. When riding the chairlifts with our visitors at our Winter Park destination, I’m often asked what the “job” entails, required commitments and benefits, so I thought I might share some insights with you this month for something different to talk about.

I said “job” in parentheses, because it is a volunteer position with no remuneration, other than a season pass in exchange for 10 days of service on the mountain. When I first started thinking about being a host, 10 days didn’t sound a whole lot, but trust me – it is – especially if you have a full-time job, family with kids (one about to graduate from High School, the other about to graduate from day-care), new puppy, and very little free time either to yourself or family.

I completed my 10th and final day last Saturday, have been “invited” back next year, but have said I will take the summer to re-evaluate based on my experiences this winter. Yes – 10 days was a big commitment, each one starting at around 7:45AM and finishing at 4:45PM. If you want to put it in monetary terms, 90 hours for a $360.00 ski pass equates to $4.00/day. The Resort has itself an absolute bargain in my opinion. For those hosts who ski a bunch more days in addition to their 10 host days, I can see the value. One host was hoping to hit the 100 mark for the season. These individuals usually fit into the retired or don’t need to work (much) category and can therefore rack up their free days at will.

The only other occasions I have been on the mountain this season have been with my daughter on her Wednesday afternoon Learning Center Ski Program, or the occasional Monday (my day off) when she’s at home. Consequently, this season I have sorely missed the likes of Boiler, Cannonball, Coupler and Brakeman, The Chutes, Balch, Reta’s and Outrigger to name but a few of my favorites. Instead I’ve had to be content with endless passes down March Hare, Doormouse, Forget-me-Not (how could I?) and the perennial favorite Dilly-Dally-Alley.

Our day starts with an 8AM briefing from the Lead Host, who tells us what’s happening at the resort that day, expected numbers and things likely to happen, such as the need for “quadding”, a.k.a “line management”, when lift lines get too long and every seat on every chair needs to be maximized. We have radios to report any problems to the Lead Host – injuries we come across, non-injury assists down the mountain, lost children, lost parents, basically anything where a skier or snowboarder needs third party help in some form. With radio usage comes the need to learn a set of codes and correct radio protocol. We carry grooming reports, trail maps, guest guides, ski & ride school brochures – a veritable walking (skiing) brochure rack at times.

The 8:30-10:00AM “welcome at the base” and 3:00-4:45PM “farewell, thanks for coming” duties, where we stand around at designated posts with the big circled “?” at the end of a pole – for me – was torture! I’m very happy to help people find what they need to find, but for many, they think they are the first person to make a wise-crack and say something like “so what’s your question”, or “what do you need to know” or words to that effect. In the morning, I’m itching to get on the mountain. In the afternoon, I’m itching to get home and have a beer!

The two skiing shifts – 10:00AM-12:00 and 1:00PM-2:45PM, usually don’t end up as skiing at all. We have designated zones to roam, and we’re either quadding, or skiing from one “assist” to another. An assist is defined as actual physical help in some form that is not directional or answering a question. The “usuals” are helping someone stand up, knocking snow off the bottom of someone’s ski boot when they can’t get their ski back on, pushing the back binding down – again when they can’t get their ski back on – that sort of thing.

When on-mountain numbers are low – such as right now – or you luck out with a great zone (read the Panoramic lift, or the Pioneer) or you get the Mountain Tour assignment (yes – free tours leaving 10AM and 1PM daily) – the prospects rise dramatically that you’ll be able to cruise more than assist. And cruising is just about all we’re allowed to do – nothing harder than a blue run, because most of the help is needed on the blues and greens. I did 16 assists on March Hare on 1 day alone – March 13 2011 will be forever etched in my memory!

Having skied Winter Park Ski Resort 20 years, there is very little I do not know about the mountain, the trails, and how to navigate around. The big eye-opener was the sheer volume of information you are expected to acquire and recall regarding all on-mountain and base area operations. Literally, the need to know answers to hundreds of questions can be a little overwhelming. We even had to complete a series of quizzes testing our knowledge. They took me 8 hours to complete!

Bottom line, in my opinion, the Volunteer Hosts are a necessary and key ingredient to visitor satisfaction and guest service, and they are worth every penny of their ski pass! Yes, there were elements of my own hosting that I did enjoy – especially the grateful responses to my many assists, and in particular when I could help out a Children’s Ski School Instructor with a struggling 4-year-old who was way behind the rest of the group and, having fallen, was in some distress. It was a bit like returning a duckling to its mother after having been left behind on the pond. But as for standing around with that Question Mark sign………………………

3 replies
  1. Greg Schlickenmaier
    Greg Schlickenmaier says:

    Thanks much for the overview of hosting at Winter Park. I am near retirement and would love to do something like this when I do, but need to move to CO to do so. Winter Park is my favorite CO resort.

    I especially liked the balance to your report, neither Polly Anna nor cynical. Is it true that if you host more than 10 days that there is an increase in the type of lift pass you receive, such as one that includes holidays, weekends, Copper Mtn, etc?

  2. Bian Lence
    Bian Lence says:

    This is a good program for retirees – especially those living in Winter Park.

    I don’t think you can “upgrade” to include Copper Mountain if you did more than 10 days, although your pass is designated “Employee” and as such you can still ski weekends, holidays, etc, without restriction.

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