The “Passport” Program is a tried and true method to introduce school children to snowsports in 10 different states and Maine’s WinterKids program goes way beyond its Passport. More than 100,000 kids have taken advantage of the WinterKids Passport program in Maine to become active and WinterKids Executive Director Julie Mulkern states emphatically, “Getting every child outdoors in winter is our goal.”
The Passport program in Maine is for fifth to seventh graders and for $20 it includes alpine and Nordic skiing, ice skating, and snow tubing. Each ski area across the state participates by offering services to the students that include two free lift tickets, or in the case of Sunday River and Sugarloaf: a one-day learn to ski packages when accompanied by one adult. Program research shows that each child brings 2.5 people with them to the ski areas. The non-Alpine areas offer free tickets as well.
Younger kids (pre-school to fourth grade) can go Nordic skiing or snowshoeing three times each at a list of participating Nordic ski areas across the state such as Carters Cross Country in Bethel, Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, and the Outdoor Center in Rangeley Lakes. Additionally, there are other special programs and events intended to engage kids during the winter such as the WinterKids Winter Games and the WinterKids Challenge. These programs offer cash prizes to schools that compete against each other to coordinate outdoor winter activities and keep track of their respective student participation. Sugarloaf Ski Resort hosts the WinterKids Downhill 24 in early March, a 24-hour ski and snowboard team challenge, to raise money for WinterKids programs.
The Killington World Cup Committee awarded WinterKids a grant from proceeds associated with hosting two years of successful World Cup races at Killington. Mulkern commented, “The funding will allow us to expand our Nordic program for elementary school kids. Currently, we support immigrant and refugee students in Portland to participate in Portland Nordic’s 12-week XC skiing program. This grant will allow us to bring programs to more rural parts of the state, including northern Maine and the western Mountains where formal cross-country ski training programs in rural communities do not currently exist. The opportunity to participate in winter sports at a very early age will help these kids to become competitive for their middle school and high school teams, an invaluable experience they would not otherwise get.”
The WinterKids program in Portland is supported by the Michael & Barbara Peisner Nordic Fund and it is conducted on the Riverside Golf Course that is groomed for Nordic skiing. The Portland Parks & Recreation partners with WinterKids by providing transportation.
There were 230 teachers and 4,200 kids involved with the WinterKids Games in Maine, where thanks to sponsors and grants, the top three schools were awarded $5,000, $3,000 and $1,500 respectively, and other schools received equipment. There was one school in each county that participated in the WinterKids Games. The program engages parents with the kids to enjoy the winter outdoor activities. The Guide to Outdoor Active Learning produced by WinterKids makes it easy for preschool and elementary teachers to integrate fun and outdoor activity into their winter lessons - all while meeting education standards.
In the upcoming year, the Passport booklet is becoming an app and ski areas can offer more variety and targeted campaigns with it. WinterKids is growing beyond the passport component and has expanded to more than the additional programs mentioned in this article, whereby a meaningful public health benefit appraisal could be derived from the efforts. The organization has also begun programs in neighboring New Hampshire.
The WinterKids organization is successfully matching financial support with spearheaded campaigns with kids, schools, and communities to engage more kids in the winter outdoors, and it makes perfect sense because in the words of Mulkern “Kids’ default setting is to be outside and exploring.”