Posted by: markhowell101 | February 5, 2011

Organising a ski trip, an overview

12 months ago, almost to the day, a colleague stopped me in the corridor at work and asked me if I fancied organising a ski trip. I said yes, thinking it would be fun if it came off but really thinking that in all likelihood we would not be able to garner sufficient interest to make it run. A year later, I am within a fortnight of departure to Italy taking 30 students and 5 staff away for 8 days in Piancavallo in the Dolomites. This blog will briefly outline the organisation and decision making process of a trip like this and hopefully guide people who may look to organise similar trips.

As a student I went on 4 ski trips with my school and loved every second of every one. Such was my interest in the Alps that I have been back many times since school and spent a fair amount of my degree studying alpine areas. When I became a teacher, running a ski trip was always one of my motivations for starting out in this industry and I was keen to open students eyes to the sport and the Alps region.

When half way through my NQT year I was offered the chance to run this trip I took it with both hands. Step one was to approach the head who was really keen on the trip running and on me leading it. Throughout this process I have had the full backing of the head who has allowed me to run this trip in the way I want but at the same time has kept an eye on things and has been there to advise when necessary. I feel that a head who is enthusiastic in the project but also prepared to let staff get on with organising it themselves is an essential element in organising a trip such as this.

I then had to contact some schools travel agents in order to get quotes. After some discussion I settle on a company called Skiplan (www.skiplan.co.uk), who are part of the Pavillion travel group who we have used before for football tours and New York trips. They sent a representative out to us at school to discuss resorts and hotels and gave us a price quote. Skiplan have been going for years now, in fact all the ski trips I went on as a students were with them so they have plenty of experience in organising these trips. Once signed up with them, they will organise transport, the hire of equipment, skischools, hotel arrangements and insurance leaving you to organise the students.

Choosing when and where to go is a big decision and one which you must get right. However we booked late on and had to settle for a resort which is fairly low altitude. With that in mind we had to go in February half term as Easter would be just too risky. If you can go at Easter you can save money but think carefully about altitude and the reliability of snow. In truth with snow as bad as this year in the Alps I am worried that Feb may be too late in the season. We are already booked up for 2012 and we are going to Passo Tonale, at much higher altitude and I feel that the saving we make by going at Easter is worthwhile. The other decision to make is regarding transport. Whilst flying seems the obvious choice, we were keen to make the trip as affordable as possible and the 24 hour bus journey saves around £200 per student so was a no brainer for us. Having done coach journeys to the Alps many times I actually feel the trip allows students to bond and builds up the excitement of the whole thing. Add to this the fact that much of the journey is very scenic and beautiful and should hopefully begin to create a buzz among students as we travel.

Once we were signed up on the trip I had 2 main things to do. I needed staff to come with me and most importantly I needed students. It was decided that we would offer the tri to years 10 and 11 only who were in year 9 and 10 this time last year. We currently offer a European football tour to years 7 to 9 and a New York trip to the sixth form so this trip filled that gap nicely. I also felt that students under year 10 might struggle with the intensity, pace, physical requirements and responsibility of a ski trip. After a few promotions in class and an after school presentation on going skiing, 30 students signed up and paid deposits. This meant it was happening and I needed staff.

Our current head of KS4 has been involved in over 15 ski trips before and had only stopped doing them a few years ago due to his current responsibilities which mean his time is limited. He was keen to be involved and this also fulfilled one of the heads requirements which was to have a member of the senior leadership team involved. I was also joined by a member of the PE staff who organises the schools other 2 trips. Having these 2 people on board really has made this trip possible. Has I embarked on organising this without 2 experienced members of staff involved, mistakes would have been made and I would have gone on the trip feeling at best concerned as to whether I had prepared properly. The final 2 spots on the team had to be female members of staff to fulfil the ratio of male to female students and so 2 friends of mine at school offered to give up their half term to come.

The next thing to do was a have a parents evening for the trip. We wanted the opportunity to inform parents of what the trip was about as well as being to create excitement among the students. The ideal time for this seemed to be in late November / early December, around 4 months before the trip. The main reason for this is late skiing can require a number of purchases which we felt parents should be aware of before Christmas and in fact many students received jackets and other ski gear as Christmas presents. To try and reduce this cost we got an equipment hire company on board who will hire jackets etc at a reasonable price. I got in contact with a company called Edge2Edge (www.edge2edge.co.uk) who specialise in hiring gear to schools. They are very reasonably priced and sent a selection of demo stuff for the students to try on and look at on the night. The parents evening lasted around an hour and involved me talking about the itinerary of the trip, advising parents and students on what to take with them and discussing some of the essential items which need to be bought or hired. We also produced a handbook for parents to guide them through what will happen on the trip as well as setting out expected standards of behaviour and giving parents emergency contact information.

Following the parents evening we held an after school meeting for students a month later, in early January. We felt that we wanted to make sure that students knew the rules whilst on this trip but also wanted them to be part of the process of developing a rulebook. We therefore came up with the idea of a behaviour contract signed by the head and by parents and students. Part of that contract was drawn up by staff and involved categorical rules such as no alcohol or drugs. The contract also outlines the potential consequences of not sticking to the rules which ranges from losing a morning on the slopes, to being sent home at the expense of parents. The final part of the contract was developed by students at this meeting. They outlined the rules that were important to them and that they felt it was ok to stick to. From this we came up with 10 rules for their conduct and as they helped come up with this we feel they are more likely to want to stick to these rules. The contracts were sent home and signed by students and parents. For a copy of our behaviour contract please email me. So that this students evening was not all rules and sanctions I decided to use this opportunity to begin to raise excitement levels and therefore showed them lots of photos of the resort and talked about some of the exciting things we would be doing.

The final obstacle was the most important and that is the risk assessment. We decided that as this was my first overseas trip a provisional visit would be useful. Skiplan therefore arranged for me to travel out there for a weekend at reasonably low cost to the school, and armed with a laptop I went and produced a risk assessment. I have previously organised several fieldtrips for geography and so have dealt with risk assessments before. However, in the past I have, rightly or wrongly, seen these as a process of jumping through hoops rather than a tool to reduce the likelihood of accidents. The danger of trip I have run in the past has been minimal and I have questioned whether the process of formally assessing risk will actually reduce the likelihood of an incident. I realised that with the ski trip there was no room for error and so we had to account for so many things that could happen, reduce the chances of them happening and consider what would happen if they do.

I therefore spent the weekend exploring the town and the slopes and asking lots of questions in the hotel. I was hoping to visit tourist information but they were showing Toy Story 3 in Italian when I went there and the desk was unmanned. During the evening I typed up what I believe to be a comprehensive assessment of all risks to students during transport, skiing, around the hotel and during down time. For the first time completing a risk assessment I did feel I was making a real difference to student safety by going through the process. I feel that by considering some of the possible risks I have taken steps to avoid them or remove them altogether in some cases whether this be by highlighting the risk to students or by having a plan for the worst. Had I not gone through the process of risk assessment, or had I taken one off the internet I could have travelled to Italy with 30 students and no idea of what to do if it all went wrong. For a copy of my risk assessment to use for guidance please email me, but I strongly advise you to do your own.

Perhaps the only failing of my organisation so far is with the budget. I charged the students not much more than the price quoted by Skiplan, however over the 12 months a number of costs have added up and meant that the budget is now tight. If you are organising a similar trip please account for the additional cost of evening entertainment, extra cost of snowboarding vs skiing, repro, helmet hire and the extra cost of not filling a coach.

 So with 2 weeks to go I feel pretty set up for this trip. As long as this blog is it only scratches the surface of organisation so please feel free to contact me at mark_howell101@hotmail.com for further advice. I would be only too glad to help.

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