Husband. Dad to 5. Student Ministry Pastor. Follower of Jesus. Yatta yatta.


I love snow boarding.  I love it.  I also love that once a year, my job collides with this passion and I get to take high school students to the snow to experience the wonders of snow play together.  I’ve been either going on or running this kind of trip for over 25 years and I always love it.

I have so many GREAT memories from taking smallish to large groups of students in the snow, that I thought I’d post some stuff on the blog this week that might help if you want to take your group.  If your “winter retreat” is taking your group to a camp in the mountains that does all your food, provides a speaker, and the does the recreation for you, then you don’t need this post.   If you are the group that fly’s to some elite resort in Utah, then you’re probably good to go as well. 
But, if you’re thinking of renting cabins/conference ground/or school buildings and running your own camp within a longish drive of you, where the primary activity is on the ski slopes, then these posts are for you.  Feel free to add your own comments or suggestions, but I’ll do 2 initial posts.
POST #1.  Getting there and back if your group is larger than 1 or 2 vehicles.  
POST #2.  Specifics for Snow Summit in Big Bear, CA with implications for those in other ski resorts where you might take a group to.
Here goes Post 1: Getting there and back. 
It will sound like a lot, but trust me, it will be so worth it!  A day on the slopes is awesome!!  So get there safe!
VEHICLES:  This piece of your trip can be an amazing bonding experience or a total nightmare.   If your church owns enough travel vehicles for your group, then you’re probably good to go on vehicles.  If not, then here’s my suggestions to make getting there fun and less of a nightmare. \

RENT THE BUS IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT:  If you can afford the bus rental, I’d say do it.   Minus the possible danger is getting the “keep it quiet as a mouse” bus driver from hell, the benefits of avoiding the potential hassle of chaining multiple vehicles yourself and putting drivers who are unfamiliar with certain conditions behind the wheel just might be worth it, if you can afford it.

RENT VANS:  We can’t afford the bus, so we rent 15 passenger vans and a cargo vehicle.

  • In this case, buy the insurance.  Just do it.  Stress about something other than this.  (side note: some credit cards do this for you if you charge the rental with their card. Also, if you have a corporate account like we do with Enterprise, then we negotiate it so that the insurance is always included in the rental)
  • Get trusted drivers.  This is not the retreat to take your college students and have them drive.  Find some parents or older adults to drive cars on your retreat who are confident know how to drive in the possible snowy, icy, and wet conditions your trip might hold.  Even if it’s “sunny” during the day, driving home at night has risks of icy roads.  This is a great place to get some dad’s involved in your ministry.  Ask them to drive!

DON’T BORROW VEHICLES:  I’ve done it and survived.  I’ve had nightmares too.  Even if the “owner” is on the trip, I try to rent first and save the miles on their vehicle.   I’d do anything and everything I can to rent a vehicle before I borrow a vehicle for this trip to the snow.  Too many variables and not enough time to deal with stuff like…  

  • The “4×4” suburban that won’t go into four wheel drive and now you don’t have chains. 
  • The defroster doesn’t work and now you can’t see outside or drive safely. 
  • The battery is not well taken care of and you go to start it at the slopes and now it won’t start and you need to buy a replacement at 4pm on Sunday night in the mountains. 
  • get the picture?  

USE COVERED STORAGE OPTIONS:  If you take a trailer, get the one that is covered.  Towing in the snow can be it’s own kind of crazy though.   I personally prefer a small packing truck or box truck.  Here’s why:

  • They are relatively cheap:  $80 a day was my last fee.
  • They always have dual rear wheels, so they are easy to chain cuz you can drive the inside tire onto a block and then chain up the outside one. 
  • You never have to worry about someone stealing boards or gear at the slopes cuz it’s easily lockable 
  • You don’t care if it rains or snows.  
  • They are super easy to pack.   
  • They don’t require long parking spaces like a truck and trailer.  

MUSIC:  A 4 hour car ride with teens will involve music.  If you decide it won’t, you’ll be up for a fight.  If you don’t provide a way for them to play it, they’ll zone out into ear bud isolation.  In this day and age, all the vans I rent come with an aux input on the dash.  But they never have the cord.  I always provide the double 1/8″ mp3 player cord for each van that lets them plug it into an ipod or phone and then into the system.  I learn a lot about students by what they play for us being the DJ and we always have so much fun with music.

    WALKIE TALKIES:  Get some. Get good batteries.  Pass them out.  Your caravan of drivers should not be texting or fumbling with phones and even if you have a passenger on the phone instead, the mountains are notorious for bad cell reception on someone’s carrier won’t work, even if yours is good-to-go.  Hand held walkie talkies are inexpensive and critical for communication on a trip like this.  

    • SIDE NOTE: We also pass out cards with all the leaders cell phone numbers to our adults on the trip before we leave so that in case for some reason, the radios aren’t cutting it, they can call on a phone
    GO AHEAD AND PRAY FOR CLEAR WEATHER, BUT BE PREPARED FOR GOD TO LIKE SNOW INSTEAD.  HE DOES THAT A LOT.   🙂  If it does snow, travel will slow down and get a bit more complicated.

    GET CHAINS AND DON’T FORGET TO BRING THEM:  you’ll need snow chains in CA.  Don’t leave them in the church as you pack though (ha!  maybe we did that once.  maybe.)  Anyway, some states you don’t need them, but here in CA you do.  Most places will even let you return your chains if they’re unopened.  I buy the size I need for the rental vans (I prefer cables actually), and then I return them if I don’t use them.  I’ve needed them enough times however, that now we just own the ones that fit a 15 passenger van.  Beware though…  do not assume all vehicles use the same size tire chains.  Even a 12 passenger van is usually a different tire size than the 15.  So get the right size!  

    • WARNING:  if you ignored me and are sending drivers with their own vehicles/chains, you might want to triple check that they actually work on that vehicle and aren’t just the ones they have laying around the garage.  You also might want to check to make sure their “snow tires” that don’t need chains actually have enough tread left to function well too.

    YOU ALSO MIGHT WANT TO PAY THE CHAIN INSTALLERS: If you’re new to this snow thing, there are professional chain/cable installers who will be at the place the chains are required. They are licensed by the state and they make a killing doing it.  Probably like $25 a vehicle.  But, if you’ve never done it before, you could save yourself a ton of headaches if you do it wrong.  A loose chain can rip the wheel well or the brake line apart and make your day really bad really fast.  Just bring some cash and smile, the installers might give you a group discount too.  

    • WARNING 1: installing your chains for you one thing, but if you have to buy the chains from them too, you’re going to need to have a FAT wallet, cuz they’re going to ream you for that mistake and smiling won’t help you.  
    • WARNING 2: If you do it yourself, it’s a cold, wet and dirty task. Bring a rain coat, work gloves, and appropriate shoes or you’ll be a mess by the time you’re done. If you do this in your nice ski coat, I promise you it won’t be nice anymore after you run it all over your nasty mud/snow tires

    FEEDING PEOPLE ON THE ROAD:   Most trips will leave after school on Friday.  This will means you’ll likely have dinner on the road.  Here’s a few tips for this, especially if your group involves more than 15 people:
    • Plan your dinner stop in advance.  Know when and where you’re going to stop.  Ideally it will be a place where you’ll be within a reasonable dinner hour for your students but also close enough to your final destination where you can avoid the “pee” stop before you arrive.  
    • Never make your planned stop where there’s only 1 or 2 places to eat.  Of if you do, know that your dinner will need some serious extra time for people to get their food and eat.  More options = more places = greater choices and faster service.  
    OK… last thing on Post 1:  PARKING AT THE SLOPES:  
    Depending on when you arrive the next morning, you could end up with a lot of people really far from the entrance to the slopes.  If you have to do the shuttle thing to the slope, it’s a nightmare with a large group.  Here’s how to avoid that. 
    TELL THE SLOPES WHAT VEHICLE(S) YOU’RE BRINGING IN ADVANCE:  All of them have a parking department.  If you call in advance and tell them how many and what type of vehicles you are bringing, they will usually set aside premium parking for you as a group benefit.  They all have “bus parking”, which is what I try and leverage for us, even without busses.   So this year, I told them I had 3 vans and a cargo coming to the slopes.  I asked them to give me 2 “bus spots” and they just parked me in 2 bus spots and we blocked each other in.  It worked perfect, and not having to hoof it to the slopes is worth the extra effort it took on my part to get it worked out.  They never offer this to me without me asking.  But when I ask for it, I’m rarely told they won’t do it for me. 
    IF FOR SOME CRAZY REASON THEY WON’T WORK WITH YOU, BUY THE PREMIUM PARKING:  It’s probably like $20 a vehicle, but all the slopes I’ve been to have it.  If they won’t park you like a bus, it will be worth it to buy the front row parking.  Trust me, it might be the best $20 a vehicle you spent all weekend if it means you all park together and you can walk to the slopes to look for that one missing kid.  If you have to get on a shuttle and pass 4 shuttles looking for him, you’re going to want to poke your eye out in the process and want to kill that kid when you do find him.  

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