“Why should I lead a trip?” and “How the heck do I lead a trip?”
Bill Stine reveals his secrets below:
Reasons to Become a Trip Leader: One might be to give something back to the club. Another might be to get to ski trails you’d prefer to do in a group. It is possible that the past leader of one of your favorite trips can’t lead that trip on a given year, so that by leading it you can be sure that the trip happens. You even might use the opportunity to improve your leadership skills and confidence. And, maybe you just want to give other, overworked trip leaders a break.
Getting Help: Whatever your reason to consider doing so, other Kick ’n Gliders will help you achieve your goal. Experienced members are happy to share their experiences with other leaders so their trips can be successful. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice!
Choices: While the club has skied many areas over the years, there are still many others we haven’t gone. How about Canada or west of the Mississippi? Maybe a location the club used to ski deserves to be visited again. There are lots of choices. There are many things you should consider in choosing a location. Among them:
Length and Variety of Trails: You’ll have two or more days of skiing on any extended trip. There has to be enough trails so that skiers don’t get bored skiing the same trails over and over. Also, trips are likely to attract more skiers and be more successful if there are trails suitable for both expert and novice skiers. Some folks like groomed trails while others prefer breaking their own trails through the woods. Think about the trails your proposed venue has to offer and how many club skiers it is likely to attract.
Places to Stay: Ideally you would be able to get up in the morning, have breakfast fed to you, strap on your gear and ski out the door. Unfortunately, that can’t happen in most locations. But, the closer you can get to that ideal, the more skiers will be attracted to your trip. B&Bs, hotel/motels, rental houses, state park cabins and bunkhouses have been used by the club. So, what should you look for?
Most of our time in the accommodations is spent sleeping, so good beds and reasonable privacy is important. Are meals served by the establishment, are there cooking facilities or will you have to eat at a restaurant? We’ve done it all and all can work. Eating at restaurants is probably the least desirable simply because of the cost. Being able to ski out the door avoids the need to load people and gear into cars and arrange drop-offs, etc. It means that folks who want to “call it a day” early in the day can get back to the accommodations without dragging their ride-mates with them. It may also mean that there isn’t much variety available. It is ok to have to drive to ski. Getting There: How long is the drive? If it’s more than five or six hours, think about staying more than two nights. People don’t like to spend their whole ski trip just getting there and back.
Likelihood of Snow: What kind of track record does the location have for snow cover during the time you’ll be there? We know for a fact that skiers get discouraged when the snow is thin.
Cost: What is the total cost going to be for lodging and meals? Look at past Season Guides and see how your cost compares with past trips. Think hard about it if you’re much above the historical prices for trips. People may not want to spend that much.
Other Things to Do: Not everyone who goes on our trips wants to ski every day. It may rain or there may be no snow. Hiking opportunities will satisfy some people, but others would like an opportunity to shop or stop at a bar. Like having to drive to ski trails, it’s ok to be isolated but it’s better to have some alternative activities available.
Then What? Let’s assume your trip is accepted by club leadership. A preliminary trip schedule is usually publicized in the April issue of “Easy Glider”. People will begin to think about the trip and identify you as its leader. You now have to begin the detailed planning, make reservation and work on publicity. You have until the Season Guide is published at the end of September to turn over the details. Before then you will have to make reservations and other arrangements because many places fill up early. You’ll also have answer the questions about meal arrangements, pricing, deposit amounts, payment deadlines and drop-dead cancellation dates if the trip doesn’t sell.
Season Guide: This is the “bible” that most members turn to for information about the upcoming season. Members rely on its contents to determine how they will spend their money and free time during the skiing season. For trip leaders it is often the only vehicle they have to convince members that they should participate in their trip. You usually get about half a page to represent your “product”. Be factual in your write-up, covering the things they’ll probably need to know to make a decision. But, that doesn’t mean you have to be stodgy. Write it in a way that will get their attention and make them want to go. Finally, get it to the editor early. Not comfortable writing “ad copy”? Seek help from the club’s Trip Coordinator or the Newsletter Editor. They can help you with wording and knowing which facts are important.
Who’s Money? All the money you spend and receive as trip leader will be club money. Except, that is, for your own costs to participate. The club treasurer should receive all payments from participants. And the treasurer should write all the major checks for payments to the place you stay and for food, etc. If you or other participants pay minor expenses out-of-pocket, say for food to prepare a meal, they should give you a receipt or an itemized invoice. You, in turn, should give that to the treasurer to pay. If there is to be a refund the treasurer will determine the amount. The treasurer simply adds up all the costs to the club and divides by the number of participants. He/she will then refund the difference, rounded down to the nearest five dollars, between what a participant paid and the actual cost. The rounding is done to provide the treasury with funds to cover the occasional trip that loses money due to unanticipated expenses.
Leader Spiffs: It is Kick ’n Glider policy that trip leaders pay the same amount as other trip participants. So, if a motel owner offers a free room to the leader, for instance, and it is a good deal otherwise, accept graciously. Then simply reduce the overall cost of the trip by the savings and split the windfall among club members. Sorry, folks, trip leadership is not a “ski free” scheme.
As stated earlier, the club uses all kinds of accommodations. As trip leader, it is yours to choose where to stay, to handle arrangement details and to negotiate the deal with the host.
What Arrangements? Like when will you arrive? How early are the rooms available? How long will you stay? What time is check-out? What are your responsibilities? How does the pricing work? Is the host responsible for some or all of the meals? What’s the menu? How much will it all cost? When is deposit money due? Final payment? Cancellation options and penalties? What are the rooming arrangements? Who stays in what room? Do you want something special that they don’t normally offer, like meals? Some of the questions are easy to answer; some more difficult. Don’t be afraid to ask … it’s your responsibility to do so and your host expects it.
Remember: Your hosts are in business not only to make a profit but also to stay in business. It is to their advantage to make sure you’re happy with your experience and most of them work pretty hard to make sure that you are. It is also in your best interest that all goes well. So, do your best to make sure that it does. Make sure that you and your host have a common understanding.
Deposits: It is common that the club will have to pay a deposit as soon as you make a reservation; long before club members have made any deposits. Although we usually have funds in the treasury to handle that. However, the host will accept a reduced deposit to hold the property until a month or two before the trip.
Cancellations: It is possible that the trip will not sell and that we’ll have to cancel. There is usually a date beyond which there is a cancellation penalty. Find out what that is. It’s nice if the penalty date falls well after the Season Guide is published so that people have adequate time to sign up before you have to make a go/no-go decision. Find out if you have a free cancellation if there isn’t any snow … not usually, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Contracts: Many of the places we go require a contract and you’ll have to sign it. Contracts are good. They make sure that both parties agree on the terms of the arrangement. Don’t be afraid to ask for changes to the standard agreement they may give you. Make sure that it gives you what you think you agreed to and doesn’t ask unreasonable things of you. Handwritten changes are usually acceptable. Just discuss them with the host before making the changes and initial your changes before returning the signed copy.
No Contract? Some of the places we stay operate informally, relying on verbal agreements. That’s ok, but you can do a little better. Just write them a short letter detailing your understanding of the arrangements. That does them the favor of making a record and offers them an opportunity to respond if your expectations don’t match. Also, it lets them know that you are a responsible trip leader and will probably hold up your end of the bargain.
Three Possibilities: Host provided, do-it-yourself and restaurants. Usually lunches are the responsibility of individual skiers. Do yourself a favor; don’t complicate your job; leave it that way. As leader, you will have to deal with the questions of how breakfast and dinner will be provided.
Host Provided: If you host provides meals, it’s probably best to use their service. It’s really nice to have meals prepared for after a hard day of skiing.
DIY: If you are renting a house with a kitchen, it’s probably best to do your own for meal preparation. It really helps keep costs down, and the meals we make ourselves are usually pretty good. The downside is that someone has to do the work. Ask individual participants to volunteer to prepare a dinner for the group. It’s usually easy to find people who are willing to do so. Breakfast can be a self-served assortment of cold cereal, fruit, morning beverages, toast, etc. Insist that everyone share in clean-up responsibilities. A prominent sign-up list can help remind people about what’s expected. Talk to experienced trip leaders about how much they budget for DIY meals. It probably costs even less than you imagine.
Restaurants: You’re stuck with the restaurant option if your host doesn’t provide meals and your accommodations don’t have a kitchen. Remember that most participants aren’t rich, so look for nearby restaurants that offer hearty, low-cost meals. A more up-scale place might be acceptable for one dinner, but don’t push it, and set the expectation with participants early. Also, it isn’t wise to walk into most restaurants with a dozen or more people and expect to be seated together and served quickly. Make your reservations early!
One-Price Scenarios: Sometimes you get lucky and your host does all the work for you, charging a fixed rate per person for rooms and meals. Pioneer Lodge in Turin is like that … all we have to do is guarantee a minimum number of participants. You may have to pad that amount for a tip, if appropriate, (ask other trip leaders for advice, here) but that’s easy. Or, you may stay in motel-type accommodations and eat in restaurants so each person is responsible for their own costs and you don’t have to handle any money! You just act as coordinator for the arrangements. Cool, huh?
Other Scenarios: More likely, you’ll get a rate per room or a fixed rate for a house and/or you’ll have to prepare your own meals and you will have to do the pricing. Setting a price for the trip means you’ll have to make some assumptions and take a bit of risk. And the calculations for each trip are a bit different than for any other. Not to worry, just do your homework.
Prepare two price scenarios:
- Optimistic: This is a calculation of the minimum price that the trip will cost each participant. Assume that the trip is filled to capacity. Take the total cost of rooms, meals, tips (if appropriate) and any other costs. Divide it by the number of participants. That’s the lowest possible price.
- Pessimistic: This is a calculation of the maximum price. Assume that a minimum number of people sign up. Assume, if you are paying by the room, for instance, that you end up with a single male in one room and a single female in another. Again, take the total all the costs for the trip and divide by the number of participants. That price will be higher, but that is the one you must publicize. The difference between the two prices represents the largest possible refund that participants would get if the trip fills completely.
Pre-Trip Letter: Well before the trip you should provide people with written copies of the information they’ll need to know to participate. You probably won’t be able to hand it to each participant personally, so it will have to be a letter. Include the following information, minimum:
- List of participants and their phone numbers
- How to get there
- Host’s or agent’s phone number & name
- Rooming list (who’s rooming with whom)
- Things they must take (bed linens?)
- Proposed itinerary
- Reminders of meal arrangements
- Reminders of expenses they may be responsible for (trail passes?)
Carpooling: Participants may wish to carpool to save money and to have company on the road. If you get your pre-trip letter out early enough they can contact each other to make arrangements. However, you may end up as a clearing house for such arrangements. Try to keep in touch with what participants are doing so you can help out.
Room Assignments: It is the responsibility of the trip leader to make room assignments. Unfortunately, rooms are often unequal in size and amenities. This is especially true for rented houses.
Preference for the most desirable rooms should be given, when practical, to trip leaders and to those who made the earliest deposits for a trip. The order in which deposits were made is available from the treasurer.
Trip Report: Did people have a good time. Was the skiing GREAT! or what? Most people won’t know unless you spread the word, and the only way to do that, well, is with a trip report for the “Easy Glider” newsletter. Either do it yourself or get someone to do it for you. And do it soon, like during the trip or on the drive home while your memory is fresh. Don’t worry too much about spelling or grammar. The editor can take care of those details. Did someone take pictures? Get copies of the best ones to the editor to be included in the newsletter.
Skiing. Isn’t that what this is all about? Yeah, and how good it is is the most important thing in determining how people feel about a trip after it’s over.
Ski Groups: You will probably end up with a mix of skiing abilities among your participants. If you are at a groomed and patrolled ski area your responsibilities are relatively easy to discharge. People will probably prefer to ski with friends or in small groups of equal ability. Just make sure that everyone checks in at lunchtime and/or at the end of the day. If the group is small and you are skiing public trails you’ll probably all be together. That means that you’ll have to choose trails that everyone can negotiate and do them at a speed that everyone can manage. If yours is a trip with lots of participants you will probably be able to set up a couple of ski groups for at least one of the days. One of the groups can ski more challenging trails while the other does tamer stuff. Just make sure that both ski leaders understand and abide by our “rules”.
New Skiers: Be considerate of the new skier. They are very close to the purpose of the club. Be their hero. Take the time to help them learn the ropes or get someone else to do so. Teach them the basics of the diagonal stride, how to climb and descend hills. Don’t let them languish, alone, at the back of the pack. If you do, we’ll probably never see them again.
The Rules: Near the back of each year’s Season Guide there is a section called “Rules of Conduct and Safety Regulations”. It is an excellent summary of how to act on the trail. Read it, abide by it and make sure that other skiers abide by it. The guidelines weren’t created in an ivory tower. We’ve had a few incidents over the years that have proved the worth of the recommendations. Our mission is to be “devoted to providing opportunities for group cross-country skiing to its membership, promoting safe skiing and encouraging general enjoyment of the out of doors.” On the trail is where the rubber hits the road.