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By Patricia Hall, Fairfax Family Fun
If you have a fourth grader, you’re in luck: this year he or she can get some awesome freebies to enjoy the great outdoors! The fourth grade ski pass offered by Pennsylvania and the national parks pass offered by the United States National Park Service are two great ways to get families to enjoy more fun outside time together. While both programs have been around since at least last year, some families may still not know about these great deals. With a fourth-grader of our own, we have already signed up for both programs so here we share what you need to know, along with some useful tips. (Interested in other states? Also see our post on states that offer free ski programs for kids).
Pennsylvania’s 4th and 5th Grade Snowpass
The Pennsylvania Ski Areas Association (PSAA) last year helped get nearly 10,000 children on the slopes through this program that it sponsors at multiple locations throughout the state. Best of all, the program is open to fourth AND fifth graders anywhere — you don’t need to live in Pennsylvania to sign up and take advantage of this offer! How it works is simple: you sign up for a snowpass for your child, providing a photo and proof of his or her current grade in school, pay a $35 administrative fee, and wait to get your pass in the mail (which arrives in a couple of weeks or so). Once your child has the card, during the whole 2016-2017 season he or she can receive:
- A one first-time ski or snowboard package (which includes a lesson, rental equipment, and access to the beginner lift
- Three free lift tickets for EACH of the participating Pennsylvania Ski Areas (19 places in all) when accompanied by a paying adult
- A 50 percent discount on a first-time package (beginner lift, lesson and rental equipment) for an accompanying adult
Since individual lift tickets in the area can easily cost $40-60, going several times (and taking advantage of the first-timer offer) can add up to hundreds of dollars in savings. As to the focus on fourth and fifth graders, the PSAA notes that it’s because this is “a great age for children to learn a new sport with ease and to excel rapidly” and because they can see in action some of the science concepts they may be studying in school, such as geology structure and the physics of lift mechanics. The passes do not expire until April 30, 2017, so you have plenty of time to enjoy them, and are good for almost any day (generally except for holidays and some resort-specific black-out periods). See more useful tips in “how to get a pass” below.
How to get a pass
You can get a pass by filling out a simple application online and paying the administrative fee (if you can’t do this online, you can download and fill out a paper application to mail in). When filling out the form, you will need to:
- Provide a headshot of your child. This doesn’t have to be a professional photo but it should be a clear photo, about one-and-a-half inches wide and two inches high, in color, with just your child in it (a school photo should work out well).
- Provide a copy of the child’s fourth or fifth grade report card showing his or her name, school, grade and school year, or a copy of school identification or other document verifying school grade. You can use a copy of last year’s final report card as well. We filled out our form online and simply uploaded a scanned copy of this year’s first quarter report card. Please pay attention and make sure all the information is in there — the interim report card for our school, for example, shows all the information but NOT the current school grade, so that would not have worked.
See the Pennsylvania Snowpass brochure for all the rules and regulations and a list of participating resorts: the card is not valid at all resorts, it can’t be used during holidays, and some ski areas have their own black-out periods. The Snowpass FAQ page has more details and you can call 1-570-443-0963 with questions.
If you can combine a Pennsylvania Snowpass with a free national park pass (see the next section below), you can put together a great and low-cost vacation this winter and beyond! Think of all the three-day weekends we’ll have coming up over the next few months, plus spring break, plus all the ski resorts within a four-hour drive of Northern Virginia, and you’re all set! And while you can rent equipment at most ski areas (and it’s best to let the pros do the fittings) you also can buy other needed items such as jackets, masks, googles, and gloves online ahead of time to save money.
Kids’ National Parks pass
Through the Every Kid in a Park program by the U.S. Department of Interior, fourth graders also can receive a free pass to visit any national park in the United States. The program (created by President Barack Obama last year) provides participating fourth graders (or the home school equivalent) with an annual pass so they and their families can “discover our wildlife, resources, and history” for free. Why fourth grade specifically? Similar to the ski program above, the rationale, per Every Kid in a Park, is that “research shows that children ages 9-11 are at a unique developmental stage in their learning where they begin to understand how the world around them works in more concrete ways.”
How to get a pass
To sign up, visit the Every Kid in a Park website and follow the easy prompts. Once you have completed your form, your can get a paper pass good through August 31, 2017. Also be on the lookout for events where the National Park Service or an affiliated organization may be participating: this fall, for example, we attended the Richmond Folklife Festival, where park rangers had a booth, and we were able to get our pass right on the spot! (In some places you also can trade your paper pass for a plastic one.)
The pass that you get admits all children under 16 and all adults in up to one passenger vehicle. If you arrive at a site on bicycle, then the pass admits any children under 16 and up to three adults on bicycles. The pass doesn’t cover extras such as parking fees, camping, boats, and special tours. Also keep in mind:
- Some park sites are managed by private operators and may not honor the pass, so you should check with the site ahead of time to find out.
- You can see the rules of the program and learn more through the FAQ document published last year.
- When planning your travel, we recommend the following books (our go-to sources!) to get the most of your visit to national parks: National Geographic’s Kids National Parks Guide U.S.A. and Secrets of the National Parks, Frommer’s National Parks with Kids, and the Mobil Travel Guide to National Parks.
- Travel review: Winter weekend at Wintergreen Resort, Virginia
- List of ski resorts close to Northern Virginia
- Parks (national, state, regional, and local) in Northern Virginia
- U.S. states that offer free skiing programs for kids