Start Gate – Recreation Choices

Skiing vs. Snowboarding vs. Non-ski Recreation- an important decision to be made by each attendee, for the entire festival trip

Each festival attendee will choose ONE of three recreation choices we offer, when registering.  These are:

  1. Non-Ski Activities
  2. Skiing
  3. Snowboarding

The festival provides only ONE of the three activities offered.  The festival does not offer any “combination” of these recreation choices.  The recreation a person chooses with the festival, when registering, is the only recreation that will be provided during your trip.  A person who chooses to ski/snowboard, could always pay with their own money, for other Winter Park Resort non-ski activities they wish to engage in.  We would advise that a person should not want to choose the non-ski recreation choice, and then later wish to ski, paying  for lift tickets, rentals and lessons with their own money, due to cost and required self-scheduling. 

PLEASE NOTE: Due to COVID-19 there are new policy and procedures in place regarding group travel and activities in Colorado. To accommodate these changes we have had to modify several aspects of the festival. In a effort to be as transparent as possibly we have notated these changes by STRIKING THROUGH any text that refers to an aspect which will be different for the 2021 festival year.

Please read about each of these below:

Non-Ski Activities

COVID-19 Update: For Snowcat tours, Guided Downhill Snowshoe tours, and Downhill tubing at the resort, everything must be reserved at least one month prior to a group’s arrival.  In the past, any non-skiers could select the activities they wished to exchange vouchers for, after their arrival in Winter Park. For resort staffing, overcrowding preventions, and to accommodate all groups visiting Winter Park Resort this season, expect both you and us, to create reservation dates and times for all your non-ski members, at least one month prior to your arrival in Winter Park. 

An incredibly undesirable aspect to these required reservations is students and adults being forced to stick with the recreation choice they register for.  In the past, we have always allowed the best we could, for some members to switch their recreation choice after they arrived in Winter Park.  Honestly, with all these new guidelines and prior reservations requirements, this previous luxury may not be permitted for 2021. When the time comes for recreation choice decisions made when your members individually register, please encourage them to be extra diligent in their decision making/investigation.   As their director, you may want to visit with everyone individually or within a group, sharing how they must commit to their recreation decision, without any promise of alternative recreation otherwise. 

The festival offers 6 vouchers to be redeemed, however desired, among select non-ski activities at Winter Park Resort.  You and your music director have access to view a full description of these activities.  In summary, a person can redeem their 6 vouchers as follows:

  • 1 voucher for 1 hour of tubing. Downhill tubing on banked/curved lanes just above resort base, and not on the ski mountain.  There is a covered conveyor to transport a person back to the top of the lanes after each short tubing run. Winter clothing is highly recommended.  The resort limits the number of persons having access to the tubing lanes within each hour, to ensure a person can tube many times in the hour, without overcrowding issues.  Non-reserved “walk-ups” can probably be accommodated prior to the “top of each hour” during operating hours.  Advanced hourly reservations may be required for peak mid-day hours.  Unlike the ski slopes, this is one recreation choice completely weather dependent, and could possibly not be available if unusually higher temperatures were to exist prior, or during your group’s trip to Winter Park.  The banked curves require a firm snow pack for safety purposes, and the tubing hill could close if these warmer conditions exist.  If you are relying upon tubing as your sole activity for the non-ski activities, please consider the chance of the tubing hill not being available during your trip! 
  • 1 voucher for a scenic “Gondola” ride. This is a ride (enclosed gondola with a 10 person capacity per gondola car), not wearing skis, to the top of the Winter Park ski territory, and back down.  There are specific time periods during each day a person can go up, and back down- usually between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm.  At the top, a person can relax or dine at the Lodge at Sunspot, enjoying the beautiful scenery towards the continental divide and valley below.  Clear, non-snow days will offer the best views.  Winter clothing is highly recommended.
  • 1 voucher for a $15 redemptive value meal ticket at any Winter Park Resort operated eating location (such as the Lodge at Sunspot mentioned above)
  • 3 vouchers for a 1-2 hour Snow Cat tour within a heated, 13 passenger track vehicle touring several ski trails on the mountain. Reservations must be made in advance, after you receive your vouchers in Winter Park.
    • COVID-19 UPDATE: The Snowcat tour will be available for booking in exchange for three provided vouchers for each person, BUT because of new COVID-19 guidelines, each tour requires a minimum of 8 persons, maximum of 10 persons, reserve for each tour, with all 8-10 persons being from the same group.  If a group has less than 8 persons wanting to take the Snowcat tour, they will not be able to, unless at least 24 vouchers are somehow exchanged for that tour.  If a group had 11-20 persons total wanting to take a Snowcat tour, it would require at least 16 persons, (8 persons each tour) redeeming at least 48 vouchers to schedule for two separate tours.  One more note about Snowcat tours:  In past years, the Snowcat tours originated from the top of the mountain, which the tour included a Gondola ride up the mountain to access the tour, and back down after the tour.  So, we always suggested that a non-skier not redeem for a Scenic Gondola ride, when they would get it included with a Snowcat tour.  We believe this will still be the case in 2021.
  • 2 vouchers for a 2-3 hour snowshoe tour.  This tour begins at the ski base, up a chairlift, and back down forest trails viewing possible wildlife, learning about the National Park & WP Resort, going down snow chutes and slides, engaging in group snow ball play, all with plenty of photo opportunities along the way.  Winter clothing is strongly recommended. Reservations must be made in advance, after you receive your vouchers in Winter Park.

Each person choosing non-ski activities will receive fully printed and verbal instructions by a member of the festival staff, all about the non-ski activities and reservation procedures.

The non-ski activities we offer are a substitute for persons unwilling or unable to ski.  These activities do not offer an amount of recreational time equivalent to the amount of recreation time available to a skier or boarder.

Non- ski activities have a higher likelihood of not being available, unlike skiing.  Tubing can be affected by inadequate amounts of snow or warmer temperatures at the resort base. This is very unlikely, but we recently had a festival day in which tubing was unavailable due to higher day time temperatures, causing unsafe, collapsing snow banks.  Snow Cat tours and the Gondola rides could become unavailable due to any unpredictable mechanical failures.  These examples of non-ski activities not being available are rare, but could exist!  In this unlikely event, a person will have to choose any of the other available non-ski activities.   After a person’s arrival at the Winter Park Resort reveals any/some non-ski activities are unavailable, and that person wishes to ski instead, this decision will have to be made BEFORE redeeming or reserving for any other non-ski activities.  Why? All 6 unused non-ski vouchers have to be exchanged for a necessary ski lift card, used for skiing or boarding.  Having said this, it is very difficult for a person that registered for non-ski activities, and after they arrive at the Winter Park Resort, choose to ski or snowboard instead, because that person may not be able to rent ski/board equipment, and receive lessons with their group.


The festival provides the following, to any person choosing to ski:

  • a ski lift card good for up to 4 consecutive festival days your group is in Winter Park.  This ski lift card will access any of the resort’s 25 lifts within any of the Winter Park Resort’s seven ski territories. There is additional information available to all members, regarding these lift cards, including replacement conditions and cost, if the provided card is lost, misplaced, or stolen. See other topics on the Start Gate main page.
  • “Sport Package” boots, skis, poles, and helmet rental for up to four consecutive days your group is in Winter Park.  Sport Package rentals are designed for beginners and the most typical type of skier.  A person has the choice to upgrade to a specific type of high performance ski equipment, if desired, with an upgrade charge owing to the ski rental shop directly.  A person can indicate this choice on their online registration.  High performance ski equipment is not necessarily a better choice of equipment for beginners or moderately experienced skiers. Similar to how a high speed performance automobile is not necessarily more beneficial for typical roadways with a beginner or average driver.
  • a beginner (or refresher) ski lesson.  Safety, loading/unloading lifts, and basic ski skills will be instructed.

According to various websites, about 10 million people ski in the US each year. Why? The freedom experienced with motion and gravity is exhilarating and exciting! We estimate that over 135,000 students have learned to ski at our festival over the past years. Skiing is enjoyed by people of all ages, size, level of coordination and physical strength. It’s so enjoyable, most consider it addicting.  Skiing has a relatively short learning curve to master the fundamentals. After the beginner lesson we provide for beginners, students and adults should easily be able to ski beginner slopes with their other group members on their first day.  There are around 36 different beginner trails alone at Winter Park Resort. With a little skiing experience, persons should begin to feel comfortable with their skill level, and begin to advance to more intermediate ski trails, if desired. Using a trail map as a guide, a skier can load one lift and ski several miles down, from the top of the Winter Park territory, to the resort base on beginner trails only.

The majority of all festival attendees choose skiing as their recreation choice. Our festival attendees can get as much from skiing as they wish.  There are students that will ski every moment available to them, non-stop! While for others, ski a trail, and relax between ski runs with friends.  Some students may not ski but one run on a particular day, and spend the remainder of their time hanging out with friends at the base, mid-mountain, or mountain summit facilities.  It’s you and your friends’ decision on how much time you spend skiing, each day, or during the entire festival.

If a person is still unsure whether they should ski, or choose the non-ski recreation activities, here is our perspective why we think persons should choose skiing:

  • Tubing lasts about 20+ seconds each run.  Yes, one non-ski voucher is good for an entire hour of tubing, and you could use all 6 non-ski vouchers for 6 hours of tubing.  But skiing offers just as much downhill thrill as tubing, with way more variety than the same tubing lanes, over and over.  And with skiing, you can have an entire 2-4 days of skiing adventure, rather than just hours.
  • If a person skis, their ski lift card will allow them to enter any ski lift, as many times as they wish, anywhere on the mountain.  The non-ski vouchers can be used on the one lift only.
  • A 1-2 hour snow cat tour does offer the comfort of a heated cab, but if you’re dressed properly, you will have multiple days of the same scenic adventure, on about 10 times the number of trails when skiing!

Skiing offers much more recreational value than the non-ski activities.  However, skiing does require a person to fully commit to learning how to ski, not give up if frustrated, be dressed properly, and expect some physical exertion associated with it.  In our opinion, if 3 year old children, elderly persons, and persons with slight to the severest of physical disabilities can enjoy skiing, any physically healthy teenage student, with a proper attitude, can too!

On the other hand, if a person has any physical or emotional limitations, or any other potential for not giving it a fair try, they need to select the non-skier activities choice. Otherwise, they would not be able to recreate for the remainder of their trip.  Once a ski card is used to gain access to a ski lift (as done within a ski lesson), it cannot be exchanged for non-ski vouchers afterwards. Therefore, a person choosing to ski, must fully commit to learning, in order to receive the full recreational benefit this festival trip offers.  Although we mention physical limitations above, Winter Park Resort is the NATIONAL Sports Center for the Disabled, and can accommodate any person with almost any physical disability for skiing. Arrangements must be made months in advance due to availability.  Have your director contact the festival office for details.


The festival provides to any person choosing to snowboard:

  • a ski lift card good for up to 4 consecutive festival days your group is in Winter Park.  This ski lift card will access any of the resort’s 25 lifts within any of the Winter Park Resort’s seven ski territories. There is additional information available to all members, regarding these lift cards, including replacement conditions and cost, if the provided card is lost, misplaced, or stolen. See other topics on the Start Gate main page.
  • Boots, board, and helmet rental for up to four consecutive days your group in Winter Park.  If you have you own boarding equipment, and is permissible with your director to bring, you can use your own.  Indicate this on your registration.
  • a beginner (or refresher) snowboard lesson.  Safety, loading/unloading lifts, and basic boarding skills will be instructed.

Snowboarding is an enjoyable sport loved by many. It began as a ski alternative for skiers with regular and convenient access to mountain slopes. But most snowboarders will admit: Snowboarding is much more challenging to master.  As a matter of fact, many persons even question its enjoyment in relation to its difficulty. Even ski rental shops carry less snowboard inventory once held because of its declining popularity. It takes much longer than 2-4 days to get a decent hang of it. Just because a person is great on a skateboard, or thinks it looks easy, doesn’t mean boarding will be easy for them to learn. For a beginner, even having received a snowboard lesson, they will likely be down, more than up, for well over 2-4 days.

Why do we mention this topic? Years of festival experience! Our advice: If a person has never skied before- please don’t consider learning to snowboard on this trip (if your director allows). Those who have never skied, lack experience toward: downhill control, various snow terrains, trail levels, turning & stopping in the snow, and loading/unloading lifts. These unfamiliar mountain skills with any beginner, along with exhaustively falling every few moments, will generally create frustration overload and disappointment for a never before skier, and first time boarder. Compare this to beginner skiers who: take a 2-4 hour lesson, can begin skiing beginner trails with friends, improving to intermediate level trails, and experiencing the entire mountain with all its various ski territories.

The festival staff sees way too many, never before skiers/first-time snowboarders, who are unhappy with their choice to snowboard because the other members of their groups are having a great time skiing, and they are not. We experience this year after year. And here’s the problem: the never skied/beginner snowboarder already received their included snowboard lesson, and they cannot switch to skiing, without receiving another required (2nd not included) beginner ski lesson. That costs about $75 out of the person’s own pocket! And, does the entire music group have time within their already tight schedule, for one person to hassle with exchanging snowboard equipment for ski equipment at a remote rental shop?

Our 2nd advice: If a person has skied before, come and have fun again skiing with your friends, rather than learning to snowboard on this trip. If a person has skied previously, and feels they must learn to snowboard, we welcome them to do so (if your director allows). Hopefully, a person won’t be offended if his/her friends want to ski the mountain, and not wait around for him/her to learn to snowboard. Again, our years of festival experience have shown us that a student who chooses to ski, and not snowboard, ends up having a much more enjoyable experience.

Recreation changes after arriving in Winter Park

While highly discouraged, and possibly not allowed by a group director, a person could change their recreation choice after arriving in Winter Park, if the following conditions are met:

  • The group director approves the recreation change!
  • If a person originally chose to ski or snowboard, and wishes to change their recreation to the non-skier activities, this must be done prior to receiving equipment rentals, prior to entering lessons, and before any attempt to enter a ski lift entrance.
  • If a person originally chose the non-ski recreation, and wishes to change to skiing, the equipment rentals must be received during their group’s scheduled rental time, and must enter ski lessons during their group’s scheduled lesson time. Please understand that the ski rental shop will not have the person’s equipment needs, typically forwarded to the shop with online registration data. Both rental equipment and lessons are subject to availability.

What’s involved with a recreation change?

A recreation change between skiing and snowboarding does not require any exchange of a ski lift card.  Ski lift cards are the same for both choices.  This will only affect rentals and scheduled lessons.

To accommodate any recreation changes involving non-ski activities, exchanges must occur with ski lift cards and non-ski vouchers.  These exchanges are to be initiated with a member of the festival staff on a group’s first arrival to the ski resort.  Either the issued ski lift card to be exchanged must be unused, or all 6 of the issued non-ski vouchers to be exchanges must be unused!