Sunday River & Sugarloaf ski inspection trip (and a rendition of Mustang Sally!)

Mark GardnerBlog, Ski Trips, Sugarloaf, Sunday River, USA

How do you get the hairs on a tour operator’s neck to stand up?

Call them a travel agent.

That is by no means meant as disrespectful to the excellent work the high street names continually produce.  Our niche industry focus on the detail.  The ‘why’ and the critical non essentials – to coin a respected former World Cup winning England rugby coach – that go into the mix to create innovative experiences for our sports, ski and study groups.

Our method of study is relatively straightforward.  We get out there and see it. How can we look a school teacher or tour leader in the eye without the guarantee that we’ve got the t-shirt.  The web is a wonderful learning resource, however you can only feel the grain of the sand when it’s between your toes.  And we all know, how fine that Caribbean white sand is.  OK, we’re showing off a little there but someone had to go to the Caribbean recently to check out the attractions.  That the cricket was going on at the same time was merely coincidence.

With our school ski trip portfolio extending to the eastern resorts of the US it was time to call in the extended invitation from our friends at Sugarloaf and Sunday River in Maine to see if their powder really is as soft as the famous Japanese flakes.  Skiing the pistes is, unfortunately, par for the course as we must educate ourselves to advise you accurately.  Like most mountains, the detail is beneath the surface as our site visits are a whirlwind display of health and safety checks, note taking, filming, interviewing, hand-shaking and covering every inch of the resorts our tourists cover (not forgetting the all-important social media sharing and Instagram posting en route).  Like panning gold, you leave little unturned as we strive to find that point of difference and competitive edge, all whilst following strict UK protocols to guarantee our trips are prepared to the highest safety levels.  Please, do not ever refer to them as a jolly.

Our pilgrimage coincided with the 2017 season hitting Spring’s belting sunshine and perfectly groomed pistes (another coincidence, honest).  Our director, Mark took advantage of our frequent flying with British Airways with a late call up for our south Wales Tour Consultant, Huw Jones.  Having previously played his rugby in New England, Huw naturally jumped at the chance to join in an observational capacity to learn how our tours are constructed from the bottom up.  Having skied only once before (two decades prior) this proved the perfect opportunity to give him full exposure to life as a tour operator.

A delayed return flight at Boston’s Logan Airport saw Mark and Huw in a reflective mood:

Mark:  Well, that was certainly whistle-stop!  London, Boston, Sugarloaf, Sunday River, New Hampshire, Worcester, Harvard and Boston (again) in 72 hours.  How do you feel?

Huw:  Absolutely exhausted, but exhilarated. My eyes have been opened by the sheer amount of work that goes into the tour planning and health and safety elements of these tours.  From journeys taking longer than expected through to the busy itineraries when on school ski trips, it’s been a huge learning curve.  I’ve met some great partners on this trip at both resorts, impressing me with their service levels and commitment to showing us the finite detail when in the middle of a very busy season themselves.

Mark:  Biggest learning points?

Huw:  Learning to ski was a huge confidence boost!  Work-wise, being staggered at how the smartest hotels fail the STF checks was a shock, but I respect the fact that safety standards must be met. The 30-minute guarantee of students receiving their ski gear through to lesson starting was very impressive and a massive USP when comparing to the European resorts, where it’s perhaps not as meticulously structured.  I was struck by how calm and relaxed everything seemed to be in and around resort.

Mark:  Yes, even the local authorities were somewhat accommodating.

Huw:  *Coughs* Agree, I was marginally over the speed limit and very grateful that the patrol officer in Maine was approaching the end of his shift.

Mark:  Moving on, what else would you advise school teachers to consider when visiting these parts?

Huw:  On the basis we’ll be flying in and out of Logan Airport it would be remiss not to have a stopover in Boston.  There’s so much to do in what can be a very educational 24h. For me, the morning would start with having breakfast on the move as you navigate The Freedom Trail.  Enjoying a tour of Harvard University, visiting the Red Sox’s Fenway Park, Boston Tea Party Museum and then an afternoon hot chocolate and wrap on Boston Common before the overnight flight home.  Perfectly doable if you want to make the most of your time in the region.  Put me down for the next group’s tour guide 😊.

If you would like more information on Sunday River and Sugarloaf, click here.

If our rendition of Mustang Sally while cruising through resorts has reaffirmed your desire to organise a school ski trip to the USA, contact a member of the team on 03333 111122 or submit an enquiry form here.