The pre-Christmas postal strike was a mixed blessing for the Grade 5 Ski and Snowboard Passport Program. On the one hand the strike interfered with a direct mailing to all Grade 5 teachers in B.C. On the other hand, the deadline for passport applications has been waived. "We’ve processed more than 1,500 passports in B.C. so far, and we’re doing more daily," says Vicki Dalgleish of the Canada West Ski Areas Association. "Nationally, more than 8,000 passports have been issued." The passport program offers three days of free skiing for Grade 5 students, or 10 year olds, at each of the more than 100 resorts across Canada participating in the program. More than 20 resorts in B.C. are participating, including Whistler/Blackcomb. For a $5 administration fee the Canadian Ski Council will send eligible applicants a passport with coupons for each participating ski area in their province or region. There are three coupons good for a day’s lift ticket at each ski area and a fourth coupon offering discounts on rentals, lessons or food items. A paying adult must accompany a passport holder. The adult may bring up to two passport holders per visit. The concept is borrowed from Colorado, where it was introduced last winter. Colorado ski areas found that people who learn to ski or ride at 10 years of age are most likely to make the sport a lifetime activity. Despite the growth of snowboarding, the total number of skier/snowboarder visits across North America has remained flat for the past decade. "We’re hoping to attract kids who haven’t skied or boarded before, and they’ll bring their parents along," says Heidi Buckley of the Canadian Ski Council. Dalgleish said this week that the original Dec. 31 deadline for the Canadian Ski Council to receive passports was waived after the postal strike started. The council will now accept passport applications throughout the winter. Dalgleish had planned a direct mail campaign to each Grade 5 teacher in B.C. to let them know about the program, but when the postal strike hit she contacted each school district and asked them to distribute the passport information through their internal mail. All but four districts agreed. "As soon as the mail strike was over we got the balance of the applications out," Dalgleish says. "Some teachers received the information just before Christmas." Each participating mountain or resort was also asked to send out press releases announcing the passport program. By now Grade 5 students across B.C. should have received their passport applications. "Probably once one kid in a school gets his passport it should trigger a response from other kids," Dalgleish says. If passport applications aren’t available through Grade 5 classes each participating ski area should have information on the program. The list of B.C. ski areas participating includes Grouse Mountain, Mount Seymour, Hemlock Valley, Mount Washington, Sun Peaks, Apex, Big White, Silver Star and Whistler/Blackcomb.