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Grade 5 students ready to take to the slopes

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Free passes to ski areas across the country are up for grabs again this season but there's a catch.

The only ones eligible for the free passes must have a birth certificate from 1991 or a Grade 5 report card.

This year’s applications for the Grade 5 SnowPass are already flooding into the Canadian Ski Council (CSC) from 10 year olds across the country.

They are eager to get their hands on the pass that gives them three free lift or trail tickets at each of the participating ski areas in Canada. This year 147 ski areas are included in the program, including Whistler-Blackcomb.

"It's become very popular and we expect about 26,000 applications this year," said Colin Chedore, president of the CSC.

Since its inception in 1997, the SnowPass program has been gaining popularity and applications have more than doubled in the past five years. Chedore attributes this interest to better marketing efforts and more awareness in the program.

He also said this program is responsible for pumping millions of dollars into the ski industry.

Based on an American model, the idea behind the SnowPass is to hook kids on a sport when they are young, hopefully fuelling a lifelong passion for that sport.

"The economic spin off is fantastic for the industry," Chedore said. "It's a great return on the investment."

The CSC surveyed 1,500 Grade 8 students who were given free passes when they were in Grade 5. Chedore said many of those kids are still frequently skiing or snowboarding – a testament that the program really works, he said.

But there are more than just economic benefits to this program, said Vicki Dalgleish, the Canada West Ski Areas Association co-ordinator for the Grade 5 SnowPass.

Although the program specifically targets 10 year olds, Dalgleish said it also unites the whole family and is an affordable way for families to become involved in a sport together.

"It's an excellent program and it's certainly met with enthusiasm from the parents," she said.

Christopher Nicolson, the communications manager for Whistler-Blackcomb, agrees that the Grade 5 SnowPass is an affordable way to get kids skiing at Whistler.

Applications will be in many Grade 5 classrooms this month and will also be available online at www.snowpass.org. There is a $10 fee to process the application.

The SnowPass is valid from Dec. 1 throughout the season. Some restrictions apply at certain ski areas.

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