Jeremy Papasso
Tom Hanson and his son Carter at their home in Boulder on Monday, April 9. Carter was able to take advantage of a Colorado ski program that allows 5th graders to ski for free at most Colorado ski resorts. Jeremy Papasso/ Camera
Colorado Ski Country’s fifth and sixth grade passports:
Vail’s School of Shred, for fifth and sixth graders:

Carter Hanson probably has more ski passes dangling off his jacket than any other fifth grader in Boulder.

And he’s even missing some — he’s had to chop off some to fit more as the season wore on, he said.

So far, Hanson has skied at 24 resorts in Colorado this winter. He’s taking advantage of the programs offered by Colorado Ski Country and Vail Resorts for Colorado’s fifth graders — free lift tickets for three or four days at each of their resorts.

The programs give fifth graders free access to 25 ski areas in the state. Hanson is just one short of hitting them all, and he plans to snag that last area — Arapahoe Basin, which the family saved for last since it traditionally is the last area in the state to close — in the next few weeks.

Colorado Ski Country’s Craig Bannister said about 14,000 fifth graders participated in the program this ski season. But they don’t have a way of keeping track of where the kids ski, or how many of the resorts they visit. However, he said, they hadn’t heard of any fifth graders hitting all of the ski areas.

“This could be the first ever,” he said, adding that the program has been around for 15 years.

Though Tom Hanson, Carter’s dad, and Carter had both been excited about this winter for about three years, the real planning didn’t start until early last fall.

“Tom planned everything,” said Lori Hobkirk, Carter’s mom. “He had a spreadsheet early in the season. He tried to plan it so you’d get to the right ski area at the right part of the season.”

“We started with Loveland,” Carter said.

“Because it’s an early opener,” Tom added.

They visited other resorts they weren’t as excited about early in the season. This winter was a somewhat dismal one for snowsports enthusiasts, but Tom and Carter said it didn’t bother them much, and that they made the best of it.

“Do you think we kind of lucked out?” Tom asked Carter.

Carter agreed. “We had some good days, like Sunlight and Powderhorn — we had a foot of powder.”


Those resorts weren’t on the schedule but nonetheless had to be visited, and the Hansons managed to do it when Powderhorn had a 22-inch dump. At Sunlight, Tom said, they were the sixth car in the parking lot.

“It’s really quiet, so you’re like, first tracks of powder,” Carter said, recalling the day. “And if you go to the harder stuff, it’s even more first tracks, which is really sweet.”

His mom laughed. “You talk like a skier,” she said.

“I am a skier,” Carter replied.

Carter had all kinds of free skiing, but dad had to pay each time they skied. It was an expensive season for the family, Tom said. “I have not gone back and added up the receipts and don’t really want to,” he said.

Carter and Tom enjoyed Crested Butte so much that they skied there twice. On their first trip, they left Carter’s skis stuck in a snow drift behind the car. The next weekend, preparing to head out again, dad couldn’t find his 10-year-old’s skis. They replaced them with skis on Craigslist for $30.

Carter thinks they’re way better than his old ones.

Over spring break, the whole family went to southwestern Colorado. (Hobkirk said she’s not really a downhill skier but enjoys Nordic skiing; Tom telemark skis; Carter is an alpine skier who has “never tried snowboarding, never really wanted to.”)

Tom and Carter skied Telluride, Purgatory, Wolf Creek and Crested Butte (second time; Tom lost a glove). They skipped Hesperus, a hill near Durango, because it’s not on the pass.

“President’s weekend was Aspen,” Hobkirk said. “And Michelle Obama was there with the girls.”

“We didn’t see them,” Carter said.

Tom said Carter had a breakthrough ski experience at Aspen Highlands, where they headed down a run called Steeplechase and Carter learned jump turns.

“Before that, I did double blacks, but I didn’t really enjoy them,” Carter said. “Then, I just tried turning, and from then on, I’ve been enjoying it more.”

Plenty of friends joined them along the way, they said. But they seem to have enjoyed the adventure together best.

“It’s gotten to the point where we can really ski together as ski buddies,” Tom said, smiling.

“It’s cool that we’re ski buddies,” Carter added, “because we want to do the same kind of stuff, and we want to eat lunch as the same time.” His parents laughed. “That’s kind of a big deal, because I want to eat early on big ski days, because you get hungry.”

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