A state better known for its rich national history and as being the birthplace of everyone's favorite chocolate bar, Pennsylvania is probably not the first place you think of when planning your next winter adventure. That said, anyone who has driven through the Quaker State can tell you that it is actually quite hilly, and in the winter those rolling hills are home to 26 ski resorts. That's more than Montana and Wyoming combined.

If it’s big mountain lines or waist-deep powder you’re looking for, you probably won't find it in Pennsylvania. What you will find, however, is a community of skiers and riders that are passionate about the sport, plus a mountain culture that is as vibrant and dedicated as anywhere, which is perhaps more important.

That culture is thanks in no small part to the work done by the Pennsylvania Ski Areas Association, or SkiPA, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to promote the ski industry in Pennsylvania by actively working to get the community engaged in winter sports. For over 16 years, SkiPA has employed a unique tactic in doing so, which they call the 4th and 5th Grade Snowpass. For just $40, the Snowpass provides any student in these grades three days of skiing at each of the 21 participating ski resorts across Pennsylvania. 

“In Pennsylvania, we pride ourselves on being the place to learn to ski,” says Linda Irvin, the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Ski Areas Association. “It’s something we all believe in—get more kids outside during winter and enjoying the sports we love.” 

Related: Resort Profile - Seven Springs, Pa.

This past winter, SkiPA teamed up with ski and snowboard manufacturer Gilson Snow, located in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River Valley, to ramp up participation in the Snowpass program and get more kids outside and on the snow. In partnership with Sheetz, a Pennsylvania-owned convenience store chain, the three organizations rewarded the first 150 participants to use their Snowpass five times with their very own set of skis or snowboard direct from Gilson. Thus, the Shred PA campaign was born.

Shred PA

Three participants in the SkiPA 4th and 5th Grade Snowpass Program hold up their free skis and snowboards from Gilson Snow

Three happy shredders with their brand new whips from Gilson

“The idea was to put together an initiative geared towards getting kids outside to lead healthy, active lifestyles," says Andrew Mikowski, Chief Revenue Officer at Gilson Snow. "That was really the inspiration, but we also understand that there are some financial constraints involved [with skiing and snowboarding]. The folks over at SkiPA have done an awesome job over the last decade or so of building their program and working with the resorts to make accessibility to the mountains easier from a lift ticket standpoint. So, as Pennsylvania’s ski and snowboard manufacturer, we wanted to really do our part and help on the equipment side of things.”

Programs like these stand as a true testament to the character of the winter sports community. For organizations like SkiPA, Gilson, and Sheetz to recognize that bond and want to give back is something that is truly special. 

“It’s been so neat to see what companies with a shared vision can accomplish in terms of giving back to a community like snow sports,” says Mikowski. “By thinking through things, we can create these initiatives that drive value for everybody and help grow the sport we all love.”

A family visits the Gilson Snow factory in Winfield, Pennsylvania to pick up their brand new skis that they won in SkiPA's 4th and 5th Grade Snowpass Program

“The biggest impact for us was seeing these kids’ smiling faces when they came to pick up their very own skis or snowboard that was made especially for them and that they earned this year” - Andrew Mikowski, Chief Revenue Officer, Gilson Snow

The program is a smashing success, and SkiPA saw an increase in participation in its Snowpass program this past season. “What we have now is really a long term plan for giving back and hopefully a roadmap for what we can all be doing to grow youth sports within our industry,” Mikowski says of Gilson's plans to grow this initiative in the coming years to reach more kids across the country.  

Pennsylvania is grooming the next generation of shredders, and that is thanks in no small part to organizations like SkiPA, Gilson Snow, and Sheetz that want to give back to the community that has given them so much. So next time some youngster makes you look bad on the hill, don’t be too surprised if you see them ripping a pair of sticks from Gilson.

Related: Indy Pass Adds 7 More Ski Areas for 2020-'21 Season

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