by Peter Carlson
Youth group ski trips are often a highlight of the year to both students and adult leaders (especially if your church covers the cost of your leaders’ lift tickets). However, when planning these trips it’s easy to focus on the logistics of this event and place any spiritual element as an afterthought.
What would happen if you placed more importance on the spiritual aspects of the trip than on the skiing? With a full day dedicated to the slopes, which then leads to worn out students and leaders, how can this be possible in one short weekend trip?! Below are a few experienced tips:

Make worship, prayer, and teaching a priority

Chances are many of your students are active in another interest group that goes on an annual ski trip. So, what would entice them to come on your ski retreat? Most likely, it is to build relationships with other Christ-following peers, become closer to God, and spend time with some amazing adult mentors. If you make worship, prayer, and teaching your priority, your students will do the same. Ski retreats take youth away from their normal surroundings. This is an amazing opportunity for times of reflection, spiritual commitment, transformation, and evangelism. Don’t waste this unique time on only having fun! When you place Christ first, no matter what logistical things go wrong, the retreat will be a success. To top it all off, your church board will love to hear about changed lives over stories of who had the best run or worst wipe-out. This may also get you a little more funding for next year (wink, wink).

Have your first lesson while you travel

This works in both church vans and charter buses. Most charter buses come with an AV system. The microphones are not always reliable, but the DVD player and video screens are. If taking vans, purchasing portable video players with dual screens is worth the investment! Make a creative teaching video. The video does not need to look great as long as it’s audible and you create great content. Feature your students, adult leaders, and teachers in the video. Have funny skits, create creative games, do some serious teaching, and ask multiple questions for students to discuss with those sitting around them. This sets the mood for the entire weekend! It also makes the trip go faster and gives your adult leaders a little break from all the noise.

Schedule multiple sessions

Have a theme for the weekend. Incorporate all of your sessions into that theme. Create this from scratch or find a three to four lesson curriculum. I love to have my first session on the bus,  the second session once everyone settles in (or the next morning if arriving late),  and last session the morning before departing. On your final night, create a time of prayer, testimony, and/or reflection. If you’re doing this the same night as your ski day, be sure to make this time an interactive activity or you’re going to be seeing a lot of bobbing heads and students entering with pillows and blankets.

Schedule less time for skiing than you think you should

Just because the slopes get lit brightly at night does not mean you need to maximize the cost of your lift tickets. On the day of skiing, plan to have one or two worship services. Not just devotional times, but full times of worship singing, prayer, teaching, and small group discussion. Most of your students will find the ski day to be long enough and won’t be disappointed. A shortened ski day will also encourage your students not interested in skiing to still come on the trip. Designate someone to lead another activity: board games at the chalet, mountain hike, sledding, bowling, etc.

Remove media distractions

If your youth ministry allows students to have portable media devices on trips, highly consider collecting these devices upon arrival to your lodging. Taking away phones, music players, and Internet-ready devices encourages students to concentrate on the retreat and their purpose for being there. They will be able to surround themselves in the theme you created and immerse more in the fellowship of peers and adult leaders. Be sure to clearly inform the students weeks in advance you will be collecting these devices. I also highly recommend bringing power strips and having a staff member recharge the devices for the ride home. Otherwise, recharging will be a good excuse for the youth to request their devices back the night before you leave. Sneaky little buggers!
Every time I ask one of my students what their favorite thing about our winter retreat is, they respond with: “spending time with my friends,” “making new friends,” “the worship music,” “the teaching,” “the small group times,” or “hearing testimonies.”
I guess the skiing is just an added bonus.
Peter Carlson is the Director of Youth Ministries at The Village Chapel in the Hillsboro Village district of Nashville, Tenn. Each year he loves taking the sixth through twelfth grade students across the border to the shredded-ice-covered hills of North Carolina, for times of intense Bible study and extreme “snow” sports.
When Peter is not working with TVC Youth, he works as a photographer with his wife, Whitney. He also loves playing with his 10 month-old son Monroe, playing games with friends, watching movies, and going on vacations.