Call Ski Week whatever you want.


By Emma Pearson

In recent years, when February rolls around, a debate has arisen around the February break Tamalpais High School students and their lucky peers across the Bay Area receive in regard to its colloquial title of “Ski Week”. The break, one that goes by many names (Mid-Winter Break, President’s Week, in addition to the infamous Ski Week), has been subject to name-change campaigns by Bay Area parents charging it to be elitist. As someone who has never skied during Ski Week, who spends my February break at home every year, listening to my mom tell her friends about why she hates skiing so much and would never do that to her children, I couldn’t care less what Ski Week is called. Its existence is elitist, changing the name doesn’t erase that.

The reality is that school districts in Mill Valley, San Rafeal and other wealthier areas have the break, but most San Francisco and Oakland public schools do not. Independent schools across the Bay Area get the week off, excluding parochial schools. 

The reality is that the week occurs in what I am told is prime ski season. Its existence hinged on the attendance issue schools in wealthy Bay Area districts began to face come February when more and more students were called out sick under dubious circumstances, only to be taken on trips to Tahoe, Hawaii, and wherever else. This attendance issue of the affluent, one that eventually resulted in schools relinquishing the week to stubborn parents who valued fresh powder over French class eclipsed in the late ‘90s, according to this SFGate article entitled “Families Head for the Slopes In Defiance of School Calendar”. When the affluent miss school enough, it seems, school districts invent entirely new breaks. When most other schools struggle to keep kids in school, the kids just don’t graduate. Or, at least, don’t get the education they need.

The reality is that, when my relatives and friends from New York to San Francisco hear that I get a random week off in February every year, they are thoroughly confused. My explanation has always been, “there’s a lot of people who ski here”. The break exists because of that. It exists because parents, in Marin County and others like it, thought their vacations were more important than their child missing considerable amounts of school.

That is the reality.

Elitism is, according to the Oxford dictionary, “the advocacy or existence of an elite as a dominating element in a system or society.” The elite dominated, through shrinking attendance and outward acts of defiance, and this “advocation” got them their week off. Elitism is the reason I get my week off in February, why Tam does, and Redwood, and private city schools, and those in places like Palo Alto and Contra Costa. It was a group of an elite class of people who used their privilege and influence to get what they wanted. The elite dominate our school system and society in Marin.

So the reality is, calling it Ski Week or not doesn’t change anything.

This is not me advocating that my February respite be revoked, or saying that skiing is bad. I love skiing, in concept. I have yet to really try it. And I love my mid-winter-Presidents’-no-ski-ski-Week as much as everyone else experiencing early-onset second semester burnout does. It is not offensive to me that the break is called Ski Week, despite my personal inaptitude for the activity, because skiing, in reality, is why the break exists in the first place. Skiing and the greater elitism that accompanies the culture.

Changing the name does not change Marin’s culture of elitism, it thinly veils it. Which, personally, I find even worse. If we’re going to be elitist, we might just come out and say it. Put it on the table, out in the open, de-veiled and flying down those blacks on $500 skis full speed, so we can at least have a discussion about how to possibly mend a society and school system dominated by elitist values. Changing the name inhibits progress if we never face why that title existed in the first place.

Call it Ski Week, call it February Break, call it the Great Holiday of American President and Union Hero Abraham Lincoln for all I care, just don’t be afraid of calling it what it is and the difficult conversation that might follow.