Glenwood man heads up Skis 4 Kashmir
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Growing up in the middle of Colorado ski country, Charlie Noone couldn’t imagine having a ski area in one’s own back yard and not being able to enjoy it.
But that has been the case at the Gulmarg ski area, located in the Indian-administered portion of Kashmir, just 6 kilometers from the line of control that separates India from Pakistan.
Until recently, Kashmiris were barred from the mountainous region that includes the ski area, which was typically reserved for foreign adventurers looking for a Himalayan ski vacation.
Since state elections in 2008 brought a new coalition government, relative peace has returned to a region that has been embroiled in conflict for more than 60 years. As a result, Kashmiris have been free to enjoy recreational activities that were not possible before.
“People are returning to the mountains that had previously been off limits,” Noone said. “Most of the people were cleared out, and many were moved to Afghanistan.”
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Noone learned of this newfound peacetime interest among Kashmiris, including many children who had never skied before, when he came across a Feb. 26, 2009, BBC News article by Zahid Rafiq titled, “Ski respite for war weary Kashmiris.”
The article explains how foreign skiers have since banded together to put on free ski and snowboard clinics for local Kashmiri children. However, the huge demand has meant that many children had to be turned away for a lack of enough equipment.
That prompted Noone, a recent graduate of Fort Lewis College in Durango who grew up in Glenwood Springs, to team up with four buddies from Fort Lewis and Colorado State University to found Skis 4 Kashmir, as it is known here.
Working with the Guru Charitable Trust Foundation – with which one of his friends, Dallas Erwin, had been in contact with as part of a medical waste cleanup project in Kashmir – a more formal name, the Ski Kashmir Initiative, was established.
“We wanted to bring some positive change to the people of Kashmir,” Noone said. “It’s a very rare opportunity for children there to get out and experience something that we get to experience every day, and we wanted to help make that happen.”
The group traveled to Kashmir just before Thanksgiving and worked out the details to collect ski and snowboard equipment in Colorado and send it to Kashmir.
They’ve since collected about 300 pairs of skis and snowboards, and 100 pairs of ski boots and clothing – they are raising money to send the equipment to Kashmir in January. A fundraiser to benefit the cause is planned for Jan. 16 at the Pour House in Carbondale at 7 p.m. Admission is $5.
They also plan to return to Kashmir Jan. 20, when they will help conduct two 15-day sessions teaching a group of approximately 50 children from various socio-economic backgrounds how to ski and snowboard together.
“The mission of Skis 4 Kashmir is to redistribute the excess of the U.S. ski industry to the Kashmiri slopes,” according to the group’s stated mission posted on its website, http://www.skis4kashmir.org.
“We believe that participation in sport can improve the quality of life of individuals and communities, promote social inclusion, improve health, counter anti-social behavior, raise individual self-esteem and -confidence, and broaden horizons of awareness of opportunity,” it continues.
One goal of the program is to try to minimize the class differences within the groups, Noone said. For that reason, some of the children, ranging in age from 10 to 15, will come from local orphanages while others will come from the Burn Hall School, a Christian mission school in Srinagar, Kashmir.
“It is hoped that through their shared experiences in the program they will find that they have more in common with one another than their social and economic backgrounds might otherwise suggest,” the website states.
The group also has a goal to raise $30,000 to assist with the effort, including shipping, plus lodging, food and transportation for the children who will be participating. In addition to the Jan. 16 fundraiser, a donation page is set up on the Skis 4 Kashmir website.
Others involved with the program besides Noone and Erwin are Greg Peiper, Steve Mace and Cisco Tharp. Sarah Gorman of Glenwood Springs is also assisting as the project’s financial manager.
For more information, e-mail email@example.com.