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In the groove …

Veronica Whitney

“In the sky,” she says, drawing a laugh from her four companions on an outing at Beaver Creek with the Snowboard Outreach Society.

It’s 10 a.m. Saturday and, although it’s early February, it’s warm enough that some skiers are taking off jackets and swapping goggles for sunglasses.

“What do we need to do to turn? Put more weight on your front foot. Don’t ride on the back seas,” says Hernreich, of Edwards, who’s helping the group with some riding tips.

Once the group heads down Red Buffalo, a beginners’ run, the children seem to be by themselves. Ryan McClintock, 12, of Eagle is struggling to make that toe-side turn; 10-year-old Alex Alamos is trying to leave the “falling leaf” behind; and Jenni Adams, 11, is working on leading the turn with her body.

“I’m not in my groove yet,” says Ryan, as he tries one of Hernreich’s drills.

It’s just the beginning of another day riding with the Snowboard Outreach Society, or SOS. The morning started before 9 a.m. at the base of the mountain where about 50 children and youth gathered with seven “Sherpas” for the Circle of Love, the moment when the core value of the day is introduced.

“Today, the core value is integrity,” says Seth Blackmer, an SOS curriculum director. “We will work throughout the day with the kids to see how they’d use integrity in their lives and in snowboarding.”

Integrity is doing your best and never giving up, says Alex Alamos, who recently graduated from the Learn to Ride program, which provides five days of professional teaching.

“Courage,” Tania thinks out loud, “is when you come down steep hills and you need to make a turn. I also use courage in other sports I do, like hockey. Discipline in school is when you have to do homework.

“The program has helped me in life and at school,” adds Tania, of Gypsum,

who has been in the program six years.

Values and snow

This SOS’s ninth season. The nonprofit organization, based in Avon, provides children and youth with the Learn to Ride and University programs, which include five days of snowboarding at Vail and Beaver Creek.

The group’s curriculum is focuses on:

– Courage.

– Discipline

– Integrity

– Wisdom

– Compassion

This winter, SOS will serve 925 students at 25 ski resorts across the United States. In the Eagle Valley, SOS serves 350 kids a year. Although Hispanics account for almost a quarter of the population in Eagle County, more than half of SOS students – about 200 – are of Hispanic origin.

“I think the majority of our students is Hispanic, because skiing and snowboarding are expensive sports,” Blackmer says. “We are looking to help kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to snowboard. We live in an area where there’s so much to do, but it’s so expensive.”

Participants in the program pay $50 for five days of riding, including lift tickets, equipment and coaching.

Alex Alamos, whose parents don’t ski or snowboard, says she wouldn’t have gotten involved in snowboarding if it hadn’d been for SOS.

“Some parents work on the mountain, but they have never gone up on the lift,” says Theresa Carullo, a second-grade teacher at Edwards Elementary School who volunteers with SOS’s Learn to Ride program.

Arn Menconi, founder of SOS, says it’s not just the Hispanic students SOS hopes to help.

“It’s the families and friends in his or her life,” Menconi says. “We are building a stronger more compassionate community through a sport and the generosity of Vail Resorts and volunteers.”

Making friends

Participation, including mentors and students, in SOS’s programs has grown steadily in the past years, from 368 participants in during the 1998-99 season to 900 in 2000-01 season.

“Snowboarding is a good way to pass SOS’s core values,” Blackmer says. “It’s a cool sport that attracts young people. It has had a bad reputation in the past, but ours is a good way to show that not all snowboarders are a bunch of punks.”

Values the program endorses are interrelated, Carullo says.

“Like that boy who was in my group the other day and kept helping everybody to put the snowboard on,” says Alex Alamos. “Today, I want to help others.”

And making friends has been one of the highlights of the program, says Tania Silva.

“I met Casey and Gabriela through the program, and they are now some of my best friends,” she says. “I also like the program because we do community service. I have helped with the Eagle River cleanup and the Special Olympics.”

In the four years he has worked with SOS, Blackmer says, he has seen hundreds of kids whose self-confidence increased after going through the programs.

“I’ve seen so many kids graduating from our programs who say, “If I can snowboard, I can do anything’,” he says.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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