‘Just like I’ve seen on the X Games’
VAIL- With pizza sauce smeared around his mouth and three French fries in his left hand, 8-year-old JJ Chavez spread his arms wide demonstrating proper snowboarding stance. It was Chavez’s first time on a snowboard and by lunchtime he was happily rattling off what he learned in the morning.Chavez was one of 22 at-risk youths from the Denver area who took to Vail Mountain for a free day of skiing and snowboarding. The children, members of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado were joined by their mentors – volunteers who act as role models for the children. The at-risk kids included many who have incarcerated parents or live below the poverty line. “This has been an awesome opportunity for us,” said Chavez’s “big brother” Buzz Smith. “I don’t know who was more excited – him or me.” For many of the children, the ski trip was their first journey into the High Country, said Megan Bowling, a program mentor. “Most of them were very excited – and a little nervous,” Bowling said.
Ranging from 7 to 14 years old, the children and their mentors were handed over to instructors to learn the basics.”I fell a lot,” giggled 9-year-old Nakesha Hurd, who strapped skies on for the first time. “But I learned how to stop – that was easy.”Hurd and her “big sister,” Tamera Mams, admitted getting up after a fall was the hardest part, but well worth it.”This is really nice because skiing is so expensive,” Mams said. “So this is great.”Mams and Hurd have been together for about three years. Between their walks, slumber parties and other outings, the two have developed a close bond.Hurd said she relishes her time with Mams because it gives her a chance to get away from her brothers and sisters. Mams, who has one older brother, said she always wanted a little sister.”I would have traded him for her any day,” she said. “We have a lot of fun.”
Diversifying VailWhile learning how to ski and snowboard was pure and simple fun for the children, Roberto Moreno said getting these kids – many of whom belong to minority races – on the mountain serves a greater purpose. “There’s a lack of diversity in snow sports,” said Moreno, the president of ALPINO, a nonprofit group striving to get minorities involved in snow sports. “In Colorado, we’ve marketed the exclusivity instead of the inclusivity of snow sports.”Moreno praised Vail Resorts for being a leader in introducing children of color to skiing and riding.To come on the trip, children wrote essays about why they wanted to try skiing or snowboarding.”It would be cool to see (the mountains) from the top of a mountain while I’m going down the mountain on my skis like I’ve seen them doing on the X Games,” wrote one boy in his essay. Named the Tom Dolven Ski Experience, the trip was made possible by a memorial fund set up in the former “big brother’s” honor.
“He loved to ski, and he was a very good skier,” said Dolven’s wife, Lynn. “It was an important part of our family life. It was something we could all do together. We wanted to give these kids a chance to see if they like it and if it could become part of their lives. “I don’t think these kids would get up (on the mountain) otherwise,” she said. In less than one year, the fund collected more than $25,000 – enough to host the scholarship program for three or four years. “And then we’ll hopefully get more donations,” Lynn Dolven said.Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Vail, Colorado