Red carpet to the Magic Carpet in Vail
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – If the worst day on the ski hill is more fun than the best day at school, one fifth-grade class from Denver found a really great loophole.
It was ear-to-ear smiles for 32 students from Vanguard Classical School as they earned an all-expense-paid ski trip to Vail Mountain on Wednesday. Tacked on, Chris Anthony, a 21-year veteran of the Warren Miller ski films, was on hand to offer the first-time skiers a lesson.
“We wanted to choose a school that was most enthusiastic about coming up to the mountains,” Anthony said. “Their teacher was super motivated to get her students out here. For most of the kids, it was their first trip into the mountains. It’s really a life-changing experience.”
Vanguard serves an underprivileged community in Denver where 70 percent of the students qualify for free or discounted lunch because they live below the poverty level. Many of the students have special needs and uninvolved parents, fifth-grade teacher Tasha Queen said. Almost all of the kids had never skied before.
They earned the day up on the hill by winning a contest to register more students than any other school for Vail Resorts’ School of Shred program, which offers four free ski days at each of its Colorado resorts – 16 days total – and one free group ski lesson for fifth- and sixth-graders.
A chartered bus, complete with a copy of Warren Miller’s latest flick featuring Anthony, transported the students up from Aurora. Most of the children had not even traveled up into the foothills, let alone to the high-elevation ski areas.
“We learned that we had won the contest right before the holiday break, but I didn’t tell the kids right away because I wasn’t sure how it would all play out,” Queen said. “These kids don’t handle disappointments well because they have to deal with them all the time.”
Queen is a dedicated weekend warrior at the ski slopes and part-time Avon resident.
“They’re all so excited to be here. In their minds, they thought they would be on a yellow school bus, and their parents were all really worried about them going over the big, scary pass,” she said.
It was a major challenge to outfit the entire fifth grade class with all the gear necessary for a day on the hill. Many of the children didn’t have a warm enough jacket and pair of snow pants – the bare minimum in terms of ski attire – so the school organized a clothing drive to get ready for the big day.
Because Vanguard is known for catering to special-needs students, United Cerebral Palsy of Colorado donated vouchers for the local thrift store to help outfit the kids for the ski trip. In terms of gear, the Lionshead children’s ski school set the students up with skis, boots and helmets.
“It’s a really great program and a great way to teach children that would never have had an opportunity to ski. Later, when they have a job and are educated, they can come back to the sport and spend money like everyone else,” Queen said.
For brothers Jose and Emmanuel Amador, the field trip was their first time skiing, and they say it won’t be their last.
“I think it’s the best experience we’ve ever had,” Jose Amador said. “The mountains are really, really big. We’ve never been this high. We’ve been learning about our balance and our speed and how to get up.”
The curriculum for Wednesday’s outing was the same as for any “never-ever” ski school class: learn to slide, learn to stop, get on the lift and link some turns. Accomplishing all of the above after a single day on snow earns an A+.
Liam Love-Lewis was among the students most excited about the trip. He had never skied before either.
“I like pretty much everything about skiing. It’s really awesome up here. I definitely want to come back,” Love-Lewis said during his lunch break.
Queen said the ski trip has boosted morale in the classroom, which translates into better academic performance. One student in particular was failing all of his classes. He simply wasn’t doing any of his work and his parents are completely uninvolved, she said. But two weeks ago, she utilized the prospect of the ski trip as an incentive, and the youngster has since gotten to work and raised his grades.
In his 21 years of filming with Warren Miller, Vail native Chris Anthony has skied in places like Iran, Ecuador and Mongolia. So he’s got a story or two to tell. By spreading skiing to communities that would otherwise not have the opportunity is one way to give back to the sport that has given him so much, he says.
Last fall, he traveled to 20 schools while on the Warren Miller film tour and spoke on behalf of SOS Outreach, another local program that works to get underprivileged kids skiing and riding. One of those schools was Vanguard.
The highlight of the day for Anthony was seeing one of the students who was really struggling and not enjoying himself in the morning turn things around and excel in the afternoon.
By the end of the day, all of the students were able to stop themselves and most of them were getting on the chairlift and linking turns, which – as any ski instructor in town will tell you – is a really great result for a group of never-evers.
“What I’d like to see happen is programs like SOS Outreach dive in and grab these kids to keep them focused and involved,” Anthony said. “But the idea is to get these kids enthusiastic so that they will seek these opportunities out. There are a lot of programs out there, but people just don’t know about them sometimes.”
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