Snowboard program reaches youth |

Snowboard program reaches youth

Scott N. Miller
Special to the DailyThe Snowboard Outreach Society (SOS) encourages students to participate in community service activities in addition to offering snowboarding programs. Gypsum Creek Middle School students, above, are some of the program's enthusiastic participants.

Changing the world one snowboarder at a time seems like an impossible task. Talk to Tania Silva for a few minutes, though, and it’s easy to understand why people try.

Silva, an eighth grader at Gypsum Creek Middle School, is a longtime participant in the Snowboard Outreach Society, the organization trying to change the world through a sport. At an age when many kids tend to be either silent or smart-alecky around adults, Silva is well-spoken, articulate and an unabashed supporter of SOS and its goals.

Silva has been in SOS for six seasons now. She started in the organization’s “Learn to Ride” program and has participated in subsequent “university” programs every season since. She plans to stay in the university program until she’s 18, the upper end of the SOS age range.

“I just love it,” she said. “I love the people, and I love the snow.”

Aside from ride days, Silva said she also enjoys the community service days SOS members commit to as part of the program. Her favorite, she said, is working with Special Olympics athletes. SOS kids also participate in the annual Eagle River Cleanup, help pack Thanksgiving food baskets for the Salvation Army and other service projects.

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Silva seems to have taken to heart the SOS core values of courage, discipline, wisdom, integrity and compassion.

Reaching out

Those values are taught to all students during the five learn-to-ride days beginners get in their first year. And there are plenty of local kids in the learn to ride program. Locally, about 300 kids from every school in the valley participate in SOS programs at Vail and Beaver Creek.

About two-thirds of those students are in learn to ride. In addition, the local program every year offers learn to ride classes to 50 students from the Odyssey Charter School in Denver, which serves inner-city youth.

Paul Steiner, a science teacher at Gypsum Creek who has also volunteered with SOS for the past several years, said that while SOS was started as a way to reach out to “at risk” youth, just about anyone can participate in program. “What teenager isn’t at risk in some way?” he said.

With the paramount goal of reaching out, Steiner noted that learn-to-ride students talk about one of the core values during each of their five days on the mountain. Students also then write about what each day’s core value means to them. Of the values, courage comes first, since it takes a certain amount of resolve to take that first snowboarding lesson.

Participants in the program come from all over the valley, as well as the Grand Junction and Denver areas.

Pride and progress

At Gypsum Creek, a group of eighth graders in this year’s learn-to-ride program answered with an almost universal “I dunno” when asked if they’d been able to use any of the core values in their lives so far, but Steiner, who has most of the students in his classes, says he can see progress where they don’t.

Toni Hoehn, for instance, is acting more self-confident in class, said Steiner – an assessment she reluctantly agreed with. “I think I’m a little more willing to talk in class,” she said.

Kids who take SOS learn to ride classes get a great deal. A $50 tuition payment gets participants five days on the mountain, and lessons in small groups. There’s usually one adult for every five kids. The tuition also covers equipment and clothing.

Thanks to sponsorships for the group, if “university” students want to buy equipment, they can get last season’s rental items at good prices.

It was the price of riding that attracted Emanuel Pilas. A brash youngster now in his second year with SOS, Pilas continues to resist the idea of the “circle of love,” which is the SOS version of a group hug, a way to help kids feel safe and supported as members of the “family” of snowboarding. Pilas likes the attention, but he’d prefer to call it the “circle of like.”

While Pilas is quick with a quip, and professes to have a hard time remembering the core values, Steiner said, “You should have seen him before he started with us.”

Steiner added that a lot of learn to ride participants continue in SOS through the university program. The goal, he noted, is to keep as many kids as possible “in the (SOS) family.”

That family makes sure its youngsters keep busy, with ride days and community service projects.

“We’ll pick up the kids before 7 a.m. on ride days and they won’t get home until 6 p.m. or later,” Steiner noted. “They’re usually pretty beat when we get back.”

The kids seem to think it’s good kind of tired, though.

“It takes discipline to get up to go ride,” said Silva. “It’s worth it, though. Sometimes you don’t want to leave.”

This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.

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