SOS blows 10 candles |

SOS blows 10 candles

Veronica Whitney

NWS SOS 10th 12-21 CS

When he was teaching snowbarding at Golden Peak 10 years ago, Tom Van Cleave sat down and listened to a colleague’s dream. It was Dec. 21, 1993.

Ten years later, Van Cleave raised his champagne glass and toasted to the 10th anniversary of Arn Menconi’s baby: the Snowbard Outreach Society, also known as SOS.

“It all started from a desire to make something good,” said Van Cleave, 32, of Avon, at a surprise party for Menconi, who is also an Eagle County commissioner, at the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame on Sunday.

“He saw that a lot of snowbarders were viewed as hoodlooms and gangs and he wanted to change that,” Van Cleave said.

Bob Hernreich, who is part owner of the Sacramento Kings basketball team and is on the board of directors for K2 Snwoboards, has also been a supporter of SOS from the beginning.

“(Menconi) had this great idea that was a little unfocused at the beginning,” said Hernreich, who was also teaching snowbaording with Menconi at the time. “My first thought was, “Here’s a guy who wants to make a difference.'”

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In the past 10 years, SOS has grown. It has five full-time staff members, 50 part-timers and 300 volunteers that bring more than 250 on-hill days each winter to over 1,000 youth at 27 ski resorts.-

SOS’s annual budget of $250,000 comes from sponsors, private donations and grants.

“Sounds like a lot of numbers, but it is really a lot of generous hearts giving,” Menconi said.

Everyone “at risk’

For Menconi, people who give to SOS realize how serious the needs of kids are today. He said:

– One in two will live in a single-parent family at some point in childhood.

– One in three is born to unmarried parents.

– One in three will be poor at some point in their childhood.

– One in four lives with only one parent.

– One in five was born poor.

“People say that we work with “at-risk’ kids,” Menconi said. “SOS is trying to change the image of what it means to be at-risk. I have come to believe that each and every one of us is “at-risk’ if we do not serve others through love and compassion.”

For example, to graduate from the Snowboard Outreach Society University program earlier this year, 10-year-old John Sailer had to snowboard and clean a fire department truck. He also had to talk about courage, discipline, integrity, wisdom and compassion on many chairlift rides.

In March, Sailer, who is from Gypsum, was among 40 students who graduated from the University program, which is for students who in previous years have graduated from SOS’ Learn to Ride program.

An SOS University students commit to five days of riding, in which SOS’s five-core values of courage, discipline, integrity, wisdom and compassion are followed.

Grassroots growth

SOS’s participation has grown steadily in the past years. In the 2000-2001 season, 900 people – including mentors and students – participated, compared to 368 in the 1998-1999 season.

“We will serve more than 1,200 children this season,” said Anne Menconi, Arn’s wife and also part of the SOS team.

Tom Moorhead, an Eagle County district judge who is on the SOS board of directors, said the program grows by maintaining its values and setting goals consistent with those values.

“They can’t go wrong,” Moorhead said at the surprise party. “I’ve always have a whole deal of respect for Arn.”

When he was chief operating officer for Vail and Beaver Creek, Chris Ryman also helped Menconi to start the program.

“I think we gave him $10,000 that first year,” said Ryman, now an SOS board

member. “The fact that snowbaording is a cool thing is the draw. The real essence is to introduce self esteem and personal values.”

SOS has exceeded his expectations, Ryman said.

“I always trusted it would survive,” he said. “I don’t believe it will grow to be a mass program because it’s a customized program. But the grassroots have been established.”

Driven by desire

Katie Bartel, the new director of the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, said she offered the museum for the 10th anniversary party to recognize SOS’ nonprofit work in the valley.

“We have changed our name and inducted our first snowbarder,” Bartel said, referring to the induction into the Hall of Fame earlier this year of Kevin Delaney. “This is also a way to partner with other nonprofits.”

SOS ties the sport of snowboarding to teaching life lessons and values, she said.

“It was long overdue to include snowboarding in our name,” Bartel added. “It’s a distinct discipline.”

When he had the idea to found SOS, Menconi discussed the concept with Ray Sforzo, former director of Vail and Beaver Creek’s snowboard program and a co-founder of SOS.

“He came with something I can’t teach people, which is desire,” Sforzo said. “All of the sudden I had an opportunity to do something for other people.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at