SOS starts its season
VAIL – “What does courage mean to us?” Aaron Rimmelman asked the group of kids kneeling in a circle in the snow.”It’s the strength to go snowboarding and the courage to go down the hill,” a boy offered.”It means being brave,” a girl said.The kids, all clad in snowboarding gear, were gathered at Eagle’s Nest above Lionshead on Saturday morning along with more than 100 other students to snowboard and ski with the Snowsports Outreach Society.About 125 kids got to experience the slopes, fresh with 9 inches of snow, through the program, which kicked off its 14th season this weekend. U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar came to the opening ceremony to recognize the nonprofit for its work, and the Vail Valley Foundation presented the program a $60,000 grant.”Some of these kids are from the poorest schools in the state,” Salazar said. “For them to be skiing today is a great opportunity. Many of us don’t get to ski until much later in life.”Also, Bill Jensen, president of Vail Resorts’ Mountain Division and chairman of the National Ski Areas Association, was recognized as Humanitarian of the Year by SOS.”For years, he has led the industry in giving back to the community through the kids,” SOS Executive Director Arn Menconi said. Snowsports Outreach Society, previously called Snowboard Outreach Society, provides low-income kids ages 8 to 18 with ski and snowboard gear each season.This is the first year the program has included skiing, prompting the moniker change.For about 50 of the kids, it was their first time ever on the snow, and others, like Gypsum resident Rachel Harvey, have been in the program for several years.”I was so excited to get back on the slopes, I didn’t even want to sleep last night,” Harvey, 16, said.Spencer Chaple, 12, is in his third year with the program. He said the program allows him to snowboard, hang out with his friends and learn some “core values.””I can’t wait for the powder and the jumps,” he said. “I’m going to try a frontside grab today. Or maybe a 180. I want to start off with something easy.”For 11-year-old Jacqueline Abarca, it will be her first time on skis. She came up from Denver to participate in the program with other students from her school.”I’m excited and nervous,” she said. “It’s a big mountain, but it’s going to be fun.
Nationwide at Snowsports Outreach Society’s 30 resorts, about double the number of kids will participate compared with last year, Development Director Scott Ehrlich said.About 3,000 kids are expected to be part of the program this season as well as more than 425 counselors and instructors.The Vail Valley Foundation’s $60,000 grant will allow the Eagle County program to expand even more, Ehrlich said. This winter, SOS will serve 500 local youths, up from 270 kids during the 2007-08 season. “These additional monies will allow SOS to make a difference in the lives of hundreds more local kids,” Menconi said.The Learn to Ride program provides kids with gear, lift tickets and five days of instruction. The program focuses on teaching students one of the five core values each day: courage, discipline, integrity, wisdom and compassion.The university program is part of a four-year curriculum that incorporates community-service and life-skills workshops.Israel Hernandez went through the programs and is now a Junior Sherpa, an instructor and counselor of sorts.”It’s such a cool program,” the Edwards resident said. “You get to give back to the community, and it really gives a structure to teach kids some core values.”===============================================================Help outSOS Outreach still needs ski jackets. Todonate, go to http://www.active.com/donate/sos0708===============================================================