Vail Valley SOS students return to the slopes |

Vail Valley SOS students return to the slopes

Nathan Rodriguez
Special to the Vail Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail DailyVail Valley SOS adult mentors Liana and Mallory prepare for the first ride day of the season with Year 1 University groups at Beaver Creek in Colorado's Vail Valley

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – More than 200 SOS Outreach students assembled at Beaver Creek in Colorado’s Vail Valley this past weekend to enjoy their first day on the slopes this season. While dozens of students participated in the introductory Learn-to-Ride program, 170 others returned to enroll in the multi-year University program.

Students from every public school in Eagle County had a chance to ride, and many were able to reconnect with their Sherpa, or adult mentor, from last season. Sherpa Bethany Haygood said the transfer of learning between students was remarkable, and added she was pleased to see a number of her students continue in the program, including Michelle, an 11-year-old from June Creek Elementary School.

“I am so proud of Michelle so far,” Haygood said. “She has grown up so much since last year. She’s willing to help, and her listening skills have improved immensely.”

For their first of five ride days, Haygood’s group focused on courage, which is the first of five SOS Outreach core values.

For her part, Michelle said she felt courage is “Trying, and trying your best until you get it right, and getting back up when you fall.”

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Elsewhere at Beaver Creek, a number of students in the third year of SOS’s University program had a chance to slide around on the snow and link a few turns. In addition to discussing what the core values mean to them, the Year Three students decided to tackle a problem facing their community.

Michelle Hartel, program director for SOS Outreach, said the group will partner with the Eagle River Watershed Council to help restore a 1.6-mile stretch of the Eagle River in Edwards this spring.

“This is something the group was really excited about,” Hartel said. “We helped the Watershed Council clean up areas around Piney River earlier this year, and the kids enjoyed seeing the direct impact of their work, and I think they also were pleased to know they were doing something to benefit the community as a whole.”

The $4.3 million restoration project aims to make the Eagle River colder, faster and deeper during low flow periods, said Melissa MacDonald, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council.

“The banks of the river have become diluted, and sediment is seeping in, polluting the river, and running over fish eggs and spawning areas, so if we reduce the sediment and cool the river, it will move faster and we’ll have a much healthier river and healthier fish,” she said.

MacDonald said the SOS students will work with Susan Nordstrom, a landscape architect in Boulder, to learn how different plants tolerate water, and what should be planted along the river banks. Students will also take a number of field trips to see examples of healthy creeks and rivers in the area.

“We’ll ask them to design the entrance for the Hillcrest Bridge that’s near the Lake Creek apartments,” MacDonald said. “They did a great job for us with the Piney River, and we’re excited for them to help out with this project, as they’ll get an education about it. Plus any students who live in Lake Creek will get to go past it every day and see their work, which is great.”

Both Hartel and MacDonald said they were excited to see many of the same students return to continue with SOS Outreach, and continue their community projects.

“We hope to have them involved in more projects in the future,” MacDonald said, noting she had recently applied for a grant from the U.S. Forest Service for a project in the Holy Cross Wilderness. “We definitely have the SOS kids in mind for that. It’ll be a three-mile hike in, and it should be a perfect fit.”

Hartel said she was eager to continue on other community projects, including the Holy Cross Wilderness area.

“We just finished our first summer of outdoor sports at SOS this year, and we already do trips out to the Holy Cross Wilderness area as well,” she said. “It seems like a great opportunity to reinforce the fundamental values of the organization, and keep kids connected not only with the natural environment, but the larger community.”

For more information on SOS Outreach, visit, or call 970-926-9292.

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