Young Utes learn to ski on tribe's ancestral land

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— The sky was brilliant blue on Mount Werner as Billy Kidd talked to a group of skiers on Preview.

While the Olympian gives tips and inspiration to countless skiers on a daily basis, the skiers he met with Saturday morning were special. They were members of the Ute Nation and Kidd was handing them a dream -- or at least a little food for thought.

"How many of you want to be in the Olympics?" Kidd asked them, getting a response of cheers and raised ski poles.

The group of 17 Ute children, who ranged in age from 8 to 18, may never get to the Olympics, but that is OK. At least they were out skiing, having fun and hopefully gaining a love of sport.

"I want to plant the seed in their minds that maybe they will go to the Olympics; if not in skiing, maybe in track. It just puts it in their minds," he said. "I'm telling them to not listen to someone that says it's impossible. Whether or not they ski in the Olympics, they'll have fun trying."

The students were invited here by Kidd and Steamboat Ski and Resort Corporation as part of an effort to welcome the Utes back into the Yampa Valley. The tribe was forcibly moved to Utah in 1881 when the land was settled by the white man, although the land in this valley is considered sacred to the tribe. Last fall, a Ute Memorial was dedicated in Dr. Rich Weiss Park, the culmination of years of efforts by the Ute Indian Yampa Valley Connection. At that ceremony, Kidd said he wanted the youth of the tribe to come ski, and so the Ute "Future Olympians" program began.

He was inspired to invite the Ute youth by a similar program run skier Susie Chaffee, he said.

"We'd like them to come back here and feel comfortable," Kidd said.

Kidd said he wants to plan the same thing next year, and possibly invited the children here for some days in the summer for them to camp or hike.

The group, which included several chaperones, arrived Friday night and stayed at Kidd's home and Holy Name Catholic Church. All of their passes, equipment and lessons were donated by ski corp.

This is the second time Kidd has hosted young Ute skiers; in February, 10 made the trip. Some of the children have skied before, although it was night skiing at Park City. This was a step up and, for them, this trip was only about skiing.

"It's pretty fun," 13-year-old Jackie Murray said. "It's nice to get a chance to be taught by the pros."

To help him teach, Kidd tapped some talented ski instructors, including Erik Steinberg, who coached Olympic Gold medalist Bill Johnson in 1984. The focus was on fun, with the students starting off on Preview and then taking a gondola ride up in the afternoon.

They zoomed down the run and right back into the lift line for another go at it.

"Our kids don't get these opportunities. Rarely do they get opportunities to get out of Roosevelt," Sabra Barta said, a Native American student advisor at Roosevelt Junior High, which many of the students attend.

The day was part of a larger goal to cultivate healthy lifestyle habits in the youth, according to David Nelson, director of the Diabetes Program of Fort Duchesne. He said there is a high rate of diabetes in adults in the Ute Nation.

"The efforts are aimed at getting kids active and teaching them about a healthy lifestyle," he said.

Although some students are aware of the history and the reason they were invited, they were uncomfortable talking about it.

Members of the Roosevelt Junior High School Native American Royalty were on the trip, Barta said, who explained those students are the future leaders in the tribe. Barta said there is a new way of thinking for this generation of Utes.

"With our youth, new ways are setting in and new changes are coming, but we still need to be aware of old ways and old thinking to make good changes for everyone," she said.

Events like this just blocks in building a relationship between the Utes and members of the Steamboat Springs community, according to Kirby Arrive, a member of the tribal business committee.

The memorial was one step and now it is taking others, including forming a relationship with ski corp., he said.

"We just want to take it slow," he said. "We want to have a relationship based on a good foundation."


-- To reach Jennifer Bartlett call 871-4204 or e-mail jbartlett@amigo.net

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