The snowboarding is the fun part, but the lifelong lessons the Snowboard Outreach Society seeks to teach its students are the important part.
Saturday was graduation day for 16 young riders and the nine certified instructors who met weekly for five weeks to learn or perfect the youngsters' snowboarding techniques while building their self-esteem and the self-esteem of those around them.
The riders ranged in age from 8 to 15, and part of the graduation requirement was offering a compliment to each member of the small group he or she had been associated with during the five weeks.
Not an easy task when siblings and youths are involved. But the 15 who were present for graduation ceremonies in The Round-Up Room at the Steamboat Ski Area handled the responsibility with maturity and displayed the mutual respect that SOS Field Coordinator Billy Seaborn said the program hopes to teach.
"Along with teaching them how to ride, we work on building respect and self-esteem," he said. "It is making a difference. You can see it in the returning kids."
In addition to running a competitive racing series, SOS teaches children and teenagers how to snowboard in a positive environment on ski slopes throughout Colorado.
The SOS program has been running for at least four years, Seaborn said, and has helped teach snowboarding to dozens of Routt and Moffat county youths, as well as Ute Indian children from Utah who may not otherwise have the opportunity to learn to ride.
Powdertools donated all the equipment, and the Steamboat Ski Area provided lift tickets for all five full-day lessons for the children.
"It was more about having fun," instructor Tim Lancaster said. "They are stoked to be out there for the day. They appreciate it more."
Chris Berry, 13, and Louis Marchman, 12, live in Oak Creek and Steamboat, respectively, and doubt they would have met and become friends if it wasn't for SOS. Both had some previous snowboarding experience but the instructors at SOS, most notably Lancaster and volunteer Reggie Sellars, took their riding to another level.
"I've learned a lot about balance and how to turn better, and jumping is a lot easier," said Berry, whose older and younger sisters also were in the program.
By the end of the season, Berry was able to land a 360, while Marchman pulled "a big 180 in the trees" on Saturday.
"It's really sad to see it end," Marchman said.
The 16 youths who graduated from SOS on Saturday were Janna and Hondo Anderson, Beth, Chris and Caitlin Berry, Christine and Tyler Dingman, Matthia Duryea, Clinton Galorath, Katelynn Grett, Thomas Hellyer, Louis Marchman, Tyler and Shane Matthews, Nathan Schibline and Nahomy Valenzuela, who everyone praised for her ability to learn to ride despite speaking little English.
The instructors were Tim Lancaster, Thea Pallut, Todd Reeves, Nikki Thorogood, Ellen McGuinness, Christine Metz, Kevin Schwan, Reggie Sellars and Erin Severinski.
As a reward for showing courage through falls and showing compassion for fellow group members, each graduating child and the volunteer and certified instructors were given a diploma.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org