Never-evers hit the Howelsen ski slopes thanks to new Ski Town USA initiative | SteamboatToday.com

Never-evers hit the Howelsen ski slopes thanks to new Ski Town USA initiative

Frances Hohl Steamboat Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Free organized skiing is back for school children in Ski Town USA, and organizers and volunteers were brought to tears at the joy expressed by second-graders who thought they’d never get a chance to try their luck on skis and snowboards.

"Rock 'n’ roll," screamed Soda Creek student Joe Youngs as he raced over the Howelsen Hill terrain park jump — only his second time to be on skis.

"I'm just gonna cry. I have nine 'never-ever' skiers, and they're really pushing them to get off that baby hill and up to the green slopes," said Soda Creek teacher Cindy Gantick, as she skied down with some newbies. "They are doing so fan-fun-tastic. The volunteers are just beyond our expectations."

For Lori Keefe, it was a teary afternoon as she saw her long-time dream come alive — that of bringing downhill skiing and snowboarding back to the schools so that every Steamboat child can at least have a taste of the town's ski heritage.

"We had a little boy from Strawberry Park (Elementary) who hadn't even seen skis before, and he started riding up the magic carpet and turned around and said 'Coach Lori, this is the most epic day of my life,'" laughed Keefe, program director for the new Ski Town USA Initiative and a long-time volunteer at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

The school ski program existed for a number of decades before it was phased out. But now, Keefe's and the Winter Sports Club's pilot program to get all second-graders on the slopes has been a stunning success.

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All one has to do is watch Stephany and Karime, two girls who never knew skiing could be so fun. Karime was jumping on her skis, as she ventured down the 'baby' hill. They both got to the little green hill on their second ski day.

Stephany knew from her first time skiing what she wanted.

"I told them (my family) I wanted to sign up," Stephany said.

In the meantime, Olympic gold medalist Deb Armstrong could be seen coaching young Ibrokhim, whose family hails from the warm side of Uzbekistan.

"His mom works full time, and here's Olympian Deb Armstrong working with him … and see how good he is?" said Gantick, who was thrilled watching her students interact with people like Armstrong and SSWSC Snowboard Director Tori Koski.

"On Tuesday, there were four 'never-evers' that had never been snowboarding … by the end of the day, they were doing toe-side turns and holding my hands," Koski said. "It was incredible. They had so much fun they didn't want to leave."

But it just wasn't world-class competitors like Koski and Armstrong who made the day perfect for the students.

Keefe said parents and grandparents who didn't even have students in the second grade gave their time and energy working with the children.

Young Winter Sports Club competitors were also there helping the kids get their gear on before taking them up for their ski lessons.

"I wish I had this growing up," said 19-year-old Zach Mikkelson, an Alpine ski racer. "It's perfect and just five minutes from their school. I'm making sure they're all having fun."

"It was really cool to watch these kids who have never been on snow before," added 16-year-old Quinn Keefe, a big mountain telemark skier.

Quinn was in charge of little Joe Youngs, one of the most gung-ho new skiers on Howelsen Hill that day.

"They had a blast. Especially the 'never-evers,'" said Colin Wells, a volunteer dad who seemed quite impressed with young Joe's enthusiasm.

Christy Sports, along with the Winter Sports Club, outfitted the kids with gear this year, and now Keefe, other program leaders and the company are trying to figure out how this pilot program can become a permanent program.

"We're trying to figure out the next step,” Keefe said. "Do we get skis and stash them at school or at the Winter Sports Club? We're trying to come up with our next plan. There's a lot of gear in this town. The questions is how do we get it in their hands?"

"Hands down it's something that Christy Sports wants to be a part of," said Kathy Elliott, Christy Sports rental marketing coordinator. "It's our community, and we want to be a part of it."

As for now, there are still a couple of more Tuesday and Thursday lessons for the rest of the second-graders in Steamboat Springs, and organizers hope to eventually expand the program to other grades.

Anyone wanting to help with the new Ski Town USA Initiative can email Keefe at lkeefe@sswsc.org or Sara Floyd at sfloyd@sswsc.org.