Program gets never-ever 2nd-graders out on the slopes | SteamboatToday.com

Program gets never-ever 2nd-graders out on the slopes

Frances Hohl for Steamboat Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — This may be Ski Town USA, but believe it or not, there are local kids in Steamboat Springs who have never set foot in a ski or snowboard boot. In fact, some of them belong to families who have been here for generations.

That thought had been bugging Lori Keefe, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club youth coach, for quite a while as she volunteered and watched her own kids compete and have fun in SSWSC programs.

"This is part of our heritage. Every Steamboat kid should have this opportunity," said Keefe, program director for the new Ski Town USA Initiative.

The initiative is led by the staff at the SSWSC with the help of local businesses like Mountain Valley Bank, Christy Sports and Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., along with the city of Steamboat Springs and the public school system. They are working together to make free skiing available to every second-grader in Steamboat Springs, supplying equipment, buses, coaches and passes for four days in January.

In the halls of Soda Creek Elementary, a group of second graders talked excitedly about being fitted with boots and skis for their first big trip to the Howelsen Hill ski area.

Some of them had the dates already memorized.

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"We're going to go skiing Jan. 11 and 18 or 19. I'm excited because I never went skiing," said young Ibrokhim, whose family originally hails from the warm side of Uzbekistan.

"I'm going to be, not on the big hills, but the small hills," he pointed out a bit cautiously.

His classmate Karime was born in Steamboat, and while she's gotten to cross-country ski in the schoolyard for P.E., downhill skiing wasn't even an option. But now she's dreaming of bigger things.

"We can learn how to do tricks, go up and down," Karime said, motioning her hands over make-believe hills.

"We're going to ski and do all the things that we can learn."

Although this program is new, the Steamboat public schools and Howlesen Hill have partnered for many years offering programs like this. "Which is where some of our Steamboat Olympians got some of their first runs in on snow," said Sarah Floyd, associate executive director at SSWSC.

"The Winter Sports Club and a few local community businesses think it is time to get this program running again," she said.

The Winter Sports Club's competitive athletes will be the primary coaches for these young students as part of a volunteer project they do each season, said Floyd. "The competitive athletes are excited to share their love of their sports with the younger kids."

"It's a very good idea," said Annabelle Paris, who recently moved to Steamboat Springs with her husband and kids. "My son has never skied before and he has to learn because we are going to live here, right? This is a winter state. This will be great for the little ones."

Teachers at Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementary schools are excited to see some of their students have this opportunity. This is not only for children new to Steamboat, but for many longtime local families who cannot afford to participate in skiing and snowboarding activities. Some Steamboat kids still only dream of hitting the slopes.

"This program is a phenomenal opportunity for these kids to at least get exposure to one of the most important aspects of our community," said Ann Coon, a local teacher who specializes in the second-language students.

That's just what Sarah Floyd had in mind when the Winter Sports Club gave the go-ahead for the Ski Town USA Initiative.

"There are about 150 second graders in the elementary schools. We estimate that up to a third of those children may not have had the opportunity to ski," said Floyd.

Meanwhile, back at Soda Creek, young Oliver and his friend Celeste contemplate their first crack at skiing.

"I'm excited, but scared I'm going to fall," explained Oliver. "Some of our class already knows how to ski and some of them are going to teach us how to ski."

Celeste says she's all in because the equipment will protect her. "If you don't have a helmet, you can hit your head. But if you do have a helmet, you can't hurt your head," reasoned Celeste to her friends.

Lori Keefe is thrilled with the response from children like Celeste and Oliver.

"One little boy hugged me and kept saying, 'Do you know how excited I am? I've never even seen the hill!'"

Keefe is hoping the Ski Town USA Initiative eventually grows to include all of the K-8 grades.

As for now, after completing four days of ski lessons on Howelsen Hill, the second-graders will also get a free day of skiing on the "big mountain" in April, courtesy of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

This program also fits well with the city of Steamboat's "Free Ski Sundays" at Howelsen Hill this season. "Keep your eye out for second-graders showing their parents and friends their new skills on free days at Howelsen throughout the season," said Floyd.