Turns and Smiles—the Afterschool Ski and Snowboard Program


IRMS 6th grader, Alonzo Powell. (Photo submitted by Marlene Farrell)

 

Sunshine spread throughout the basin of Ski Hill for the last Wednesday session of the Cascade School District’s Afterschool Ski and Snowboard Program. It was so balmy, the skiers and riders were stuffing mittens in pockets and coming down the hills with unzipped jackets flapping. 

When they first arrived and spilled out of the school bus, they got on their gear and had a snack, with the help of supervisor Spring Miklosh and volunteer Larry Jahnke. For this last session, the kids didn’t waste any time. They crammed feet into boots and crackers into mouths so they could start duck-walking in their borrowed skis toward the big and small towropes.

This program began in 2001, as part of a 21st Century federal grant the schools received. Joan Adams, a science teacher at IRMS, oversaw the program for the first 10 years. During that time it peaked with 130 kids, using gear that was collected from donations and the ski swap, all of which was and is stored in a specially outfitted trailer.

Brett Johnson, the district’s psychologist, has been at the helm since 2011. The program has morphed over the years, and now is offered for 3rd-8th graders. It has always been a free opportunity for students who don’t have regular access to skiing or snowboarding. Of the current 40 participants, about three-quarters of them ski, while the remainder snowboard. “It’s easier to start on skis to make it up the towrope,” Brett explained.

There are adult and teen instructors. Kids particularly flock to the younger instructors, thanks to a mystique of “cool.” The ratio when teaching is often one instructor per two kids. There are five to six sessions each winter. “By the fourth Wednesday, most have progressed to the big hill. Instead of teaching, they want us to watch them.” Brett said.

At this last session, postponed because of freezing rain on one Wednesday and due to winter break, the skiers and snowboarders were happy to show off their skills. Some were making well-controlled turns, while others preferred to beeline down the hill.

There’s an air of joy and confidence. A pack of fourth grade friends had a lot to say when asked about the fun and challenges of skiing. Nayeli Madrigal-Williams said, “I love the speed, adrenaline and freedom I feel when skiing.”

Marshet Redman said, “I like the big hill—you can go a lot faster.” When asked about crashing, he said, “Yeah, you can crash. It seems like it’s going to hurt, but it doesn’t.”

Isaiah Sharpe spoke of the challenge of holding onto the big towrope. There’s a spot where kids have to hold on extra tight as the rope yanks them up a steepening pitch.

Nayeli added, “The hardest part [for me] is going straight down if there’s rough spots of snow. I just take a deep breath and calm down.”

James Munly, the Leavenworth Winter Sports Club’s General Manager, was smiling as he watched kids zipping by and a few attempting the rails in the terrain park. He said, “I think it’s an amazing program for these kids, who, for whatever reason, wouldn’t get to try skiing or snowboarding. Before I had kids I came and helped with the program, teaching snowboarding. I remember the skiers and riders would be wearing jean jackets and blue jeans and grinning from ear to ear.”

There are several students who have participated for a few years. Tana Zegstroo, an eighth grader, is in her third year with the program. She has noticed a lot of improvement each season. “On the first day of this season I was able to just ski on my own.” She’ll be in high school next year. “I want to come back and be a helper in the program.”

Alonzo Johnson, a sixth grader, is also skiing for his third season. “I always want to learn more. Brett is a great coach.” Today’s sunshine was nice, but he said, “I love the powder skiing.”

The program allows skiers and riders to learn at their own pace. And kids who struggle in the classroom have an opportunity to shine. One child in the past with a history of behavior problems proved to be a generous helper, always offering a hand when others fell down and had their skis pop off. Special needs students can participate too and learn to be independent on the hill.

The program is free to the kids, but not without costs. For the past seven years, Brett has applied for grants through the North Central Washington Foundation for Youth. They give grants to youth programs in the greater NCW region and have awarded almost $500,000 in funds since their inception 15 years ago. The grants for the Afterschool Ski and Snowboard Program cover busing, ski fitting by Osprey, the supervisor position and gear purchases, like helmets and the work gloves needed to grip the towropes.

Fortunately, the students who take part in this program don’t have to think about costs. Instead they get to focus on getting in as many runs as possible before their parents pick them up at 5 p.m. 

Joan Adams said it well. “We have a real gem in this town at Ski Hill. It’s important for everyone to have an opportunity to use it.”

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