Thursday, April 18, 2024
LEAVENWORTH

Winter program introduces skiing and snowboarding to local students

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LEAVENWORTH – Every Wednesday afternoon, Leavenworth Winter Sports Club (LWSC) hosts over 60 kids at Ski Hill who are a part of Cascade School District’s after-school ski and board program for grades 3-8. 

“It's really for kids who typically don't get the chance to do this type of thing, so we're looking for kids whose families typically don't ski and snowboard, and this isn't their regular routine. It's all about introducing kids to winter sports and winter activity up here,” said program organizer Brett Johnson.

According to Johnson, the program started over twenty years ago but has taken a big shift since the pandemic. Prior to COVID, the students would arrive by bus and receive their gear and day passes on-site every Wednesday. In order to keep the program running during that time, students had to arrive on their own but received gear and a pass for the whole season. Although buses are back, the gear and pass model has stayed the same.

Callie Baker, LWSC’s Director of Programs and Memberships, suggested the season pass idea for the kids and even created the Sponsored Skier program, in which LWSC pass holders can put money towards a pass for kids in the community. 

According to Baker, the symbolism of wearing a season pass instead of standing out with a bright green day pass goes a long way in making kids feel included at Ski Hill.

“I think giving them ownership of the season pass has just got to feel good. They get really excited when we hand them out and get really sad when they lose them, which is not infrequent,” said Baker.

At the beginning of the season, students gather in the cafeteria at Alpine Lakes Elementary to sign waivers, pick up their passes, and check out gear at no cost. The program relies on community support such as LWSC’s passes, volunteers, fundraising from the PTO of Alpine Lakes and Peshastin-Dryden Elementary, and a grant from the Community Foundation of North Central Washington.

Then, every Wednesday, Johnson and other volunteers arrive just before 3 p.m. to set up tarps and extra gear. At ten after, the students arrive by bus and swarm the tarps to get ready. Johnson gives them a quick safety briefing before they scatter across the magic carpet and both rope tows. About six to eight volunteers help manage the areas and help kids with their skills.

Ski Hill stays open to the public during the program, so kids are often skiing amongst peers who aren’t in the program.

“Once a week, it levels the playing field… to just open the door and break down that barrier and have all those kids skiing on Wednesdays at the same time,” said Baker.

Fourth grader Catalia Espinoza is in her second year of participating in the program. Last year was the first time she had ever skied.

“I learned a lot more things than I did at the beginning because at first I didn't learn how to, like, stop and stuff, but now I do. [Tonight] I’m going to work on how to jump,” said Espinoza.

Fourth grader Hayley Helvie is also in her second year of the program.

“It’s really fun…I just like getting to ski and like having a chance to do fun things during the winter,” said Hayley.

Hayley’s dad, Justin Helvie, helped Hayley get her boots on before she headed to the rope tow.

“It's amazing that kids get a chance to do something like this in a school setting. Not everybody can say that for most kids growing up. We didn't have it, so it's nice to see that their generation gets to,” said Justin.

A program designed to get kids on the ski hill has also inadvertently gotten parents on the hill. Many parents like Helvie hang out in the base area, watching their kids learn how to ski and interacting with other parents who also may or may not ski.

Cristobal Cortez is one of those parents who comes every Wednesday to watch his 8-year-old son Cristian lap the little rope tow.

“"Pienso que está muy bien. Les ayuda a que aprendan a esquiar desde temprana edad y pues, mucha ayuda para los niños. Muchas gracias al programa,” said Cortez.

Because kids are able to go skiing on days outside of the program, it’s also encouraged parents to join and learn how to ski themselves.

“We've seen parents get into skiing and take Nordic lessons, and I really think it’s been a gateway to get some kids and families who weren't skiing [before]. It's really opened the door to their whole family and the things that we offer in our community [during the winter],” said Baker.

Special thanks to Clare Morrison of Peshastin Library, who helped edit the Spanish portion of this article.

Taylor Caldwell: 509-433-7276 or taylor@ward.media

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