ASPEN - With an enthusiasm normally reserved for a Black Friday sale, the crowd came early to the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club's Equipment Night. The invitation said 4 p.m., but parents and children started trickling into Gorsuch in the Gondola Plaza and into D&E/Four Mountain Sports on Durant Avenue at least an hour early.A reflection of the economy as much as it was unbridled excitement by youth who can't wait to get back on snow, Equipment Night has evolved from a modest giveaway for dozens of scholarship applicants to the only way many families can share the joys of skiing and riding with the next generation.Demand has increased every year since the program's inception, and it's all hands on deck at both stores during the actual fitting night, which was Nov. 28. Last year, about 250 families received free setups - ski equipment from Gorsuch and snowboard equipment from D&E/Four Mountain Sports. This year, it's 300 complimentary packages ... and counting.Cheek to jowl, the kids and parents jammed the store creating a nervous anticipation that was part sugar high (plenty of free cookies) and part "will they run out of stuff before it's my turn?"No worries there, as Jeff Gorsuch, along with a staff led by Jared Ettlinger, made sure everyone will have their day in the sun on equipment that's only one season old. Just down the block at D&E, Aaron Kane and Matt Tietz measured riders for their own perfect boards.The ski-rental program allows users to hold onto their gear after the season (or pass it along to someone else), while snowboards and boots are returned in the spring.Just yards away from the mayhem, a few dozen adults gathered, many in awe of the spectacle and the number of volunteers who made this happen.It was all put into perspective when AVSC executive director Mark Cole shared the contents of a letter he received from a scholarship applicant. The young man wrote of how difficult times were in his household these days, as his mom struggled to pay his school fees. Ski lessons and gear would be an otherwise unaffordable luxury were it not for the club and community's assistance.What also emerged from this heartfelt missive was the youngster's love of snow sports and gratitude at having the chance to indulge. Suddenly, he became every kid who's ever laughed with friends when falling into a heap of powder or yelled really, really loudly after catching big air for the first time.It's a common theme with hundreds of variations. To wit: Of AVSC's 2,200 members in its recreational and competitive programs, one in three is on scholarship, and only a tiny percentage pay the full freight of program costs.What greater present could the community offer to its next generation than the gift of skiing and riding?