Aspen High School student starts nonprofit to improve access to skiing, snowboarding
In March 2023, Aspen High School junior Robert Helsing hatched an idea for a program that would give students in the Roaring Fork Valley easier access to the mountains he’s fallen in love with since moving to Aspen in 2021.
Helsing wanted to find a way to remove the expensive barriers to entry to skiing and snowboarding for students who may not be able to afford gear, lift tickets, or time to spend learning to ski or snowboard. After brainstorming with fellow students and learning the ins and outs of starting a business, the Aspen Inclusion Project was born.
“This is not a school project, this is something that I just feel passionate about,” Helsing said. “I love skiing and I love good people and I think more people should have the ability to ski and experience the same luxuries that I do.”
The Aspen Inclusion Project is a nonprofit, peer-led tutoring program for middle and high school students in the valley. It will pair participants with student tutors for weekly Zoom meetings, and by completing tutoring sessions the participants will receive up to seven free ski or snowboard lessons with an Aspen Skiing Co. instructor.
Lift tickets, equipment, and meals will be paid for during the lessons.
The project is in its early stages, but Helsing hopes to get four to eight students registered in the program before the end of the ski season. He is beginning to look for donors to help get the project running and help him reach a fundraising goal of $25,000.
The Aspen Inclusion Project will also host fundraisers throughout the year to get students involved with the program right at the start of next season. If the project raises enough money, Helsing hopes it can provide students with ski lessons every weekend of the ski season.
SkiCo’s involvement will look similar to its school ski day program, said Hannah Berman, SkiCo senior manager of sustainability and philanthropy. The program provides ski and snowboard lessons to students in the valley on a pay-what-you-can basis for lift tickets and rentals.
“We think if you grow up in the valley, you should be on the mountain at least once a year and learning how to ski as you grow up,” Berman said.
Students who are interested in tutoring with the Aspen Inclusion Project will receive community service hours, Helsing said.
Helsing is working with other students at Aspen High School to get the program off the ground. Sharif Khan is the chief operating officer, Mateo Taffarelli is the graphic designer, and Collin Luu is the chief content officer.
Students who are interested in the program can sign up via a form on the Aspen Inclusion Project’s website, aspeninclusionproject.org/ski. Those interested in donating can fill out a pledge form at aspeninclusionproject.org/donate.
“This is an opportunity for all of Aspen to come together and support something that I know that Aspen Skiing Company, and Aspen Snowmass as a whole, has been trying to achieve for a long time, just to bring skiing to more people and get rid of this financial or economic discrimination,” Helsing said. “Our project aims for equality and inclusion and I think that it can really go somewhere, as long as we have the support from our community.”
The Aspen School District is considering pursuing another bond measure for the November ballot to continue building and acquiring housing for district staff.