Giving Thought: Providing a taste of the outdoors to all kids

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought

Wouldn’t it be a shame to grow up in the Roaring Fork Valley and never have the opportunity to ski?

That question weighs on Mark Godomsky’s mind. As the executive director of Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, getting kids out on the mountain is part of his job. So he feels an obligation to find those kids and families who aren’t familiar with skiing or cannot afford it, and bring them onto the slopes.

ACF: Why reach out to people/families who wouldn’t otherwise be skiers or snowboarders?

Mark Godomsky: That’s central to our mission — providing access to kids to excel at winter sports, providing them access to the mountains. We have these unbelievable resources in our back yard and there’s a huge population of underserved kids who wouldn’t have access without the club and its donors.

This whole effort started with Bob Beattie, Brooke Peterson and Charif Souki in 1989. Their program was called ASK, Aspen Supports Kids, and its mission was to help those kids up and down the valley who didn’t have access to skiing. The program was transferred to AVSC in 1993, and it’s still about creating an affordable entry point into the sport.

You have to get involved in this sport at a young age. Yes, there’s a chance they might hate it, but they may develop a framework for understanding what goes on in the mountains. I’ve heard that kids today are 50 percent less likely to be outside than their parents. We try our hardest to ensure that’s not the case here.

The other important piece is that our programs provide adult mentors for kids. No matter how far you go in skiing or snowboarding, you’ll benefit from mentorship.

ACF: Describe these families and how you reach them.

MG: These are kids who have the desire to be outside but probably wouldn’t be able to get there without the support of the Ski Club and the other organizations we work with. There are a lot of barriers to participation — financial, logistical, cultural. Many of our scholarship athletes are Latino and the first in their families to try skiing or snowboarding. Our hope is we can remove road blocks, create positive experiences and build trust.

Our first tool is word of mouth. Current families are our best recruitment tool. We do downvalley registration nights in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, and we offer those services in English and Spanish. We also partner with Challenge Aspen, the Buddy Program, Valley Settlement and Ascendigo. They work with kids and recommend families to us. We also canvass neighborhoods.

Another tool is our summer bike programs. We had 12 free summer bike clinics in Snowmass Village, Basalt and Carbondale, with the help of the El Pomar Foundation and Giant Bicycles. That’s part of an effort to transition into year-round outdoor programming and year-round outreach.

Beyond those things, we’re considering building a bilingual presence on the radio in an effort to reach all who drive up Highway 82 every morning. We need to get out and actively find these families, not just wait passively for their online registration. Some of our partners have suggested the schools and churches, so we’re exploring those options, too.

ACF: What are the programs you recruit for, and how many participants do you have?

MG: We’re close to 1,600 kids in our Base Camp program, which is essentially recreational skiing and snowboarding classes for kids from 31/2 to teens. One in three of those kids receives scholarship support, and 400 of them receive free equipment from Gorsuch or D&E Sports.

We also had about 100 kids who came to our summer bike clinics in 2017. Unlike skiing, where we have to bring you to the mountain, we can bring our bike trailer to, say, Basalt High School, where there’s a track and kids can just walk over.

This season we’re excited to have partnered with Valley Settlement to identify 20 Latino students who will participate in our Nordic base program at Spring Gulch near Carbondale.

ACF: What’s the three- to five-year plan? Are there any specific goals?

MG: Number one is continuing to work with our nonprofit partners to reach the kids who need our support to get onto the mountains. Can we identify a more intentional process of outreach? We reach a lot of kids, but how can we improve, what channels should we leverage to bring underrepresented kids into the fold? We also need to be intentional about retaining the kids into high school. We’d really love to give them the experience of skiing and biking in the outdoors throughout their childhood.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation and its Aspen to Parachute Cradle to Career Initiative.