Shining Stars Foundation takes over Buttermilk after two years away

Eli Taft, center, gets in a few turns with the Shining Stars Foundation on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Snow in the forecast, clouds in the sky and the cold wind blowing on the chairlifts didn’t stop Eli Taft, Roy Drinkall and their instructor Marty Roberts from making the most of their second day at Shining Stars Foundation’s Aspen Winter Games.

The Shining Stars Foundation is a nonprofit that serves children and families with pediatric cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Each year, they host the Aspen Winter Games at Buttermilk Ski Area and this year was the first year back since 2020. Because many of the children are immunocompromised from their various illnesses and treatments, they had to postpone the games the past two years.

Aspen Winter Games began last Friday and goes until this Friday. In addition to the skiing and snowboarding, the kids participate in events like scavenger hunts, bingo nights and a disco dance party at the Aspen Elks Lodge.

The kids travel to Aspen and are given everything they need to ski and ride, including lift tickets, gear, lodging, meals, transportation and one-on-one adaptive lessons. The Shining Stars Foundation also brings along doctors and nurses, which Roberts said helps put the parents at more at ease.

Kids come across the programs in many ways, Roberts said. Sometimes, a nurse or doctor at a hospital will recommend one of their patients to the Shining Stars Foundation head doctor, Dr. Larry McCleary, which allows the foundation to bring in kids from across the country.

Roy Drinkall, right, and Eli Taft enjoy the day out with the Shining Stars Foundation on Sunday at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Instructor Marty Roberts, center, walks to the chairlift with Roy Drinkall, left, and Eli Taft while out with the Shining Stars Foundation at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

It wasn’t hard to find the Shining Stars athletes at Buttermilk. They stayed at the Inn at Buttermilk, which was decorated with banners, signs, balloons and, of course, stars. Outside of their designated area, marked with a huge inflatable arch with the Shining Stars name on it, was a tent with all of the adaptive ski and snowboarding gear for instructors and athletes.

Though there were plenty of activities for the kids to choose from, both Eli and Roy agreed the best part was the skiing and it was what they were most excited for.

“It’s fun,” said Eli, a 12-year-old from Monument. “I’m definitely learning a lot.”

Eli and Roy said they get anywhere from four to six days of skiing in each year, so when they showed up at Buttermilk they were ready to take on Summit Express and West Buttermilk, at least to start.

Instructor Marty Roberts, right, chats with Roy Drinkall while out with the Shining Stars Foundation.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Roy, a 14 year old from Woodland Park, said his favorite run was Bear, which was proven by his enthusiastic “Yes!” when Roberts asked them if they wanted to go down it while riding up the Summit Express lift.

The boys got on and off the lifts with ease and made quick, effortless turns down the mountain. Each time Roberts stopped midway down the hill to offer advice, they listened intently before taking their next turns.

“They are very polite and mature,” said Roberts, who started teaching Eli and Roy on Saturday and will stick with them throughout the week.

Roberts is on the Shining Stars board of directors and has been with the nonprofit since its beginnings in 2001. She’s currently a ski instructor at Winter Park, but previously was an adaptive ski instructor and continues to teach at the Aspen Winter Games.

At one point, Roberts pointed out that one side of the run was harder terrain than the other side. Although Eli and Roy immediately said they wanted to take the easier side, after two or three turns they made their way over to the steeper terrain and made perfect turns all the way down.

“I can tell I am learning how to ski better,” said Eli, while showing which run they were about to do from the West Buttermilk lift.

“The emphasis of the week is on empowering each child and giving them a sense of hope, by pushing them to accomplish things on the mountain that they never thought possible,” according to the Shining Stars website. “Each child learns to focus on all that they can do, rather than their limitations.”

Eli Taft gets in a few turns with the Shining Stars Foundation on Sunday at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Roy Drinkall enjoys the day at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Eli Taft enjoys the day out with the Shining Stars Foundation on Sunday at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
A sit skier gets in a few turns with the Shining Stars Foundation on Sunday.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

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