Vail looks to diversify its skier makeup |

Vail looks to diversify its skier makeup

Edward Stoner
Vail correspondent
Karla Jaramillo is a member of Vail Resorts new diversity program that will give away 3,000 scholarship days this year, half to Front Range kids and half to local kids. (Shane Macomber/Vail Daily)

Aspen, CO Colorado

VAIL – Horace Jaramillo used to take his daughter skiing at Ski Cooper, the small resort near Leadville.

Eagle County’s larger ski mountains were too expensive, he said.

“Vail and Beaver Creek are just out of our range,” said Jaramillo, who lives in Gypsum and grew up in Red Cliff.

But a new program offered by Vail Resorts should help his daughter, Karla, 9, ski a lot at Vail Mountain.

Karla is one of 50 local students who received scholarships at Vail and Beaver Creek as part of the company’s new diversity program. The scholarships include a season pass, 15 days of lessons, rentals and lunches.

Vail Resorts’ two Summit County resorts are also offering 50 scholarships to local students.

Jaramillo said he thinks the scholarship will make Karla a lifelong skier.

“I don’t think too many kids get the opportunity like she did,” she said. “Not too many can afford to be out there. That really made my day when they called us and told us she had won that scholarship.”

Karla, a fourth-grader at Red Hill Elementary School, had her first scholarship day last Saturday.

The 100 local scholarships are being coupled with 1,500 one-day scholarships for Front Range minority students who come with youth, school and church groups to Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge.

For each of the previous two years, Vail Resorts offered about 2,500 skiing scholarships to minority-group children from the Front Range through the Denver-based Alpino program. The company decided to take the program in-house this year.

“(Alpino) really got us started down the right path,” said Dee Byrne, director of Vail Ski and Snowboard School.

With minority groups making up a larger percentage of the nation’s population, Vail Resorts recognizes the need to appeal to those groups, Byrne said.

“As the demographics in the United States change and the population becomes more mixed, we need to make sure we’re reaching out to citizens of all colors as a sport in order to sustain participation in the future,” she said.

A big part of that is including workers in the community who do not ski, Byrne said.

“We’ve got a whole community at the base of these ski resorts we’re not tapping into,” she said.

The perception that Vail and Beaver Creek only cater to wealthy, out-of-town clients troubles her, she said.

The company hopes to expand the program in future years, Byrne said. She said she wants to see participants become lifelong skiers, and maybe even come back to work for Vail Resorts one day.

Terry Jones, a teacher at Eastridge Elementary School in Aurora, will bring 150 students to Vail in February as part of the program. Seventy percent of students at the school are of minority groups, and 44 different languages are spoken at the school, he said.

“For a lot of our kids, it’s pretty expensive, and it’s not in their cultural realm,” he said.

Many of the children’s parents have never been skiing before they come on the trip. And some of the parents have never been in the mountains, despite being so close to them, Jones said.

One of Jones’ biggest challenges is convincing parents that skiing is safe, he said.

“We’re breaking down those stereotypes to get parents involved so kids can get involved,” he said.

29.1 percent: Minorities in Eagle County (2005).

27.9 percent: Minorities in Colorado (2005).

33 percent: Minorities in the United States (2005).

15 percent: Minority participation in skiing and snowboarding, United States (2006).

10-11 percent: Estimated minority participation in skiing and snowboarding in Colorado.

5 percent: Vail Mountain guests who are minorities.