Feb 14, 2024 - Culture

SOS Outreach in Colorado uses skiing to change young lives

From left to right, Alberto Marquez, Juan Carlos Granillo,  Jair Armenta, Chase Chaknova and Jamal Hutchinson ride a gondola at Beaver Creek ski resort Feb. 4. Photo: John Frank/Axios

From left to right, Alberto Marquez, Juan Carlos Granillo, Jair Armenta, Chase Chaknova and Jamal Hutchinson ride a gondola at Beaver Creek ski resort Feb. 4. Photo: John Frank/Axios

One after another, Juan Carlos, Jamal, Chase and Jair slowly descended a black diamond ski run at Beaver Creek, navigating huge moguls and a steep pitch as they struggled to stay upright on snowboards in a foot of fresh snow.

What's happening: All are enrolled in SOS Outreach, a program that takes grade-school-aged kids into the outdoors, teaching them to overcome challenges and find belonging in their communities.

  • If they can make it to the bottom of this difficult run, the thinking goes, it will boost their composure in other new or tough situations.
  • One fell face first. Another complained about riding bumps. Others needed extra time. But they made it.

What they're saying: "That extra level of accomplishment when it comes to skiing and riding, that opens doors and doors a lot of these kids didn't think was possible," says Beaver Creek COO Bobby Murphy, a former organization board member.

State of play: SOS Outreach is celebrating its 30th anniversary of taking Colorado youth β€” many of whom don't have easy access to skiing and riding β€” into the outdoors to build life skills that extend well beyond the sport.

By the numbers: In 2023, the program served 550 Denver metro area students in the fourth grade through high school.

  • If students don't know how to ski or snowboard they teach them.

Details: The four middle schoolers riding recently at Beaver Creek live in the Vail Valley, where they are enrolled in a five-year mentorship program that includes days on the mountain, skill-building workshops and community service projects.

  • Mentor Lucas Minas, a 24-year-old research assistant at the Steadman clinic, and junior mentor Alberto Marquez, a 17-year-old program alumni, guide them with a mix of snowboarding tips and discussions about values like perseverance.

The intrigue: When asked their favorite part of the program, all agree it's the ride days like this one. But they also enjoy the service projects. "We just get to help our community," Jair Armenta, an 11-year-old from Edwards, says while riding in the gondola back to the top.

The big picture: The Colorado-born program's reach is expanding as partner Vail Resorts expands its portfolio across the country, Murphy tells us. To him, one of the key parts of the program is breaking down barriers to entering the sport and stereotypes about who participates.

  • The partnership recognizes that "if we are going to be successful and sustainable in this industry, going forward we have to change the way we look," he says.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to clarify that the the outreach program served 550 young people in 2023 β€” its 29th (not 30th) year.

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