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Snowsports Give Back: Bridging the Slopes and the City

The Ruby Hill terrain park dovetails into a Winter Park program that gives students from Denver Public Schools a special deal at the resort's ski school.

Several nonprofits are working to bring underprivileged kids from Denver to the mountains for skiing, snowboarding and life lessons.

Ruby Hill Park gets a few skiable acres with a few of its snowmaking guns and a snowcat and volunteer time and effort from its employees.

Chris Anthony's goal for the 2014-15 school year was to speak to 14,000 kids. He was halfway there as of mid-January.

The Chill Foundation enjoying a day at Loveland.

Denver Parks and Recreation and Winter Park Resort have teamed to bring the mountain experience to Denver in the form of the Ruby Hill Rail Yard, which opened on Jan. 9 for its ninth season.

The kids take what they learn in the mountains back to their communities in the form of service projects they devise as part of the program.

Anthony is currently showing Warren Miller's Climb to Glory, a documentary about the 10th Mountain Division training in Colorado during World War II, in tandem with his talks.

Ivan Sherpas working one-on-one with a student with autism from the I Have A Dream foundation, Sam.

The snowcapped peaks on the horizon can sometimes feel like they're a million miles away. Several nonprofits are working to bring underprivileged kids from Denver to the mountains for skiing, snowboarding and life lessons.
"I remember not being a good student and having a hard time being engaged with academics," says Chris Anthony, one of Colorado's foremost freeskiers and frequent star of the extreme snowsports films from Warren Miller Entertainment.

But certain programs would wake his inner student: "I clearly remember speakers coming in and having something interesting to say."

Now Anthony dedicates a notable chunk of time to giving back by speaking at schools in Colorado, including several in Denver.

After attaining fame and fortune playing in the powder, "I realized I was in a position of responsibility," says Anthony, who grew up in Denver and has been speaking at schools since the late 1990s.

It follows that he started the Chris Anthony Youth Initiative Project last year to help bring the mountains to kids who don't necessarily have the chance to experience them firsthand. His lofty goal for the 2014-15 school year was to speak to 14,000 kids. He was halfway there as of mid-January.

Anthony is currently showing Warren Miller's Climb to Glory, a documentary about the 10th Mountain Division training in Colorado during World War II, in tandem with his talks. "The schools love it," he says. "It's Colorado history, it's world history, and it's fun."

But it's also about inspiring students. "It's about dreaming big," says Anthony. "A lot of them haven't been out of an urban setting."

To this end, he's been working to take a class of fifth-graders from Gilpin Elementary in Five Points to Winter Park for a day on the slopes. The kids have raised $1,200 from a bake sale and a talent show. "If they need more, I've got it covered," says Anthony.

Bringing the city to the mountainsSeveral nonprofits are working to bring underprivileged kids from Denver to the mountains for skiing, snowboarding and life lessons.

Anthony is not alone in his efforts. There are a number of philanthropic efforts to bring Denver kids the the slopes -- and vice versa. SOS Outreach and Chill Denver are among the nonprofits bringing students to the mountains.

Edwards-based SOS Outreach was born out of anti-snowboarding sentiment in Vail about 20 years ago. A ban at the resort was being discussed, so a group of local boarders took it upon themselves to rehabilitate the sport's image. A fundraiser led to a series of one-day outings for Denver kids who'd never been to the high country, says Seth Ehrlich, SOS Outreach's executive director. "That one-day program turned into a five-day program, and that five-day program has become our cornerstone."

Over 4,000 Colorado kids have participated in the program as of 2015, about half of them from Denver. The trips typically take them to ski areas within two hours of the city and the program now encompasses skiing and summer activities as well as snowboarding.

"At the end of the day, SOS's goal is to promote lifetime achievement and high school graduation," says Ehrlich. "We're layering in off-the-hill activity in leadership development."

The kids take what they learn in the mountains back to their communities in the form of service projects they devise as part of the program. Kids have tackled everything from bullies to litter.

The data shows that SOS Outreach is making an impact on academic achievement and decision-making, says Ehrlich. Case in point: A recent survey found that 60 percent of college-age past participants were currently enrolled in college. According to a 2011 study by the Pell Institute, only 28 percent of high school seniors from high-poverty schools continue to college nationally.

But SOS can't do it alone. "Our success and all of our impacts are created with our partnerships with Denver organizations and schools," Ehrlich adds.

The organization's volunteer mentors work with participants on and off the slopes; the best way to get involved by volunteering or donating gear or money via the SOS Outreach website.

The Chill Foundation launched in Vermont in 1997 and expanded to Denver a decade ago. It now works with 80 to 200 Denver-area kids annually, Plankenhorn says. The same groups of kids go up six times a season.

"We get underprivileged kids out of the Denver metro area and gear them up and take them to Loveland Ski Area," says Rachel Plankenhorn of Chill Denver. Loveland provides lessons free of charge.

But it's not all about learning to snowboard. "On the bus ride, we teach life lessons about patience, pride, perseverance, pride, responsibility, respect and courage," says Plankenhorn. "We try to use snowboarding as a tool to teach them. A lot of them don't realize they're learning life lessons."

Gateway High School sophomore Zoie Ortiz is back as a peer leader after going through as a participant in middle school. "It was a passion and that passion comes from the heart," says Ortiz of her continued involvement with Chill Denver. "It meant so much to me, I wanted to share the opportunity with others."

Plankenhorn says Chill Denver has "tons of volunteer opportunities," both on the trips to Loveland on Sundays and Tuesdays and at fundraisers.

Bringing the mountains to the cityDenver Parks and Recreation and Winter Park Resort have teamed to bring the mountain experience to Denver in the form of the Ruby Hill Rail Yard, which opened on Jan. 9 for its ninth season.

Back in city limits, Denver Parks and Recreation and Winter Park Resort have teamed to bring the mountain experience to Denver in the form of the Ruby Hill Rail Yard, which opened on Jan. 9 for its ninth season.

"It's a partnership between Winter Park Resort and the city of Denver to bring skiing and riding to underserved kids," says Winter Park spokesperson Steven Hurlbert. "It's taken off and has been an incredible success."

Ruby Hill Park gets a few skiable acres with a few of its snowmaking guns and a snowcat and volunteer time and effort from its employees. Christy Sports chips in with free rental gear on weekends.

The Ruby Hill terrain park dovetails into a Winter Park program that gives students from Denver Public Schools a special deal at the resort's ski school.

"To us, it's about trying to engender a love for skiing and snowboarding in kids who might otherwise not have a chance to experience that," says Hurlbert. "I think the future of any sport depends on its ability to engage the youth and this is a great way to do that. It's a chance for us to give back."

And that's the end goal of every snow-centric nonprofit in Denver: giving back to the community.

Chris Anthony, for one, says he's found a good local support network. "The Anschutz Foundation pushed for me to keep this going because they saw the value in it," he says, also giving kudos to the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center for its support.

"It's so rewarding," adds Anthony. "Now I'm getting feedback from fifth-graders who are now graduating from college. It's pretty cool."

This story was produced in partnership with The Denver Foundation as part of a series on giving and philanthropy. Read more stories from this series here.

Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

Eric is a Denver-based tech writer and guidebook wiz. Contact him here.
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