This article was originally published in the Aspen Times.
Last Saturday was a big day for Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club: it was the first official day of our Base Camp program. You may have noticed an influx in small children at Aspen Highlands and Snowmass, or seen Aspen Ski Co. pros leading small troops of athletes down all sorts of terrain. Base Camp is the recreational counterpart to our competitive alpine ski racing, snowboarding, nordic skiing, freestyle skiing and adaptive programs.
Base Camp is an incredibly unique program — most competitive ski clubs do not have a recreational portion, and even fewer have a robust scholarship program that allows them to spread winter sports to children whose families may have never participated in them before.
Base Camp started in 1989 by an altruistic group of community members who desired to increase access to on-snow programs for the youth of the Roaring Fork Valley from Aspen to Glenwood Springs and beyond. Bob Beattie, Charif Souki and Brooke Peterson established the program, initially named Aspen Supports Kids. While the name has changed, the mission remains the same: get the youth of the Roaring Fork Valley engaged in sports that have invigorated and defined this valley over the years.
Today, Base Camp programming starts at age 31/2 and continues through high school. One out of every five children in the Roaring Fork Schools participate in Base Camp, and 16 percent of our participants are from Latino households. Programs range from catering to “never-ever” skiers and snowboarders to those looking to hone their skills and conquer steep terrain and challenging features.
We know that skiing and snowboarding can be incredibly limiting financially, and therefore we aim to remove barriers to participation in an effort to get as many kids involved as possible. We don’t do this alone; we have an incredible network of community partners that share our vision and help us accomplish our goals. AVSC partners with local organizations such as the Buddy Program, Ascendigo and Challenge Aspen to involve as many children as we can. Aspen Skiing Co. provides reduced rate ski passes and an incredible team of pros, many of whom return season after season to spend their Saturdays with local youth. AVSC has an incredible group of donors who make it possible for us to award scholarships and subsidies to 99 percent of participants. Approximately 300 young skiers are outfitted in equipment donated and fit by Gorsuch, and 100 snowboarders spend the season enjoying equipment given to them by D&E.
For many young athletes, last Saturday was the first day on snow for the 2016-2017 season; for others, it was the first day on snow ever! We hope that this program is a building block to a lifelong love of skiing and snowboarding, or at the very least, exposure to something fun, confidence-building, and healthy. We hope that we’re able to continue to reduce the number of children who grow up in the Roaring Fork Valley and are never given the opportunity to experience the incredible mountains that we call home. This fall, our Base Camp director, Trish Shepard, shared a scholarship letter with the staff. The young skier wrote, “Being up on the hill makes me feel free … it takes you away from the real world.” Thank you all of those who make it possible for AVSC to continue to provide the feeling of freedom to thousands of kids each year!