Every year I am reminded that cross-country skiing has an amazing potential that all of us know intuitively but find hard put into words. While FasterSkier is a website devoted primarily to news and information about competitive skiing at the highest levels, it is sometimes good to explore the many side streets of the sport. One of those is a truly amazing program in Crested Butte, Colorado that has its roots back in about 1988 when my son Andrew was just a 1st grader and, like every other resort brat, only wanted to fly down the “double blacks” on his alpine skis. He, along with about 10 other high energy children, had the privilege of timing and great teacher/coaches who appeared at the inception of the Crested Butte Nordic Center. The end result of this was a life-changing experience for both of my children and a very respectable ski team which included the likes of Rebecca Quinn/Dussault, Andrew, and many other national Junior Olympic competitors. Seeing what a life-changing experience this was for them convinced me that we should make the sport accessible to children in our county that otherwise would never have an opportunity to put on a pair of skis.
Long ago, I had worked as a YMCA outreach program director giving urban kids from poverty backgrounds the chance to experience the outdoors. This would be the same kind of outreach, so about 10 years ago, an extension of our serious junior Nordic program was made to include students in both Crested Butte and Gunnison Elementary schools. In CB we see this as a part of their PE program, getting them out of the confinement of the school gym. In Gunnison, it's a different story. There you see a much more diverse population of kids – from those in the more privileged income brackets to those living in trailers and low-income housing, plus a significant Mexican immigrant population. Their parents may work in some aspect of the ski industry but these are children who never even see Crested Butte, let alone get to put on a pair of skis. The program really kicked into high gear with Keith Bauer as our CBNC director, and funding from a variety of sources including the Crested Butte PTA and Gunnison County governmental sources. What is the final result besides warm fuzzies for everyone involved?
Here are a few snapshots: every CB elementary school student gets to learn cross-country skiing. For the first time, this year, all 3rd graders in Gunnison were included, not just the kids in my 3rd grade class. The thank you notes they have written to the staff at the Nordic Center are instructive and heartwarming. (“Dear Nordic Center, Thank you for teaching us to ski. My favorite thing was making jumps and crashing into the snow.” or…”Thank you for taking us skiing. I thought I would freeze to death when the storm came and we raced back to the Center but I learned I can do anything when the going gets tough.”)
My favorites are the little Mexican immigrant kids. Every year I am blown away by how effortlessly they take to skiing on the very first day. Contrast that with the adult tourists who never make it off the practice loop during their first lesson. These kids don't even know that adults think this is a hard sport to learn. Some of the Gunnison kids have gone on to find their own ski equipment and have used it in the most unlikely places….ranch kids out in a snowblown horse pasture, town kids sliding down the hillsides by Western St. College! The Gunnison Rec. Dept now boasts their own winter xc ski program with over 50 kids participating after school in the town park and on tracks set by the college ski team.
Kendall and Ingrid Butts have started a new junior racing program now that their own kids are coming into that age group. They have about 10 kids, all of whom started out with the school trips to CBNC. Once they got to participate in one of the JO race weekends in Crested Butte, they were hooked! I would challenge other Nordic ski centers around the country to look at providing the same outreach type programs. I know some of them already do. We in Gunnison County owe a huge debt to Keith and all the CBNC staff for the energy they pour into this effort!
Everardo Rosas and Fermin Flores…
Fermin….most relaxed kid I've ever seen… this is literally his first downhill trip