Here in Oregon, we believe the outdoors are for everyone. But does everyone have equal access to the outdoors? Oftentimes the answer is no. Winter sports, like recreational skiing and snowboarding, are especially out of reach for many. Barriers include cost, transportation, equipment and, for some, there’s a perception that the outdoors aren’t for them or that accessing them is insurmountable.
This is where Oregon non-profit organizations have stepped up, including the Portland chapters of The Chill Foundation and SOS Outreach and the local Snowdays Foundation. Oregon’s only non-profit ski area, Mt. Ashland, has developed a program as well. These groups are providing a diverse demographic of underserved youth access to the ski slopes and all the fun, character building, connection with nature and community that come with it.
Oregon ski areas are on board in supporting these efforts. “Giving kids the opportunity to get into the mountains, benefits everyone,” says Chris Kastner, director of resort services at Mt. Hood Meadows. “We care about these kids, and we want to see society be a better place. We appreciate the opportunity to be a part of changing kids’ lives.”
Through these efforts, Oregon is evolving its ski culture, a culture that better reflects the diverse population of this state. The following programs partner with area schools and youth agencies. Each of these programs is unique, but they share the overall goal of introducing minority and disadvantaged youth to winter sports and all the new skills, lessons and community that come with that.
The Chill Foundation
The Chill Foundation (aka Chill) was founded by the owners of Burton Snowboards, Donna Carpenter, and the late Jake Burton Carpenter in 1995. This positive youth development program partners with agencies serving kids who are facing a variety of challenges and provides them with an opportunity to learn to snowboard at Mt. Hood Meadows for free through a six-week course.
The program revolves around six core values — respect, courage, patience, persistence, responsibility and pride. These values are applied during the course of their ride from Portland to Mt. Hood Meadows, during their snowboard lessons and further explored off-snow. The goal is to provide youth with a foundation and framework for learning and growing, supported and enhanced through on-board progression, personal reflection, and adult mentorship.
Chill operates year-round in Portland, with similar programs in skateboarding, surfing and stand-up paddleboarding, further introducing youth to the abundant outdoor recreation in Oregon.
SOS Outreach was founded in 1993 to promote positive snowboard culture. The program quickly found its footing as a mentorship program, introducing life-changing programs to underserved youth with a focus on snowboarding. SOS Outreach now operates 15 locations in nine states, including Oregon. For more than 15 years, the organization has introduced snowboarding and skiing to Portland-area kids on the slopes of Mt. Hood Meadows.
The program includes five days on the mountain learning-to-ride with gear provided. Each day is focused on one of the six SOS core values — courage, discipline, integrity, wisdom, compassion and humility — which are then tied to the days on-snow lesson. While the group was founded in snowboarding, skiing is also offered; the ratio at Mt. Hood is about 75% snowboarding and 25% skiing. The culmination of the program ties together outdoor exploration, leadership skills, and community service to empower youth to overcome challenges, improve their mental health, and cultivate belonging in the outdoor community.
Snowdays Foundation, an all volunteer operated organization, serves deserving young people from Portland mentoring agencies by introducing them to snowboarding. The focus of this organization is all about accessing the on-snow experience and empowering youth through snowboarding. Snowdays covers all costs for the day with support from Timberline’s Summit Pass (formerly Summit Ski Area).
The program organizes 12 different outings through the winter for groups of 20 participants and 10 volunteers. The day includes coaching and a full day on-snow at Summit Pass in the village of Government Camp. Being on snow at a mountain engages students in a physical and mental way that takes them out of their environment and challenges them. The goal is to give kids who might not otherwise have the opportunity to visit the mountains, let alone snowboard, that experience.
Winter Wellness Day
The Southern Oregon non-profit ski resort of Mt. Ashland hosts an annual Winter Wellness Day. The ski area partners with organizations that serve underrepresented populations in the Rogue Valley to bring families up to experience the surrounding beauty of the Siskiyou and Cascade Mountains and the escape of winter sports. This day of skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing includes free transportation, rentals, lessons, tickets, free lunch and outerwear.