Objective: Serving at-risk youth through snowboarding, adult mentorship and community outreach.
In a Nutshell: The Snowboard Outreach Society (SOS) partners with ski resorts, youth agencies, foundations, private corporations and snowboarders to create a mountain adventure-based program for underserved youth. The five-day program, called Learn to Ride (LTR), promotes five core values: courage, discipline, integrity, wisdom and compassion. Youth are provided with equipment, lift tickets and snowboard instruction. SOS also has a follow-up mentor program at two sites, in which students continue snowboarding, work with an adult mentor and participate in community-building projects.
Where It Happens: At 24 ski resorts in Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, New Mexico, New Hampshire, New York and Colorado.
When It Began: In 1993 in Vail, Colo.
Who Started It: Arn Menconi, former commissioner of Eagle County, Colo., and a certified snowboard instructor.
Who Runs It: Menconi, the executive director, who oversees a staff of four. SOS relies heavily on volunteer mentors to work with kids. At most of the resorts, the instructors donate their time.
Early Obstacles: Getting resorts to contribute to the program and getting grants for what was considered a “snowboard organization.”
How They Overcame It: The group slowly built a local reputation as a character-developing charity, not just a place that offers a chance to snowboard for free, says community outreach coordinator Mike Gehard. The SOS Outreach Series, an amateur snowboard competition and fund-raiser, was created to reduce reliance on grants.
Cost: $275,000 a year, plus $755,000 in in-kind services.
Who Pays: Colorado’s Vail and Booth Creek resorts are the main financial donors, while other resorts hosting SOS provide in-kind services such as lift tickets and free instruction.
Who Else Kicks In: Slifer, Smith and Frampto, a local real estate company, the Summit Foundation, and sponsors of the SOS Outreach Series.
Youth Served: SOS targets youth 8 to 18 who could benefit from structure and consistency in their lives, Gehard says. SOS has worked with more than 3,500 youths since 1993. Last season it worked with 923 youths, using 313 adult volunteers.
Youth Turn-On: The chance to snowboard.
Youth Turn-Off: In order to get a lift ticket, each youth must come prepared with a written definition of the day’s core value. “No definition, no lift ticket,” Gehard says.
Research Shows: The program recently interviewed 179 of its former LTR youths about their experiences during and after SOS over the past several years. Nearly all of the students said they were beginner-level snowboarders when they started, and 74 percent report that they still snowboard; 63 percent still “keep in touch” with people from LTR; and about half were able to recite the five core values. About 10 percent of youth opted to participate in the adult-mentoring program after graduating from LTR. (That percentage should increase as the mentoring program expands past the Eagle and Summit county clubs,
What Still Gets in the Way: “Enough funding to do the development we really would like to do,” Gehard says.