Denver kids learn self-confidence and life skills in snowboarding experience |

Denver kids learn self-confidence and life skills in snowboarding experience

KEYSTONE – Paul Herrera beamed as he rode about 15 feet down the hill and came to a clean stop – all without falling – on his snowboard at Keystone Resort Saturday morning.

The never-ever boarder attributes his newfound snowboarding skills to his ability to learn things quickly.

“I’ve always been good at stuff I try,” said the ninth-grade North High School student. “Now I’m going to ask my parents for a snowboard for Christmas.” And he marched back up the hill, dragging his board behind him.

Herrera was one of 18 teens who participated in the Snowboard Outreach Society’s (SOS) annual program that uses boarding as a means of teaching courage, discipline, wisdom, integrity and compassion.

“It’s hard,” said Alazar Tadele, a sixth-grader from Morey Middle School in Denver. “To make a left turn, you have to keep your heels down and your toes up, and to make a right turn, you have to keep your heels up and your toes down.”

Shauntal Rodriguez, a seventh-grader at Mandalay Middle School in Denver, said she’s learned courage – the first value promoted by SOS.

“It’s scary,” she said. “You’re thinking about falling on your face if you lean too far to one side or if you lean too far to the other side.”


Life skills

Saturday’s lesson – the first of five – was all about courage, a value SOS instructors hope to instill in kids during the program and one they hope the students can use in other aspects of their lives.

“The first day is hard, so they have to learn courage,” said Mark Lawes, who has been teaching with SOS for four years. “The second day, they’re just starting to get it, so they’re learning the discipline of the sport. They’re training themselves. The third day, they learn wisdom; they’re learning when to do what. The fourth day, they learn integrity. They learn to become someone of their word, that they’ll show up for practice, that they’re committed. The fifth day, they learn compassion. They learn that, as a team, they helped each other out.”

The idea of the program, said field coordinator Jodi Link, is to enable the kids to take those skills and apply them to other parts of their lives where they might not have as much control.

“Snowboarding is only half of what we’re trying to instill in these kids,” Lawes said. “Snowboarding is a fun thing they can accomplish, but we want to show them there’s nothing they can’t accomplish with a little effort and determination.”

According to group’s Web site, SOS’s vision is to be honest, take responsibility and live the dream. The organization serves students ages 8 to 18 who benefit from the love, structure and consistency provided in the course.

These young people might be considered to be “at-risk” of not becoming positive, contributing members of society for one or more reasons. Many come from a single-parent or low-income homes. Others might live with substance abuse, physical and verbal abuse, non-English speaking parents or multi-generational involvement with the court system. Some are the children of first-generation immigrants.

The staff at SOS refuses to think of their students as “at risk” kids.

“It’s more about at-risk adults,” Link said. “Adults are at-risk if they’re not helping. I feel I’m missing out on something if I’m not out here. Being able to help people allows me to be able to function. It helps me feel better about living.”


A day on the hill

The Learn to Ride Program is SOS’s fundamental program, designed to teach kids resilience.

Each morning begins with a discussion about the core value, and the activities of the day elicit examples of that value in action. In addition, SOS adults encourage the students to look for ways these values affect their everyday decisions.

At the end of five weeks, the students graduate by acknowledging a strength in each of his or her classmates. In turn, classmates and instructors acknowledge the student. Using these methods, SOS helps students turn risk into resilience.

Snowboarding is the fish hook, Link said.

“It lures them into getting excited about life,” she said. “It’s the “cool’ factor. It’s a tool they can use to see the good in most situations.”

The rewards are numerous, Lawes said.

“For me, the reward is taking a group of kids who wouldn’t ever get this opportunity and take them from never-ever snowboarders to a reasonable level of confidence,” he said. “At the same time, I’m teaching them the core values of SOS. Hopefully, they’ll learn how to snowboard and deal with situations in life with a different attitude and a different outlook.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or

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