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"How do you turn?’

Reid Williams

BRECKENRIDGE<With a lanky 6-foot-6 frame and a snow-white smile that seems to light up the smooth facets of his ebony cheeks, Peter Mabior stands out.So it’s hard to imagine him as one of 16,000 Sudanese refugees encamped in Kenya<a sea of people with an uncertain future and disappearing ancestry. The Lost Boys of Sudan, now known as Found Young Men, fled their home in 1987 to escape a renewed civil war. Of that original number, only 5,000 women and children survived 10 years later, the nomads having been taken by disease, starvation, wild animals and torrential rivers.To hear Mabior laughing, passersby at Breckenridge’s Peak 9 Village ski school area Saturday might not have guessed he could tell such a story.”I’m going backwards and I don’t know why,” Mabior said without a hint of fear. “Ha-ha! Yes!”For Mabior and nine other Sudanese 20-somethings, it was the first time on skis. When the refugees left their native land, they traveled first to Ethiopia. Then political unrest forced them back through Sudan to Kenya in 1992. There they were forgotten in camps until 2001: The United States agreed to help resettle 3,800 of the boys in 20 cities across the country. Once lost, 30 of the young men can now be found in Denver.When he arrived in April last year, Mabior saw snow for the first time. He’s getting used to it.”I love snow,” Mabior said, balancing himself with his ski poles. “It’s beautiful.”The Boys’ surprise at the wonders of a different climate and an industrial world have been well documented. Journalists from The New York Times Sunday Magazine, “60 Minutes,” “Dateline NBC,” the Denver Post and Westword have observed they boys’ hesitation in touching snow when first seeing it, the unfamiliarity of items in the supermarket, especially canned goods, and the awe inspired by an elevator.The Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC), Mountain Mentors, the Sierra Club and Denver’s Spring Institute chipped in to bring them another new experience: skiing in the mountains. The Spring Institute is a nonprofit international education organization that works with refugees, assisting them with housing and job searches, navigating American bureaucracy and getting them through English classes. Director Rich Wildau said most of the young men work two jobs, and the outing was a chance to spend an afternoon concentrating on fun instead of adapting to a new life.”It’s nice to play,” Wildau said. “They all work so hard.”The young men’s can-do spirit was helping them quickly catch on to skiing techniques. BOEC instructors went through the typical lessons<walking in the boots, the one-ski shuffle to get used to the feeling, side-stepping uphill on two skis and the “wedge,” for stopping. In less than an hour, the students were bee-lining down the gentle grade of the beginner area.”I’m not surprised,” said Chris Tambori, who teaches workshops on what expectations employers will have for the new arrivals. “They’re all motivated to make better lives for themselves. They’re getting GEDs and enrolling in college classes. They work like crazy.”They worked so hard they began to sweat in the balmy slopeside. To sweat in such a cold place made John Gieu laugh. “When you don’t know how to ski,” he said, “you stay warm<very warm.”Gieu saw skiing for the first time on television not long after he arrived in Denver. He said he immediately noticed how cold it looked and how fast the racers move. He said he was told that people fall and die while skiing.”I did not want to die,” Gieu said. “But my friends say, if I do not go, I am not a man. So I come.”The refugees adjusted to skiing just as they are adjusting to their new life. Underneath the shell pants and jackets they borrowed from the BOEC, they wore jeans, T-shirts and baseball caps; one even had a cell phone. Before they skiing day ended, they tackled the Poma lift and a steeper beginner slope.”It’s getting easier,” Magior said. “It just takes time.”And no one was really sure if he was talking about skiing, or his new life in the Rocky Mountains.Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or rwilliams@summitdaily.com.


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