COLLECTIVELY, we're always game for a classic kind of tale. You know, "Boy meets girl. Boy marries girl. Boy and girl move to Utah. Boy decides to join local arm of youth improvement program, thereby changing lives through the magic of snowboarding. Boy and girl buy house with cityhomeCOLLECTIVE." It's a sweet story that never gets old.
Zac Barnes is an avid supporter of his sport. Snowboarding since he was an unruly teen, it was the driving force behind his solid grades...without a good job, he knew he couldn't afford a lift pass. "Snowboarding became my reason to do anything," he says. So it's no wonder that he's become the local coordinator for the CHILL Foundation, SLC. "Chill is a non-profit501(c)(3) that provides opportunities for underserved youth to build self esteem and life skills through snowboarding and other sports." It's a fitting position for Zac. After a stint in the army [where he still managed to get up to the hill sometimes], he married his wife, Danielle, and worked in a skate/snow shop in upstate NY. Then one day--in a decision that took all of five seconds--the two decided to move to our salty mecca, where he got a job at Salty Peaks. After four years of peddling boards for knuckle draggers and plank pushers, he saw the open position for Chill's local coordinator. "I could finally give back to the sport that gave so much to me." In the kind of full circle we love to see, the new job meant that Zac and Danielle would need a home office from which he could work. And since we just so happen to sell damn fine homes, they came straight to us. Our savvy agent, Monica Draper, joined the process with a hearty salute and found them a place. They moved in. Everybody's a winner.
The Chill Program was started by Jake and Donna Carpenter [of Burton Snowboards] in Burlington, Vermont in 1997. It was meant simply to bring the sport to youth who would have never had the chance to try it otherwise, and in a stroke of someone's genius, an arm of the organization came to Utah in 2003 [we assume because we gots the snow that everybody wants...usually.] But Chill isn't a "learn to ride" program, strictly speaking. Instead, they're doing it with an eye toward youth development, in general. Yes, 100 kids from all over the valley are taken up to Brighton to learn to snowboard for six weeks, but, says Zac, "We use our time on the bus rides up to teach lessons based on our six weekly themes of respect, patience, persistence, responsibility, courage, and pride." For every group of 5 kids, the program has a chaperone, and they're also required to participate. "It's great for the youth to see adults they know falling down and experiencing all the same issues that they're having on the mountain." Rather than Chill being tasked with selecting the youths who will benefit from the program, they work with existing organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, after-school programs, the juvenile justice system, refugee groups, etc. Each group has its own criteria for determining who will participate; for Chill's part, they ask that those involved haven't snowboarded before and wouldn't have the means to otherwise go. Best part: Chill is 100% free of charge for the kids involved. "We give them a break from it all and we do what we can to help them look past any frustrations of their current situation. Many of the youths we work with haven't ever been up our local canyons, let alone on a mountain, so alongside our lesson plans, we'll offer up impromptu teachings that are specific to our Utah landscape [i.e. we'll talk to them about the watershed]. It's amazing that a simple ride can take you worlds away, even though you're just 30 minutes from home, and we try to stress the importance of that."
We joined Zac and the gang for a day at Brighton in an attempt to capture the magic--the delight was palpable. It's obvious that the kids involved are having an absurdly good time, low as the level of know-how may be in some cases. "I had one youth who--on the first day--was so scared that he wouldn't let go of my arms," Zac recalls. "It was straight-up death trap status. But, by the time we reached the bottom, he was yelling at me to stop reaching out to help him. His confidence had forever been changed in the course of just 200 yards and 15 minutes time." He gets to see these sorts of inspiring/transitional/pivotal moments all the time. "The lessons learned by falling down and having to get back up translate to many aspects of people's lives. Snowboarding dictates that you stand sideways, rather than facing the mountain head-on…this is a new feeling to most anyone that tries the sport, and it forces them to see things differently. It's a fresh perspective. Plus, there's something about overcoming a fear or an obstacle that just brings everyone together. It's really amazing to witness."
Snowboarding is the official sport-of-choice for Chill, but they're also branching out a bit, so as to connect with the kids on a more consistent basis…soon, they'll do the same with skateboarding and stand-up paddle boarding. All told, its a fantastic program that's changing young lives. The biggest expense being tickets and rentals, there are yearly events that enable Chill to raise funds to keep things going. On March 14th, FICE will host Tomorrow Art, where they'll auction snowboards that have been painted by local artists [think: Andrew Moncrief and Josh Scheuerman, among others]. Count us in. Additionally, on March 28th, Shredfest will be taking place at Brighton; this is Chill's biggest fundraising event, and an opportunity for us all to help see that this program have a lengthy future. Click the links below for more info.