I’m one of the lucky ones. My Dad started me skiing as a kid. The result was a lifelong passion that’s influenced everything from where I live today to how I make my living.
I don’t know where I’d be without it.
But for many kids, skiing is as remote as, say, a trip to the moon. And while skiing may not affect everyone as profoundly as it did me, exposure to the sport does have its benefits. It’s a way to enjoy the outdoors in the winter, connect with mountains, and stay physically fit. Plus it’s just plain fun.
Enter SkiDUCK, a new national non-profit volunteer-based organization that stands for Skiing and snowboarding for Disabled and Underprivileged Children and older Kids. An outreach program that involves establishing partnerships between ski resorts and youth organizations, SkiDUCK is dedicated to exposing kids to the joys of the skiing and/or snowboarding experience.
I recently spoke with Clint Lunde, self proclaimed ski addict and the organization’s excecutive director and founder:
SD: What inspired you to create SkiDUCK?
CL: I’d left a company and decided to intentionally force myself through a “pseudo mid-life crisis” during my new career search. Fortunately, I was at a point in my life that I was ready for a period of self-reflection and deep soul searching. As part of that process, I kept asking questions like: What is my purpose? How can I make more of a difference? How can I better use my passion and skills for a greater good? If money weren’t an issue, what would I be doing? And, rather than focusing on a job or career, how can I turn my passion into a life-long vocation? SkiDUCK was the ultimate answer to all those questions. It combines my personal passion for skiing and the mountains with helping others in need and sharing the sport that I love.
SD: When did SkiDUCK launch?
CL: August 12, 2009. I’d been contemplating creating an organization to introduce skiing and snowboarding to disadvantaged children. I’d done research online and discovered that unlike other sports, like basketball, baseball, football, and golf, there were almost no programs to help introduce underprivileged children to winter mountain sports. I remember sitting on the deck on a beautiful sunny day in August when I finally made the decision to go for it. Once I committed mentally, I had an immediate surge of energy and sense of purpose; like “YES!! This is what I want to do for the rest of my life!”
Almost everyone I consulted told me it would be impossible to create a brand new organization and get the non-profit status approved and everything else required in place before the end of the ski season. That was the wrong thing to tell me. I’ll admit there were a lot of 16 hour work days, but we received our IRS 501(c)3 non-profit approval October 7. Then we began promoting the concept, coordinating with Youth Service clubs and ski resorts, and developing our programs. It took a while, but our insurance policy went into effect February 1, 2010, and we were on the slopes with our first group of about 30 kids the following weekend, February 7!
SD: Why do you think it’s important to expose disadvantaged or challenged kids to skiing?
CL: Just giving them the chance to experience the sheer joy and exhilaration of skiing and snowboarding are reason enough for me. I’ve taught many kids to ski, and I know first-hand how much fun it is for them. But more importantly, as many of us have experienced, the mountains and outdoors — and more specifically for some, skiing and snowboarding — have the power to change people’s lives. Seriously. Some hardly recognize it, since they can only ride for a few weekends a season and then go back to their usual weekday grind. But for others, the mountains become a retreat – where they can rejuvenate their mind, body and soul. More than any other sport or recreation, skiing and snowboarding combine the beauty, peace and serenity of the mountains with the rush of excitement and exhaustion of pushing yourself to your physical limits. I’m so excited to present this new world to kids who otherwise may never have discovered it. And let’s face it, if you don’t learn to ski or snowboard as a child… you’re not very likely to endure the long learning curve necessary to really fall in love with it as an adult.
SD: What are SkiDUCK’s goals?
CL: The primary goal of SkiDUCK is quite simple: to introduce skiing and snowboarding to as many disadvantaged children as possible — those who otherwise may never have a chance to get up to the mountains. Besides being a fun and healthy activity for kids, we know there will be many other benefits as well: like developing movement and coordination skills, enhancing interpersonal skills and positive relationships, building a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence, the list could go on and on. But for now, those are all additional benefits, not specific goals of the organization. However, as we grow and mature over time, I fully expect we’ll incorporate other goals to have a much deeper and more significant impact in at least some of these kids’ lives.
SD: How does SkiDUCK work to accomplish this goal? I understand it’s a collaborative effort. Can you explain how this works?
CL: Absolutely. Our motto is to “Partner, Partner, Partner”. The success of SkiDUCK is based upon the foundation of collaboration with both youth service organizations and participating ski resorts. Our model is primarily as a facilitator to connect existing organizations each already doing what they do best. For example, our partnering ski resorts’ ski and snowboard schools are already teaching kids to ski and snowboard. And our partnering youth service organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs, are already serving underprivileged and at-risk children in many ways. But they can’t afford to buy lift tickets, rentals and lessons. Oh, did I mention yet that these are all completely free for the kids and youth clubs? It’s important to point out that the ski resorts are providing free lift tickets, rentals and lessons for the kids. So along with a wonderful group of volunteers, SkiDUCK brings these organizations together to provide opportunities these children may never otherwise have. And if they want, they can come back several times a season and year after year, all the way through high school! Pretty cool, huh? There’s a really good 2-minute video on our website (www.SkiDUCK.org) that shows a typical SkiDUCK day and how this partnership works.
SD: Where does SkiDUCK operate? How many resorts and kids are involved?
CL: We launched SkiDUCK in the Lake Tahoe area our first season, as there are quite a few resorts within relatively close distance to small, medium, and large cities — Reno, Sacramento, and San Francisco. Rather than expanding too quickly, we wanted to stay focused and build a really solid model before reaching out to other ski communities. We held events at four resorts — Squaw Valley, Kirkwood, Tahoe Donner and Sugar Bowl — and from our start in February through April, we took nearly 130 kids up for their first-ever day of skiing or snowboarding. Some kids made two or three trips, for a total of over 200 days on the slopes! We’re pretty happy with that, given the short timeframe left in the season. If all goes well, we could potentially bring 10 times as many kids up next year, in our first “full” season. Each of the four resorts has asked us to come back next season and also increased the number of events and free lift tickets/lessons offered. I also expect that we’ll add at least a few more resorts in Lake Tahoe as well as branch out to a few other areas/states. Although, not too quickly; we still want to focus on quality versus quantity and make sure that we’re creating sustainable programs that will succeed in the long-run.
SD: What’s the response been so far?
CL: The response has been fantastic; from the resorts, from the youth service clubs and especially from the kids and their families. A letter we received from one of the parents says it better than I ever could:
I just wanted to thank everyone that was involved in the trip to Squaw Valley. When my kids came home they were so happy. They said that “they came home from the top of the world”. They told me the sun was shining and the snow was so amazing. I asked them what was the best part of their trip? They said that it was the people that they were surrounded by. Especially the instructors and volunteers. That took me by surprise; that they went to one of the most beautiful places in the world and that was what they said they liked best. A tribute to everyone.
I was born here in Reno and have never been skiing or snowboarding. I think that to give kids a memory that they can take with them their whole life is so awesome. I think that the organization SKIDUCK is the best! I want to wish everyone the best and thanks again for making kids and parents so happy!
SD: What’s the future hold for SkiDUCK?
CL: I know I’m wearing rose-colored glasses at times when looking to the future of SkiDUCK. But in my mind’s eye, I foresee programs either founded or partially funded by SkiDUCK at literally hundreds of ski resorts across the entire country, serving thousands of underprivileged and minority children every year! I envision a national network of local community chapters providing opportunities to children who may never otherwise be exposed to the beauty and life-changing force of the mountains. Eventually, we’ll grow beyond U.S. borders to other mountain countries around the world. And I’m certain that someday a child who first stepped into bindings through a SkiDUCK program will also step onto an Olympic, Paralympic, World Cup, or X Games Gold medal podium.
But setting all the grand designs aside, the truest measure of SkiDUCK’s success will be years from now when someone who first fell in love with skiing or snowboarding through SkiDUCK takes their own son or daughter to the mountain for their first day on the slopes. That’s the dream that still chokes me up.
To find out more about SkDUCK or to make a donation, visit their website at Skiduck.org.