Some of the best ideas in Tahoe, stem from conversations on the chairlift. Such was the case for PROJECTSNOW.

Some of the best ideas in Tahoe, stem from conversations on the chairlift.   Such was the case for Project Snow.   In the winter of 2009, riding with my friend and snowboard icon Travis Parker, we were discussing his recent trip to Portland to work with The Snowdays Foundation, an all-volunteer organization dedicated to the empowerment of youth through snowboarding.  Travis was a co founder of Snowdays, and we wondered if there was a program like Snowdays in the Reno/Tahoe area.  And if not, we felt we needed a local chapter or similar organization.  Lacking the resources to locate the right group of kids, we clearly needed help organizing.  To most of the kids I knew in the area, hardship meant having their ski passed blacked out on holidays, or having to go the DMV AND the Post Office in one day! Enter Penny Pritchard.   We would soon realize that if you are looking to make any positive change or social progress, Penny is the first person to call.   A former competitive snowboarder herself, Penny was finishing her BS in Community Health Science in Reno, and interning with the Washoe County Health District.

After contacting Snowdays, we learned that due to various regional differences and the resulting legal inconsistencies, it would be easier to start our own program from scratch.   Through her internship, Penny had already been working with foster children. After spending months tutoring these kids it became clear that they needed more than just help in school, they also needed an outlet to release energy and some of life’s frustrations.  During this time, Penny encountered a little boy who ran around his house with a skateboard, stripped of trucks and grip tape, that he called his “snowboard”. This is when it became apparent that foster youth would be a great place to start with Project Snow. The challenges that most foster kids face are extremely tough, and we sought out to encourage them to also live active healthy lives.   Ambitious goals, yes, many of which are hard to adhere to even for those of us with the means.  But as with any program with good intention, we also realized the importance of starting with realistic, measurable goals, in order to affect change.

Our next step was to tap into our relationships in the snowboard industry, looking for general support, as well as new and used equipment for the kids. We also began building the Project Snow family of volunteers to help instruct and assist on and off snow.    The Project Snow volunteer group has grown to include some of the areas top professional snowboarders, instructors, and community leaders.    Mt Rose Ski Area became one of our first and most enthusiastic partners, stepping up with an amazing offer, furnishing Project Snow with lift tickets, group lessons and rental gear.

As our concept of the program progressed, it became clear that we needed to look at the bigger picture, and really think about what snowboarding has done for us.   With the alarming rate of child obesity and the resulting conditions, we wanted to do more than just take kids snowboarding.    We decided that we needed to show kids that they have one of the best outdoor gyms in the world, right in their own back yard.   Rather than just share our passion for snow and the mountains, we wanted to encourage youth to be active through snowboarding.    We sought to show kids that the benefits of physical activity are not limited to just the physical, but can also contribute to your mental state and just help you cope.    It was also important for us to emphasize that being active does not always have to be complex and involve competition. As Penny explains, “Participants of Project Snow will learn, first hand, about the benefits of physical activity while being taught the basics of snowboarding.  They will be introduced to stretches that help increase flexibility and reduce the risk of injury.  They will also be taught how muscle and bone strengthening exercises can improve their skills on the mountain. Volunteers of Project Snow will also encourage their participants to build life skills, such as communication, while working through the challenges of learning a new sport. And even though good nutrition is not Project Snow’s primary focus, we feel healthy choices for snacks and lunches are just as important as being active.  Youth at risk and low SES youth in Washoe County will not only be given the opportunity to snowboard but they will also be introduced to healthy life styles that will positively impact their lives. Our goal is encourage fun and exercise, and hopefully light a fire with the kids so that next time it snows, they will grab a board and go build a jump in their back yard”

We launched the program in the spring of 09, starting out at Mt Rose with the first group of 12 kids, ranging from age 7-17.  From the start, the program began to enlighten and educate us, the volunteers.   Your perspective changes when you realize that a day where we would not even go to the hill, can be the best day of the year to these kids. As Penny reiterates, Through running these trips we have rediscovered our appreciation for snowboarding, and Project Snow is vehicle for us to share our passion.”

This is the second season that Project Snow has partnered with The Children’s Cabinet in Reno, NV and the Washoe County Social Services to access multiple foster children as well as youth at risk.  More specifically, Project Snow is a non-profit under the umbrella of the Children’s Cabinet who has multiple programs that reach out to the Washoe County community such as gang prevention for youth at risk.  They believe that each child has the right to lead a healthy, safe existence, which will promote their capacity and opportunity to become responsible, productive adult citizens.

“We believe families can be strengthened by ensuring access to services that acknowledge the inherent value of each individual and their potential to contribute to society. We believe in promoting and encouraging an environment within families, schools, and neighborhoods that values the unique characteristics of each individual. Coordinating existing services will facilitate and improve access by families in need. We believe in the development of additional resources and in advocating for positive change for children and families based on documented community needs. We believe in the power and demonstrated skill of our staff to implement our philosophy and, by their own example, bring coordinated services to the children and families of this community.”

This year Project Snow has expanded into 10 full days of riding at Mt Rose.   The community and industry support has been overwhelming.   “For such a young organization, we have enjoyed amazing donations from individuals, local snowboard shops and snowboard companies them selves.”  But with over 100 kids scheduled to come through the program this year, Project Snow hopes to gain even more partners in order reach out and affect more children and teens in our community.  To check out program dates, or to see how you can make a tax deductable donation, volunteer, or contribute in any way, please visit www.projectsnow.org.

This article was featured in Moonshine Ink February 8, 2010