If you head to Copper Mountain in the next six weeks, you may share a lift with a first-time snowboarder from the Chill Foundation. This national nonprofit began in 1995 and was founded by the owners of Burton Snowboards — Jake and Donna Carpenter. Chill came to Denver 10 years later to help the city’s youth overcome various challenges through board sports and has been impacting Denver residents ever since.
After Burton gained success, Jake and Donna wanted a way to give back to the snowboarding community. Their idea — teach kids to ride who may never otherwise have the opportunity. Chill soon recognized their unique opportunity to have a further positive impact on kids. The foundation now functions as a youth development program, teaching kids about their six pillars — respect, patience, persistence, courage, responsibility and pride.
During each six week program, kids discuss how each pillar relates to their life beyond Chill and how they can practice each while learning their new sport. The success of the snowboarding program inspired the organization to add skateboard, surf and paddleboard programs to reach more youth in 15 cities across the country.
Chill offers all programs free of charge to participants, aged 10 to 18, who come from various agencies that help youth who are experiencing a wide range of challenges. “We really want to be removing as many barriers to access as possible,” Jeff Morton, vice president of marketing and development explained. “The youth we serve typically don’t have the means to be able to afford lift tickets and lessons and transportation and all the gear that’s required [for snowboarding].”
The Denver Chill program serves about 100 youth annually from over 10 agencies in the area. These kids often experience addiction or behavioral challenges, while some youth are in foster care or the juvenile justice system. Others come from Boys & Girls Clubs, alternative schools and drug treatment facilities.
The Denver program coordinator, Mike Smith, was a full-time teacher until he came to work as a seasonal coordinator for Chill. “We do have a lot of youth in Colorado that could really benefit from this program,” Smith admitted, but the adult volunteers and employees also receive such a great experience from working with Chill. Smith added, “It’s a great way to give back to board sports and these kids.”
On the Mountain
This year Chill Denver partnered with Copper Mountain and their instructors to teach over 80 youth to snowboard. On the drive up to the mountain, Smith teaches a lesson on one of the six pillars Chill focuses on. But as an experienced teacher, Smith makes sure to add a little fun into the discussion. To teach persistence, Smith gives each kid an Oreo to put on their forehead and asks them to try to move it down to their mouth without letting it fall on the ground.
On the mountain, the participants work with Copper’s instructors to learn to ride. They’re also encouraged to incorporate their lesson – on respect, patience, persistence, courage, responsibility or pride – into their snowboarding. The bus ride home gives Smith, the volunteers and the youth a chance to shout out moments when their friends inspired them out on the mountain.
But the fun and inspiration don’t stop at the snowboard lessons – each year Chill buses 30 to 50 participants to Vail for the Burton US Open. They get a chance to watch the country’s best snowboarders and learn more about the sport. They also ride with some of these snowboarders, as well as founders Jake and Donna, and get to talk with them about overcoming challenges both in the sport and in their lives. Morton loves getting to watch kids experience this part of the Chill program because the youth are able to see that “the challenges that they’re facing don’t have to define them or their path in life.”
Off the Mountain
Chill “gives [youth] a chance to just be a kid again and be exposed to positive adult role models,” Morton commented. Many of the youth Chill serves face numerous challenges without a role model to give advice or assist them in overcoming their difficult situation. Chill allows youth to become “part of a community,” Morton added, “an empowering community that believes in them and their abilities and gives them an opportunity to challenge themselves and step outside of their comfort zones a little bit.”
This type of support is so important to the participant’s lives and their success in the future. One of the Denver chaperones is a therapist who recognizes the incredibly positive effects Chill has on the participants. Smith explained that the therapist “said something to the effect that one day of Chill is equal to four or five therapy sessions for these kids.”
Though the youth experience hardships outside of the program, Chill presents challenges through sports that the youth can overcome by relying on each other and the adult mentors. Smith commented, “They are doing things that are challenging and doing things they’re not used to. It’s giving kids the opportunity to kinda get some fresh air and get out of their environment.”
Efforts to Expand
As the Chill Foundation grows and the Denver program reaches more youth each year, the nonprofit hopes to broaden Denver’s reach. They did so in 2018 by bringing in a skateboard program that took place in the fall at Arvada Skate Park. But this year, Chill had to turn away a few snowboard applicants because they didn’t have the resources to accommodate everyone. The national organization is working to expand Denver’s programs to a year-round program, with the possibility of adding another skateboard session as well as a few stand-up paddleboard sessions.
With the expansion comes the opportunity to engage Chill alumni in the programs. The organization’s ALPs (Alumni Leadership Program) would give alumni a chance to be leaders in the board sports programs and help teach younger participants about the sports. As always, Chill works because people want to give back to the board sports community, and giving Chill alumni a chance to do so brings the organization full circle.