Skiing isn’t cheap. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in Taos or another ski-town knows this. Oftentimes locals are priced out, and those who spend time in Taos year-round are frequently left to watch as visitors come to ski Taos’ world renowned slopes.
However, thanks to a new program that was started in partnership between Taos Pueblo, Taos Ski Valley Inc. and the Share Winter Foundation, 25 kids from Taos Pueblo between 4th and 12th grade will ski for free this year.
After the unfortunate passing of tribal member and Taos Ski Valley rental shop manager Charles N. “Chuck” Romero this past March at age 36, a fund was started in his name to help provide gear, lift tickets and lessons for Taos Pueblo children. The first 25 kids who want to get out on the snow this winter will become part of the Charles N. Romero Snowsports Program for Native American Youth in Taos.
After Romero’s untimely passing, Taos Ski Valley Chief Executive Officer David Norden presented his family with a check for $25,000 as a way to honor Romero’s 18 years of service at Taos Ski Valley.
Along with the donation from Taos Ski Valley, several other factors came together to get the program off the ground. Taos Pueblo Community Wellness Manager Aurora Valdez happened to be in the right place at the right time after she was bumped from a flight and serendipitously ended up sitting next to a woman who turned out to be the chief executive of the Share Winter Foundation, a nonprofit that helps bring winter sports to a broader and more diverse range of kids.
After meeting Share Winter CEO Constance Beverley on the plane, the Pueblo’s non-profit Working on Wellness wrote a grant to apply for winter gear, which Share Winter then provided, bringing in Patagonia jackets and other quality snowsports apparel. Valdez said they also received an outdoor equity grant from the New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division.
With the donation from Taos Ski Valley and the two grants, Taos Pueblo was ready to launch their snowsports program, and they officially began signing up kids on Monday (Dec. 6). “It feels like the stars aligned to honor Chuck in this way,” said Valdez.
“Giving back to Pueblo youth is the best way to honor our brother because his role at the rental shop at Taos Ski Valley was to take care of the local kids and encourage them to explore skiing and snowboarding,” said Chuck Romero’s sister, Cheryl Romero. “He loved helping kids enjoy the outdoors and went out of his way to make the experience joyful and positive.”
Romero said outdoor recreation was necessary for the healthy development of children, “yet too many in our community do not have access to all the recreational activities in our region.” She said her brother recognized this disparity and did his best to change it during his time at Taos Ski Valley. “This program will introduce skiing and snowboarding to kids who have seen visitors travel from around the world here for years, but didn’t have the opportunity to experience it themselves.”
“The point of it is increasing access to winter sports,” said Valdez. “Often our people get priced out, so we just want to provide an opportunity and access to a number of different activities that our kids can engage in for fun.”
Valdez said they hope to eventually grow the program to accommodate more kids. “We’d like to eventually grow the program to about 50. That'd be the best case scenario, but of course we're limited by what we can do during COVID.”
Along with expanding the skiing and snowboarding program, Valdez said they hope to teach kids about avalanche safety, wilderness first aid and generally how to stay safe in the mountains. “We just want them to know, ‘Hey, here’s this world. This is what’s up here,” she said. “It's all about providing access and having things that are accessible for kids. It's just so important to our group. We want them to feel like these are options. ’”
The experience is also a form of resiliency building, Valdez added. “These kids are going to be faced with very brand new challenges… it’s more than just ski passes and lift tickets.”
The initiation of the skiing and snowboarding program is just the beginning of outreach for the Taos Pueblo Sports Alliance, which started as a parent driven organization in response to the cancellation of soccer at the Taos Day School. “This group of parents kind of got together and were like, ‘No, we need our kids to have these activities,’” said Valdez.
The goal of Taos Pueblo Sports Alliance is to eventually expand into other sports and activities, like snowshoeing, ice skating, hockey, or whatever a student shows interest in. “We just want to make these things available to them,” said Valdez. “If you've always wanted to try golf, we can support you to play golf.”
Under the Charles N. Romero Snowsports Program, Pueblo youth will ski for five days and receive lift tickets, snow sport apparel, equipment rentals and options for full or half-day lessons. Valdez noted that registration is not just limited to Taos Pueblo youth, but open to all Native American youth in the Taos area. Registration opened Monday (Dec. 6), and Pueblo youth may apply by emailing email@example.com or contacting Working on Wellness President Sage Yardley at firstname.lastname@example.org.