Telling kids they matter, on the slopes

For the average Crested Buttian, the itineraries for Partners Day and Choice Pass Day might sound pretty typical: morning skiing with a possible lesson, a pizza party for lunch and a few final turns in the afternoon. But for two local programs—Gunnison Country Partners and the Choice Pass program—a day on the mountain has become a way to show kids they matter, and give them choices about how they spend their time.



On Sunday, February 12, more than 50 Gunnison Country Partners kids (junior partners) and their adult mentors (senior partners) headed to Crested Butte Mountain Resort for a day of sponsored skiing. CBMR provided ski rentals, lift tickets, lessons and a pizza party at Spellbound Pizza.
CBMR’s director of resort services Nick Herrin has helped coordinate Partners Day since he started at CBMR four years ago, and has been a senior partner himself. He said that on Partners Day, participants experience a little bit of everything.
“I met a couple of junior partners who were such good skiers they went out all day. I even met one on the Headwall,” Herrin said. At the other end of the spectrum, some kids (like one of his wife’s junior partners) are skiing for the first or second time.
Some senior partners skied with the newer skiers in the morning and then put them in lessons; a couple of senior partner snowboarders even traded their boards for skis and joined them in their lesson. According to Herrin, the CBMR ski school accommodated everyone where they were, sending out groups of two, three or four to master the basics.
That range of experience is pretty typical, according to Johnna Bernholtz, case manager for Gunnison Country Partners. This year, one duo called it quits by 10:00 a.m.—but just giving the kids the chance to try skiing, and to get out and have fun with their senior partner, is the point of the program.
“We do a different activity every single month that we invite partnerships to, and we try to make it free, whatever that cost may be. Simple things from a barbecue and kickball to movie night, but we also try to make sure that kids who live here are exposed to the different opportunities that are here,” Bernholtz said.
Senior partners, who spend three hours a week with their junior partners for at least a year, participate in those activities with the kids. Their commitment is key for an organization that helps kids across the valley (Crested Butte has been growing in the last four or five years, Bernholtz says), and often has a waiting list of as many as 35 kids.
But Bernholtz credits the generosity of the local recreation companies like CBMR with making the more adventurous outings possible. During the summer, CBMR has hosted the Partners at the Adventure Park. Irwin Backcountry Guides has sponsored kids in the Cruiser Camp, which teaches kids to ski and snowboard, Three Rivers Resort has taken the group rafting, and Partners has also worked with the Crested Butte Nordic Center.
“We have so much community support from so many different organizations and businesses, and it helps make our job helping these kids so much better,” Bernholtz said. “It’s sometimes the only time those kids get to do these activities.”
Gunnison Mayor Jonathan Houck also credits that kind of community support with making a new program, the Choice Pass, a great success in its inaugural year. Together with Herrin and Brooke Harless of the Gunnison County Substance Abuse Prevention Project, Houck, who is also the GCSAPP project coordinator, helped start the Choice Pass as a way to give kids recreational opportunities that don’t include drugs or alcohol. More than 40 high school freshman in Crested Butte and Gunnison have participated, getting a reduced-price pass and two free lessons for committing not to consume drugs and alcohol.
On Partners Day, CBMR also hosted Choice Pass participants for skiing and pizza, even giving them free rides on the zip line. Eighteen kids participated in one or the other, an added perk to the program. But what’s most notable, according to Houck, is that more than half of the kids in the program have indicated that were it not for the program, they wouldn’t be able to have a pass at all. It’s reaching kids who might not otherwise make it to the mountain.
“For the Gunnison kids especially, it has been really cool to see so many psyched on getting to the mountain and skiing. It’s not right in their backyard, and they don’t see people heading to the mountain with regularity. It really connects both ends of the valley,” Houck said. “And we’ve had no kids violate terms of the pass so all the kids have been able to follow through on the commitments they made.”
For Houck, that shows that kids at both ends of the valley are making good decisions. But they also get to see that they’re not alone in making those decisions. Choice Pass cuts across the different social groups at school—kids with different social backgrounds are finding out they have a lot in common. The other benefit he sees? Adults are noticing the choices these kids are making, and rewarding them for it.
That teaches them something that could be said about the Partners program as well: “It tells kids, ‘People are concerned about me, people are paying attention to us.’ I think sometimes kids feel lost in the shuffle, and so many people are going to bat for them it sends a good message,” Houck said.

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