“He’s going to kill himself and I’m going to be held responsible.” That was my thought at least a dozen times while volunteering for Burton’s CHILL program at Mountain High Ski Resort. The CHILL program takes underprivileged teens to local mountains for snowboarding lessons one day a week for six weeks. Equipment and lift tickets come care of Burton. Some of the kids have never seen the mountains before, though many live within an hour drive of a range.
Because my life had been a rollercoaster in recent months I was only able to be a volunteer chaperone on the last week for the Los Angeles program. But after such a great day I wish I had been on board the whole time.
I was paired with Alex, Dana, and Jamell tenth graders from a high school in Compton. The boys were perfect gentlemen when they weren’t giggling about girls - which I must say was completely charming to behold. The boys had learned to snowboard in the first 5 weeks so this week they were just going to ride. I was told to shadow them; always keeping them in front of me so if they had a spill I could quickly assist or seek medical help. I quickly learned that these instructions were not superfluous.
I’ve always thought that one day I’d be a boy’s mom. I like climbing trees, getting dirty, playing sports, and generally being rough. But I had no idea. None. Teenage boys never consider the landing only the take off. In five weeks the three boys were already better than me - I’ve been boarding for five years. They were completely fearless and ready to go down any black diamond, ramp or jump that presented itself. I tried to keep them in front of me, but one would make his way up a ten foot jump before I knew it while the other would race ahead to see if he could catch a cute girl on skis. And it might sound like I’m complaining, but I loved every minute. Seeing that kind of blind trust in nature, themselves, God, physics, and whatever else was inspiring. Sometimes, upon reaching the top of the lift, the boys would just stop and stare at the vista, and say things like “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” I had forgotten that. That joy and wonder at just being up at 8,000, 10,000, even 12,000 feet. The thin clean air and the view.
At the end of the day one of the boys smiled sadly as we entered the bus and said, “I can’t believe it’s over.” I nudged him, “You can always come back.” He smiled sheepishly, coming back didn’t seem to be an option, when lunch is hard to afford a thirty/forty dollar lift ticket is out of the question. “Well, I have the memories,” he said. “Great memories.” I gave him a hand heater from my pocket and tried not to cry.
[Picture: The boys and I make it safely off the mountain.]