Asit Rathod knows Mount Hood.
Not everyone gets the opportunity to enjoy that sweet feeling of gravity taking you for a ride. Millions of people ski or snowboard regularly, so they know exactly what I'm talking about. But billions of people don't. Including thousands of people a short drive away from Mount Hood.
The idea behind the Chill Foundation is to give people an opportunity to enjoy the mountains. It's for youth between 10 and 18 years old, kids and teenagers who have never had the chance to snowboard, but would like to try.
I met up with Michael Watts, Chill’s program manager in Portland the other day, and he told me about the Mount Hood program and shared a few photos with Shred Hood. I always get a kick out of people trying to do something ambitious, the energy required, the skills. It was a lively conversation.
Every Wednesday and Thursday after school, Watts takes a busload of about 50 teenagers up to Mount Hood for snowboarding. These are kids who start out knowing absolutely nothing about shredding snow, which makes the experience both more challenging and more meaningful.
Chill partners with various Portland agencies that work with underserved youth, such as New Avenues for Youth, Rosemary Anderson High School and the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization. Each agency selects 10 participants and sends along two chaperons per trip. And just for fun, every chaperon has to strap on a snowboard and join the festivities, whether they have experience or not. It's Burton's baby, after all.
“You definitely get some chaperons way out of their comfort zones, but it ends up creating a great bonding experience between them and the kids,” says Watts.
Jake and Donna Carpenter, the owners of Burton Snowboards, started Chill in 1995 in Burlington, Vermont. Portland Chill is one of 12 sites around the U.S. with a mission to get low-income teenagers up into the mountains. About 120 youths participate on Mount Hood each year, and everyone who participates is in the running to go to Vail for the Burton U.S. Open competition, with all expenses covered. Other Chill participants get to experience summer camp on Mount Hood through High Cascade Snowboard Camp.
Watts says his role as program manager for Chill in Portland is to “facilitate the fun,” to encourage participants to “have a passion for something positive.” He lays down the ground rules “pretty hard” up-front, helps everyone get fitted with gear and apparel, and splits them up into groups for lessons. Then the fun starts. He used to lead the Snow Blaster kids program at Meadows, so he knows a lot of the instructors on the mountain and works with them to get his team set up in the right groups to learn.
“It’s great to see them out there just being kids,” he says, “not worrying about things.”
Watts says new participants sometimes start out with worries about conflicts with kids from different neighborhoods and rival groups. But a challenging outdoor activity that requires you to pay attention and learn - or else crash - can ease tension big-time. Being on a bus together for an hour or two also can break down barriers.
The Chill trips used to be weekend events at Timberline, but they moved over to Meadows for night riding last winter, and they only had to cancel one trip up to Hood last year, due to torrential rain.
Everything is free to the participants, with Burton covering boards and gear and apparel and other agencies and foundations kicking in money for transportation and mountain costs. Watts picked up a clothing rack from a Nordstrom store that closed in Lloyd Center, and he uses it to display new apparel at the Burton Demo Center in Government Camp. The kids come through and grab what they need, and it's all quality stuff, no mittens with holes in them and boots that don't fit right.
Support from funders also enabled Watts and Chill to expand to year-round programming this year, with a trip to Hood River for windsurfing and a three-week program at the coast with Oregon Surf Adventures for surfing and stand-up paddling.
“A lot of these kids had never even been to Hood River or out to the Pacific Ocean," he says. "The first thing they did when they got to the ocean was strap on a wetsuit and go out surfing. It was awesome.”
Here's a shot of Chill participant Seep II, down by the ocean.
This last photo shows a nice mountain smile from Luna Azzouni. She got to do some summer shredding with High Cascade last year, and it looks like she enjoyed herself.