December 05, 2018LITTLETON—Last Thursday, Nov. 29, a coalition of outdoorsy citizens made it possible for kids from families of all means to enjoy the snow and slopes this year. If the snow came early, the Ski Giveaway program made sure that for some, ski season came at all.
After-hours at Lakeway Elementary, children and their parents received a full set of skis and gear for the whole season, at no cost, thanks to the hard work and partnership of a constellation of volunteers, and a successful grant.
The Ski Giveaway program dates to last year, when the Mt. Eustis leadership realized that, despite their own excitement about the improvements at the mountain, many residents couldn't afford to attend.
Dave Harkless recalls that, "We got everything up and going, we had this wonderful ski hill, but we were wondering where the kids were, and figured out that they don't have skis."
The revitalization of Mt. Eustis began in 2011, and became a five year project—this year marks the third full season of operations, which now features an 1,100 foot permanent rope tow on a fully-lit hill.
The key purchases for the program were funded last year through an $18,000 grant from the Neil and Louise Tillotson fund. Partnership with area businesses was the other secret ingredient: when Bretton Woods planned to swap out its rental fleet, they sold almost 150 skis at a steep discount—secondhand, but in good condition, and repaired and maintained by volunteers.
Boots, helmets, mittens, all are on hand to make sure that kids are fully prepared for the slopes, the bulk of which were provided by Lahouts Ski Shop, through its vendors, at sub-wholesale prices. Furthermore, Lahouts donates much of the skilled labor needed to fit the kids in their skis, a tricky endeavor that calls for a professional touch—plenty of which was on hand Thursday.
The kids keep the gear for the season, and agree to return it by April. After that, the volunteers plan to refurbish the gear for the next year.
"The ski industry is extremely expensive, and it's pretty un-affordable unless you're in a certain income bracket," said Ron Lahout. "Being on the board and owning a ski shop was helpful, because I tapped into my vendors."
"My wish would be that kids are passionate about the sport once they get into it," he said.
Last Thursday, members of the Littleton Ski Team helped young ones find gear to fit them.
Ski Team Coach Laura McCarthy said, "It's really nice to have that hill in our backyard, and I think it's important that they support local youth being able to afford to ski, and encourage the development of those skiers."
"I think younger kids will look up to them as well," she added.
Last year, 122 kids participated in the giveaway, and the large majority returned their gear as promised, organizers said. One challenge is gear for older kids, which is not in as plentiful supply as that for the younger ones.
Ultimately, both Mt. Eustis and the Ski Giveaway are products of generous and voluntarism-minded citizens.
"We can only operate if the volunteers come out," said Sandy Olney, who helped sign in and measure kids. "It's just a fun little family and community.
"It's not glitzy; there's nothing glamorous about it," she added of Mt. Eustis. "It's just old school fun."