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Local school kids take to the slopes


Skiing tradition continues



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Jack Hanson, Brett Miller, Lewis Hospers and Alex Klementovich are ready to hit the Cranmore slopes again after taking time out for a snack. The North Conway fourth graders are enthusiastic participants of the Eastern Slope Ski Club Junior Ski Program. Sara Young-Knox. (click for larger version)
January 07, 2010
Getting to the slopes shortly before noon, by two o'clock on Monday they were taking a break, replenishing their energy with drinks and snacks. They still had another hour of skiing. The bus would pick them up at 3:15 p.m., taking them back to the school, but they'll be back next Monday, and the winter Mondays after that, until March, when they'll make a whole day of it, competing against students from all over Mount Washington Valley at the Junior Ski Program's annual Snow Day.

When elementary school children in SAU 9 and SAU 13 returned to school after the holiday vacation they did more than return to their classrooms. They returned to the slopes and trails for one afternoon a week, thanks to the ESSC Junior Ski Program. The program, which relies on around 400 volunteers, reaches about 1,500 children a week and has grown from its beginning in 1938 to be a part of the school curriculum. The program includes Nordic skiing, as well as snowboarding.

Legendary skimeister Hannes Schneider served from 1939 to 1955 on the board of directors of ESSC, which was founded in 1935 to promote skiing and make sure the children of the Valley had a chance to ski. Hannes Schneider's son, Hebert, took over with his father left off.As president of the Hannes Schneider Ski School, manager of Cranmore, and ESSC executive board member, he oversaw expansion of the program at Cranmore.

Among the national or Olympic competitors from decades past who enjoyed those afternoons on the slopes with their classmates, thanks to the ESSC, are Brooks Dodge, Imogene Opton, Leona Reny, David Currier, Terry and Tyler Palmer and Abbi Fisher.

The program is a win-win for volunteers, who ski or broad with the kids, offering instruction to those just starting out. Not only do the volunteers get a free afternoon of skiing with the enthusiastic children, but, after attending two ski clinics, volunteers get a voucher good for a couple days of free skiing at many of the Valley's Alpine and Nordic ski areas. It's a win-win for the ski areas, too, who every week have hundreds of volunteers working in the local hospitality industry who can now tell visitors to the Valley how great the conditions are on the slopes on any given winter week.

On Monday kids at the John Fuller School on Pine Street bundled up and were bussed the five minutes away to Cranmore for Alpine skiing, while those opting for Nordic skiing trotted over to Whitaker Woods, the Town of Conway land where cross-country and snowshoe trails are maintained by the Mount Washington Ski Touring and Snowshoe Foundation.

That process was repeated throughout the week, with Conway Elementary School, Waldorf School and home schoolers getting a taste of the Valley's premier winter sport on Tuesday at Cranmore and Whitaker Woods. Center Conway's Pine Tree School students will get feel the snow beneath their skis and boards on Thursdays.

The program gives Bartlett school kids an afternoon of fun and ski instruction at Attitash for downhill skiers, and Bear Notch Ski Touring Center for cross-country skiers. Jackson students have that same privilege at Black Mountain. King Pine in Madison hosts students from the Madison, Freedom and Tamworth schools. Children are grouped according to their abilities through color designations, with green being the beginners. At the end of the season children's skills are tested and new colors awarded.

Encompassing students in grades one through six, the program offers low cost rental equipment to make it affordable to all youngsters. In November the Junior Ski Program holds a two-day used ski and snowboarding sale at the North Conway Community Center. Items are dropped off and tagged beforehand, with ESSC getting a low commission on each sale, and the individuals who dropped off the items getting the rest. A good way to recycle outgrown equipment, the sale is also a great way to get good equipment at very reasonable prices.

On Monday before heading back outside to the slopes the John Fuller fourth graders, all in the red level, offered their opinions on the Junior Ski Program.

"It's really cool just to get out there when you're supposed to be doing school work," Jack Hanson said.

"The ski program is good," Lewis Hospers agreed.

Alex Klementovich said he likes the program because, "there's a lot you can do, like going off jumps and doing tricks."

On Snow Day all the Junior Ski Program participants will come together for the day, competing in ski races against their peers from other schools. Keep an eye out for the names of the winners, more than likely there'll be a future Olympian or two among them.

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