Concrete to Powder | Hitting the Slopes with Burton's Chill Program
FROM THE WITHITGIRL ARCHIVES 2001
By Liz Smith
Images courtesy of Burton
For those of us urbanites who are lucky enough to get the chance to escape the city for a day, an afternoon, or even a weekend to hit the slopes, we know how good it feels when we finally arrive at the top of the hill for our first run. No matter how long the drive or how marginal the conditions it all seems worth it as the pressures and confinement of the city fall away and we're speeding down the hill with a sense of freedom hard to imagine on the crowded city streets.
Burton Snowboards recognizes the value of that freedom and has established Chill, a program which enables inner-city youth to get out of their urban environments and learn to snowboard. In addition to instruction, Burton provides all the equipment the riders need: boards, jackets, gloves, lift tickets, and transportation to the slopes. Over a seven week period, kids from the ages of 10 to 18 get the opportunity not only to get out of the city but also to learn a sport which they may have only seen on television.
Founded in 1995, Chill was originally a community-based initiative in Burlington, Vermont where the Burton headquarters and factory are located. Since then the program has spread to Boston, New York, Chicago, and Seattle, and this season Chill will be able to take 950 at-risk youth to the slopes.
Although the obvious appeal of snowboarding to a teenager is undeniable - the speed and the ability to do tricks - what may end up being the most valuable experience for the youth is simply being exposed to an environment so different from their own. Many youths living in cities have little or no exposure to forested mountains or open spaces. With Chill kids have the opportunity to get out of impoverished urban settings to experience freedom in nature that they might not have otherwise experienced.
Although some of the kids come to the program with somewhat less enthusiasm than others, everyone is on a level playing field when learning something new. The thrill of making that first turn down the hill can transform even the toughest city teen. As Chill Director Jenn Davis puts it, "The kid you leave the city with is not the same kid on the hill."
More importantly, however, the program helps underprivileged teens gain a sense of self-confidence they need to overcome obstacles that might have seemed insurmountable. With the sense of accomplishment from learning a new sport that they once thought was unavailable to them, hopefully, the teens will have an incentive to get on track and stay on track by finishing school and getting a job. If a kid from South Central can conquer a sport that he or she has only seen on TV, then maybe they will be less inclined to limit themselves and instead have a better understanding of how they have the ability to reach beyond the world they've known.