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  • Stephen D'Agostino

Ski Runners is a Hit With Reading’s Kids

Last Friday, February 2, was Groundhog Day. If I were the prognosticator of future weather in Vermont, it wouldn’t have been my shadow that scared me back into the burrow, dooming us to six more weeks of winter. It would have been the cold. Relative to the beginning of January, it was rather balmy, though blustery. Still, I think the warmer weather we’d had for the last couple of weeks tricked me into forgetting how cold winter can be.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the luxury of re-burrowing. I had to go collect stories for this week’s column.

My first stop was Spring Brook Farm to meet with Tatiana Werner-McCarthy. She was just about to head out to Love Local, a Strolling of the Heifers event, in Brattleboro. She put on her PTO hat (a chef’s hat, perhaps?) and we talked about Mama Mia’s Bistro, happening this Sunday at the Reading Elementary School from 4pm to 7pm.

The scope of the preparation and the event can be summed up in three numbers: 30, 20, and 20. That’s 30 boxes (or more) of pasta, 20 loaves of bread, and 20 pounds of ground beef that Jess Seman and Kate Allen will use to make meatballs.

On Saturday, PTO members will set up the cafeteria at the school as well as do any last minute shopping necessary. Then on Sunday morning at 11, three folks in the kitchen will prepare the bolognese and marinara sauces and cook the pasta. When the hungry crowd arrives, four people will make sure everyone gets their food while it’s hot.

Of course, Mama Mia Bistro wouldn’t be complete without the basket raffles. There will be six, one for each grade in the school with the themes of Ben & Jerry’s, Shooting for the Stars (movies), Arts & Crafts, Bakery Bliss, Wonderful Wellness (with teas and lotions), and Fuzzy Wuzzy, the basket created by the kindergarteners.

Tatiana and I parted ways shivering outside the office, and I headed from one hill to another, Suicide Six, to learn about Ski Runners.

When I got there, the parking lot was full and yellow buses were queued up to let kids off at the entrance. I met Sue Mulder right outside the lodge. Sue makes it her duty to get all the kids’ ski gear to Suicide Six before the kids arrive. There were scores of skis, boots, poles, and bags lined up against the wall.

I’m going to pause here and say I don’t ski. In fact, I dislike the noise ski boots make on the floor, the clunky walk that people in ski boots are forced to do, and the swoosh of ski pants. But more than anything, I dislike the crowds of people, made larger by the layers of ski gear, crammed into a ski lodge. That, of course, says nothing about the sport itself.

The kids don’t mind the crowds. They were all eager to get their gear on and get outside As if by some miracle (for me at least), the kids cleared out of the lodge in fifteen minutes, tops, to hit the slopes. Cathy Knight agreed to sit down with me to chat, but first, being the good principal she is, she went outside to see that all the RES kids were all set. Satisfied that everything was going well, Cathy and I went inside for hot cocoa.

Twenty-six of the 35 eligible kids at the school participate in Ski Runners (formally Woodstock Ski Runners), a program set up “to continue our proud tradition of instilling in our children the love of Winter and skiing.”

The cost of the program is $85 per student for eight weeks, a price that may be out of reach for some families. Ski Runners is aware of this and offers the program for free for students that have qualified for free and reduced lunch at the school. The money to provide these scholarships is generated through various fundraisers.

For children who did not have access to ski equipment, Sitzmark Ski Shop in West Windsor gave them reduced-priced rentals for the season.

Getting these eager skiers to the slope and the tired skiers home is logistical challenge handled by Steve Butler. He buses the kids to Suicide Six by early afternoon. Later, he drops each one off at his or her home.

While Cathy and I were talking, two bundled-up skiers came to our table. They unwrapped themselves to reveal their identities: Aubrey Seman (5th grade) and Josie Cross (6th grade). Grabbing hot cocoas to warm up, they admitted they were inside because it was too cold, thus proving how smart they are. Josie told me she started skiing through Ski Runners, and this was her fifth year (second grade to sixth). Aubrey has been doing Ski Runners since kindergarten but said she started skiing at age three. When I asked why they liked Ski Runners, Josie said she thinks everyone should learn to ski. She also likes that it is a chance to make new friends. Aubrey agreed on both counts and added that it gave them the opportunity to leave school early on Friday afternoons. That would have been reason enough for me at that age! They both said they’d hit the slopes again soon.

It was nice to learn what Ski Runners is all about. I can see how this is helpful and educational. Along with developing skiing skills, these kids are also building self-confidence. If you can feel comfortable racing down a hill on two pieces of I-don’t-know-what, I think you can probably feel comfortable with a whole lot more. Including crowded ski lodges. As more kids began to seek shelter, I thought it was the perfect time to take my leave.

If you agree that Ski Runners is an important program and want to donate to it, please contact Cathy Knight at 484-7230.

This article was originally published by in The Vermont Standard on February 8, 2018.

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