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Latinos are hitting the slopes
La Voz photo by Brandon Rivera

By Joshua Pilkington

Mountain based program allows for children to participate in winter sports

The numbers are in and skier visits are down during the first period of the 2016-2017 season. Experts in the field, however, say there is no reason to fear an overall decline on the Colorado slopes.

According to Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA), its 22 member resorts were down single digits compared to last year’s first period totals, but up 3 percent over the five-year average. The first period covers October 21, 2016 to December 31, 2016, and experts are saying warm October and November temperatures contributed to the small decline.

“The warm fall kept Coloradoans’ minds on summer activities and many Colorado based skiers and riders from heading up to the high country until December,” said CSCUSA President and CEO Melanie Mills in a release.

There was an onslaught of snow, however, during the holiday season, which bolstered visits significantly and has led to strong numbers at the beginning of 2017.

“The substantial snow totals heading into the holiday season created excellent condition for in-state and out-of-state guests, which drove holiday visits up significantly,” Mills added.

The statewide snow-pack is now at 54 percent above average, meaning an increased number of visits throughout February, March and into April.

Latinos on the slopes

Those who frequent the slopes may be slightly surprised by the amount of Latinos – especially children – making those visits. Far from an expectation, Latinos make up about 10 percent of skiers and riders nationwide, according to SnowSports Industries of America (SIA).

“I think finances have to do with that, as well as time,” said Liam Montenegro, 27, whose grandfather immigrated to Iowa in the 60s from Uruguay before setting up residence in Snowmass. “A lot of Hispanic families, they don’t necessarily have the resources to plan a trip to the mountains – and even if they do – they may not have time to take those weekends off of work. I know a lot of Latinos who travel to the mountains from other countries, but they are here for that reason. The families that live here, don’t necessarily have that luxury.”

Recognizing those challenges, the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club created its Base Camp program. The program is designed to bring snow sports to children whose families may have never participated in them before. The program accepts participants as early as 3-and-a-half years old and as late as high school. The participants come from Aspen, Glenwood Springs and beyond.

According to the club, one out of every five children in the Roaring Fork Schools participate in Base Camps and 16 percent of those participants are from Latino households.

“I think it’s really special that programs like that exist,” said Montenegro, who has been skiing since he was 7. “Even kids who live in the mountains, just don’t get an opportunity to make it up here. I was fortunate, because my dad has a job that allows him to keep his weekends free, so we could ski and snowboard during the winter, but I know a lot of people from my background don’t have those same opportunities.”

Finding an inspiration

Montenegro added that another reason more Latinos don’t hit the slopes is a lack of external motivation.

“You watch fútbol and you see a Messi or a Ronaldo and you think, ‘I’m going to be like that someday,’ but you turn on the X Games and all you see is a lot of white kids and you think, ‘that looks cold,’” he said. “It’s not that we’re necessarily trying to groom professional, Latino skiers or riders, but sometimes it’s nice to have that one person on the slopes that looks like you and that you can look up to.”

Asked if he ever thought of being that figure, Montelongo said that he never really considered himself a spokesperson for winter sports but, “with programs like Base Camp that gets kids involved at an early age, there is a good chance that someone will come along and really ignite that spark.”





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