Every Sunday, a bus arrives at Camelback Mountain in the Poconos at 11 a.m., dropping off 12 young New York City kids determined to learn how to ski and snowboard. Some of those young kids have never stepped onto a board, seen a ski resort or have even left their hometown before the trip. Between the months of January and March, the novice riders will not only learn the skills needed for skiing or snowboarding, but will be submerged in the culture of the sport for ten consecutive weeks through the newly founded Peaks Project.
The Peaks Project is a non-profit organization launched in 2014 that teaches New York City youth how to ski and snowboard. In order to break the intergenerational involvement in the criminal justice system, this year the project has partnered with Children of Promise, a non-profit organization located in Brooklyn working with underprivileged kids who’ve had one or more incarcerated parents.
By addressing social, economic and educational inequities of over 200 children, Children of Promise aims to de-stigmatize parental incarceration by creating an environment to meet the specific needs of the children through after school, summer camp and mental health programs. Children of Promise was most interested in being involved with the Peaks Project permitting 12 of their children to join the organization.
Originally reaching out to several children’s organizations, the Peaks Project hoped to work with a number of groups. However, it was decided the children would get a better experience if they decided to not take huge groups out until the project was developed further.
While there are many other projects that take children out to experience mountain sports, the Peaks Project is the only group that works with the same group of kids over an entire season. By the time the season ends, the children will be extremely knowledgeable to a brand new outlet of expression.
“Even if they never get on a board again after the three or four months they were out there, they are seeing something completely different,” Peaks Project founder, Molly Tarlofsky said. “They are going to come home with a whole new perspective.”
All of the children are provided jackets and pants from Saga Outerwear, gloves from Grenade Gloves, and Spy Optic goggles free of charge, allowing them to have the basic equipment needed to go on ski trips later on if they wish to do so after the Peaks Project season ends.
With help from Camelback instructors, the children become successful at the winter sports. Tarlofsky works with the skiers while project co-founder Mateusz Patrosz works with the snowboarders.
“Even though that’s their job and they do it everyday, it’s rewarding for the instructors to get a reaction from the kids as their linking terms, going on lifts, and going down the mountain when they didn’t know how to get on a board when they first started,” Tarlofsky said.
The children have an opportunity to do something completely new that they otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to do. They are gaining a new perspective by getting out to the mountain and learning something they have never seen before.
“When they think they’re speaking to no one, when they’re unsure if they can make it down the mountain, to see their reactions when they make it on a hill on their own, they start to have faith in themselves. You can see it just with one run down the hill,” Tarlofsky said.
Skiing and snowboarding are expensive sports. Besides transportation, equipment and clothing the lift tickets that are upward to $65 every time you go to the hill. Even with a seasonal pass that cuts some of the costs, a ski/snowboarding excursion can still be hundreds of dollars. Insurmountable transportation fees and the hassle of finding a friend who actually skis or snowboards makes this sport increasingly more difficult to join.
OvrRide, a partner of the Peaks Project offers transportation to tri-state mountains seven days a week. The collective group of snowboarders have created the first and only rider owned operated tour company in the Metro Area allowing rentals, lift tickets, and bus tickets attainable to New York City residents. OvrRide provides a bus specifically for the Peaks Project. Along with the Peaks Project bus is a separate bus for riders who want to go out to Camelback. These specific buses are sponsored to help support the Peaks Project by raffling off board bindings, hats, tees, even skis and snowboards.
Further down the road, The Peaks Project plans to expand to several of different cities across America. They would like to expand to the west coast, as there are many major cities that have access to snowy mountains. Working consistently with different groups of kids on both coasts, and expanding interest in skiing and snowboarding is where the Peaks Project hopes to be in the future. Tarlofsky hopes the kids want to keep going back out and continue with it even after the experience with the Peaks Project is over.
“The main goal of what we do is to have the kids build on their skills and really gain an interest in the sport as well as develop a love for it,” she says.