March 10, 2023 | FEATURES | By Marynn Krull, Managing Editor & Ceyna Dawson, Features Editor
Total Cost: $34.97.
I didn’t learn to swim or go hiking until my late teens. I just learned to ride a bike and went camping for the first time last year. I’ve never gone skiing or snowboarding, backpacked, or hiked a 14er. I’ve lived in Colorado my whole life, but I didn’t start really experiencing the ‘great outdoors’ until just recently. For me, a day outside meant scootering up my grandma’s sidewalk, chasing my dog around the backyard, or begging my brothers to walk to 7-11 with me. In winter, being outside meant walking to the park to sled on any large flat surface we could find.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think my childhood experiences have any less value because they were less expensive, but coming to CC was a crash course in everything I never got to experience.
It’s hard to explain how you can grow up in nature’s playground, surrounded by beautiful hikes, lakes, biking trails, and ski slopes, and have experienced so little of it. That was part of the appeal of coming to CC for me; I was finally going to experience the glorious state I lived in my whole life. Suddenly, rock climbing, skiing, snowboarding, and backpacking galore felt attainable. That’s when I decided to research how I could have lived so close to nature for 18 years without ever actually getting to experience it.
Yearly Ski Pass (local youth discount): $262.
Helmet (lasts for multiple seasons): $46.93.
Goggles (lasts for multiple seasons): $19.99.
Skis and Poles (rented for the season): $148.
Lunch (ramen in the pocket): $2.09.
Total Cost: $479.01.
A quick preface: I am inexplicably grateful to have grown up in the Vail Valley with access to the mountains. As a child, I didn’t understand the magnitude of “like no place on earth”; I recognize now what a niche experience I had. Presently, I feel nervous to say that I was born in Vail. I first imagine the classic ‘rich’ tourist who buys from Fantasia Furs, who prances around the village dripping in diamonds, and takes private snowmobile tours up to Beano’s Cabin.
While this certainly exists, the valley is more than this – the valley is my home. My grandparents were both ski instructors for over 50 years. My grandpa built his house from the ground up, and my grandma worked multiple jobs to raise two avid skiing boys. The valley continues from Vail to Avon, Edwards, and Eagle. Let me tell you, the community is bustling with hard-working individuals who are the reason the valley can sustain itself. I grew up hugged by mountains. I would hike with my grandparents till the sun was setting, jump in the river with all my clothes on, and ski from opening to closing. I knew the stories of neighbors who owned small businesses, worked in hospitality, and uplifted the community. So, when I sat on the chairlift, with snot dripping from my little nose and a melted starburst in my pocket, and someone would say to me, “Wow! You live in Vail” or “Who grows up in Vail?”, I could only shrug because I saw the community and my family’s (and countless others’) history of giving to the valley. Ski instructors, shop owners, hospitality workers, guides, teachers, and many more are willing to sacrifice the steep cost of living for the valley because the passion and community are invaluable. I got the opportunity to live with mountains as my playground, they have molded me into who I am – other youth should be able to experience it as well.
The ‘Nature Gap’
The Centers for American Progress calls this phenomenon the Nature Gap, in which BIPOC and low-income communities are the least likely to reap the benefits of the outdoors. Although the outdoors has historically been a safe haven for all, time and time again, colonization and systemic oppression have forced out indigenous peoples, created barriers to access, and polluted marginalized communities. Redlining, white flight, and urban sprawl pushed marginalized communities into neighborhoods farther from scenic nature. Access to parks became a commodity accessible to and maintained for the enjoyment of the upper classes.
Looking at communities where outdoor life and access to the mountains are an integral part of the surrounding culture, feeling pressure to ‘join in’ is inevitable. Executive Director of Snowboard Outreach Society, a program that works to provide underserved youth with accessibility to the outdoors, Seth Ehrlich said children often feel, “[that their working class] parents are the ones supporting as the backbone of the services being provided, and yet [are] not welcome on the mountain.”
Low-income and BIPOC kids often grow up without ever really experiencing the social and physiological benefits of getting outside. The CAP report finds that even in Colorado, 57% of nonwhite people and 55% of low-income people live in nature-deprived areas. The figures are higher when you look at the U.S. as a whole. And when you consider the mental and cardiovascular benefits associated with being outdoors, that disparity is crushing.
Being in nature is also a developmental necessity that every child should get to experience. Learning to ski, snowboard, or mountain bike builds resilience through learning technical skill sets in a new environment, having to problem solve, adapt, and pursue passions.
Therefore, the overwhelming outdoor culture in Colorado is congruently a call to action – one to support those in communities who cannot afford to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on the equipment or travel to scenic nature.
The CAP report offers policy recommendations from funding the creation of new parks to increasing representation in local groups where environmental decisions are being made. But Colorado College has a clear advantage in one particular area: using peer leadership and access programs to help students reach nature.
In its Aspirational Tenets, the Collaborative for Community Engagement says it aspires to “mobilize our campus community to embrace individual and institutional citizenship in Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak Region.” What better way for CC students to share their knowledge, experience, and passion with the Colorado Springs community than to provide underserved kids with access to the outdoors?
The Outdoor Education office acts as a bridge for low-income, international, and BIPOC students who may not have otherwise had the means to explore Colorado.
Many outreach programs can serve as a framework or source of collaboration with CC. Programs like SOS Outreach, Giving Compass, Big City Mountaineers, and Colorado Youth Outdoors in Colorado Springs increase inclusion by providing outdoor mentorship, gear, and opportunities to otherwise underserved kids.
CC’s alliance with the Fine Arts Center is another great model for how OE and/or the CCE could engage kids with opportunities to get outside. Partnerships with local schools, particularly schools from underserved areas, could help kids build a fundamental, life-long relationship with nature and to develop an early sense of belonging.
We have the infrastructure, resources, and manpower to make it happen. When I think about the OE trips that are canceled because of a lack of registration, it is hard not to imagine the kids who would go all “Grapes of Wrath” just to get outside for a day. Let’s make the outdoors a space of acceptance and comfort for all, instead of another socioeconomic rift.