Three nonprofits, one mission: Get the youth in Anchorage out to the mountains.
One of the longest-running programs at SheJumps started right out of Alaska’s very own Hilltop Ski Area. The small ski area is nestled between the city lights of Anchorage and the wilderness line of Chugach State Park. With 294 feet of vertical drop, the ski area provides the perfect training ground for beginners learning how to ski and snowboard.
Nine years ago the first Far North Regional Coordinators, Kellie Okonek and Meg Smith, brainstormed an idea to encourage the youth of Anchorage to get into mountain sports. Inspired by SheJumps into the Canyon, which teaches teens in Salt Lake City how to ski, the two partnered up with Mountain View Boys & Girls Club to bring a similar event to Alaska.
The premise of the program is simple: SheJumps volunteers teach the kids how to ski and snowboard down the slopes of Hilltop. Both girls and boys are included, a unique aspect for the event.
“These kids come from Mountain View, a neighborhood in East Anchorage. Most of them haven’t even been out of Mountain View, let alone out of Anchorage,” stated Okonek. “So to offer them an opportunity to see how big Alaska is and show them a completely new sport is really cool.”
Photos by Sean Johnson
Hilltop Ski Area, a nonprofit dedicated to providing recreational and educational opportunities to Alaska youth, donates rental gear for the B&G participants and provides lift tickets for the SheJumps volunteers each year. Okonek emphasized this event wouldn’t be possible without the ski area’s commitment.
Trevor Bird, Hilltop Ski Area General Manager, feels strongly about the impact of the program. “The program has really helped to reach out to folks in the community who would never be introduced to the sport of skiing and snowboarding,” he stated.
“With my role, I usually help to set up this program and then let our team work with SheJumps and I don’t usually see the result,” added Bird. “This year it really hit home as I was there on the last day of the program. Seeing all the kids getting to enjoy the learning experience and be part of the mountain community was cool. It helps to remind me why I work in this field.”
Dave Barney, Manager of Mountain View Boys & Girls Club, is another unstoppable force of success for the program. “He’s so good at jazzing the kids up, getting snow gear, enrolling the parents, putting them on buses, and making it all happen,” explained Okonek. “By using the resources of three nonprofits, we are able to share the load in a way that each nonprofit can contribute their strength in a way that doesn’t cause too much burden that makes the program unsustainable.”
Throughout the years, the program has changed hands from Okonek to Meg Smith and Brooke Edwards, to then Summer Holt, Ashley Saupe, and now Callie Beethe.
“Callie came in and really helped develop the program into what it is now,” stated Okonek. “Each person that’s been a part of it has contributed their strengths and insights to make it stronger, and that’s another important part of its sustainability.”
Beethe, Far North Regional Coordinator, brought back the program for four Fridays this 2021/2022 winter. “It’s so great to see the joy skiing and snowboarding brings to these kids, but then also the volunteers bring it in. It really brings joy to all of us,” she stated.
Meg Rice, who’s been with SheJumps since 2015, feels passionately about volunteering to instruct skiing. “Spending time sharing this sport with the Boys & Girls Club always reminds me of the core reasons I love skiing. It’s why I want everyone to feel the peace, freedom, and fun I find bouncing through powder fields,” she stated. “I see that this all leads them to find more confidence in themselves.”
Similarly, Beethe stated the overall connection with the kids stood out to her more than anything. “The kids that came back from last year were just crushing it,” she said. “You remember teaching them how to put on their boots and then by the end of the series they were just going down the mountain by themselves, capable of turning and stopping and enjoying it too.”
Going forward, Beethe hopes to expand the collaboration with Mountain View B&G Club even further. “We’d like to do some programming in the summer, including mountain biking at Hilltop,” she said. “We’d also like to take some of the kids that have taken a liking to skiing to another mountain called Arctic Valley, a little bit steeper of a mountain.”
SheJumps is an inclusive organization. We welcome all women and girls—transgender and cisgender, as well as non-binary people. SheJumps strives to fight against racism and acknowledges that our events and programs take place on traditional, unceded Indigenous lands.