The Share Winter Foundation is committed to tackling one of the biggest problems the global ski industry faces: getting more kids interested in skiing and snowboarding. Their model takes a grassroots approach, focusing on diversification through community supported and run programs.
Last year their continued efforts brought more than 45,000 children to the slopes, in 21 different states, across 61 different ski areas. They aim to diversify winter sports by providing funding to programs that grant access to a younger generation. Share Winter encourages youth skiers and snowboarders to get on the mountains and become part of the ski community, no matter what background they come from.
The long-term implications of this model will help sustain the ski industry by driving new potential skiers and riders onto the slopes.
“OUR MISSION IS TO IMPROVE THE LIVES, HEALTH AND FITNESS OF YOUTH THROUGH WINTER SPORTS”
This week ILOVESKI had the enormous pleasure of a virtual sit-down with the very lovely Constance Beverley, CEO of Share Winter Foundation in the United States of America. Constance Beverley has an infectious energy, an amazing work ethic, and lots to say about the program and how they’re helping kids learn to love skiing.
What is the Share Winter Foundation?
“The Share Winter Foundation is the rebranded name of an initiative that started some time ago. The original name was a long, and a bit boring…(laughs), we used to be known as the National Winter Sports Education Foundation, it was a very old school name, very classic.”
What do you do at the foundation?
“We think of ourselves as a hub, a resource hub as I like to describe it. I used to work in the tech industry and here in the US we have these tech incubators, where you bring your new startup and you find mentors and resources, and we’re trying to be that for these programs. A one-stop shop for the industry. If the industry wants to find a program that focuses on a particular area, or is working particularly in schools or working with not-for-profit ski areas, we have an entire portfolio of different programs that can fit a variety of needs and fit well for different partners. We hear so much from all of those programs about issues they’re having, things that they need, problems they’ve run into, problems they solved, that we can then share with our industry partners to foster better collaboration.”
We’re just a hub, a bridge between the traditional ski industry and emerging grassroots or community-based programs.
“We’ve provided funding for at least three to five years. A lot of other grant making organizations might give you a one time grant, but we believe in building long-term, sustainable relationships. Some of our programs are now going into their sixth year of funding with us. If they continue to be successful, we stick with them.”
Could you describe how one of your programs work ?
“They’re all really amazing, but… I like the innovative programs that make the most use of what they have.”
“We started working with a program in Minneapolis, Minnesota last year called the Loppet Foundation. It’s a snowboarding program operating at a park that is traditionally a Nordic skiing park. They realized there is a small hill with a tow rope in the back of the park that’s just enough to teach kids from the surrounding area the basics of snowboarding.”
“It is inexpensive, and it also allows nordic skiers and snowboarders to exist in the same space which I think is incredibly important for exposure to all different types of winter sports. It’s really easy for the kids to get to, and because it’s a regular park, it’s less intimidating, less scary, way less expensive and such a good place for them to start. They can learn the basics by getting on little trails, etc.”
What would you consider to be one of the best?
“One program we are really proud of is Snow Motion, an after-school program based in Vermont. An educator started it and really championed learning to ski and ride. He got the PTA to agree to invest in a trailer that they could fill with skis and take to different schools so the kids could have their own rental fleet for the school district.”
“We worked with them to buy the rental fleet from a for-profit ski area, because they retire their rentals every 3 years. Instead of having those skis either ending up in a landfill, or being dumped for pennies on the dollar in other countries, we’re trying to empower our programs to purchase them for a low cost, because they’re still in great shape. We can take them to local shops to get tuned, which is how the programs can partner with local shops.”
“For the Snow Motion program, we filled a trailer that acts as a mobile ski shop that can go from school to school and outfit the kids before they go to the mountain, which is great.”
How does the ski industry fit into your work?
“We’ve relied a lot on individual philanthropists and family foundations. We’re slowly starting to change that. We want to prove to the industry at large that what we are doing is important. If people outside of the industry are willing to invest in it, why wouldn’t they invest in something that will help them grow as well?”
“We’re beginning to see that support now. Our first supporters were the trade associations like the National Ski Areas Association here in the US, and Snow Sports Industries America which represents manufacturers and ski instructors. We started with the associations because they’re the educational and resource backbone of a lot of different parts of the industry so we thought they would be the perfect start and it’s been very helpful.”
“They’ve served as an advocate for the work that we do, so they can legitimize our work to their individual members. Through our partnerships with them, we’ve been contacted by ski areas, individual mountains, brands, retailers, marketing agencies, and entertainment companies because they understand that we’re not going to waste anybody’s resources and they’ve seen our incredible results.”
“Another benefit is that none of our partners have to pick one program to support. All of our programs are amazing. We have 30 different program partners in 21 states, 61 ski areas, and 200 schools and they’re all worthy. They’re all doing the work and it’s just a matter of distributing it properly so that each of them can keep doing their job.”
Have you noticed a change in how ski resorts view your work over the last few years?
“Yes! In the past , the model that a lot of our individual programs had been taught to use is, “Hi, I’m a nice program, please give me something for free, and it will make you feel good!”. That’s a really lovely, small ask because people inherently want to give back and feel good, but they don’t think about it on a bigger scale. They just think about it as a nice thing, but it’s really just a band-aid on a larger issue.”
“It wasn’t really challenging the structures that created a situation where that group had to ask for something for free. If we can adjust the structures and understand how we work together to enhance the greater good from a business operations perspective, we’ll see a bigger impact!”
Taking a business approach
“We take a business-minded approach to everything we do and that has really changed the game for us. When we talk to potential partners, we’re asking ‘How can we help,’ instead of ‘What can you do for us?’ We think about how we can work together to create what they’re trying to get done and how we can give them resources so they can expand the good work that they’re doing in a more impactful way. That changes the conversation.”
“The ski areas are shocked when we ask things like, “What’s the best price you can offer? What days are your slow days where you’re not making very much money?” They can’t believe that we aren’t just asking them to provide us with something. We genuinely want to know how we can partner together so that we both benefit.”
How does the Share Winter Foundation benefit the ski industry?
I think the data here in the United States is less than 3% of the American population skis or snowboards and if a kid starts and falls in love with it or the rest of their life, that’s a lifetime spend of over $40,000. So, if we were to convince one hundred thousand kids that weren’t going to be skiers or riders to become skiers or riders and multiply that by around 40,000, we’ll have given back even more to the industry than a lot of other options. This is something we can work on as a collective effort, for the collective benefit.
Every person should be able get out there and ski or snowboard. I think it’s one of the most amazing experiences any human can have.