In the three winters that the National Winter Activity Center has been active, the National Winter Sports Education Foundation’s “living lab” has helped drive a massive interest in the slopes among New York City-area kids. Here’s how.
The National Winter Sports Education Foundation (NWSEF) faces what can best be described as a “downhill battle” to get children from all economic backgrounds interested in skiing, snowboarding, and other sports on the slopes.
The problem is especially challenging near urban areas, such as New York City, where the bustle of urban life (and the costs of traveling to a snowy hillside) may keep kids away, beyond maybe a field trip or two.
But NWSEF may have found the perfect strategy to draw kids’ attention—and keep it. In 2015, the group opened up the National Winter Activity Center (NWAC), a New Jersey-based nonprofit ski facility, which happens to be the first of its kind in the country. The center, currently in its third year, is intent on drawing school-age children into snow sports, with the goal of encouraging repeated visits.
The concept is the brainchild of NWSEF’s CEO, Schone Malliet, who was once one of those urban kids without any exposure to the slopes. In his 20s, Malliet was introduced to skiing while in the Marines. While he didn’t have an easy start—most people don’t— he soon became involved in the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS), the country’s largest ski club, and has been an avid skier ever since.
“As part of the youth leadership team [of NBS], my experiences with young athletes like Andre and Suki Horton, Christian Kennedy, and so many others, I could see the positive impact the sport had on them,” Malliet told Black Enterprise Modern Man. “It became a passion of mine to find ways so that all youth could have those same opportunities.”
Malliet launched NWSEF six years ago, according to Forbes, and an opportunity to build on that mission showed itself in 2015, when a New Jersey ski park called Hidden Valley went up for sale. Malliet, who had a successful career in the business world, raised the $12 million to purchase the park, according to Powder, and launched NWAC that winter.
The goal with the center, he told Forbes, has been to create something with a model that is easy to replicate nationally—getting kids in front of the park multiple times, helping them quickly get ready for the slopes, and building out systems that help minimize the frustration that often comes with winter sports—whether it’s getting in the proper gear or getting the right footing.
Local nonprofits like YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs organize buses to get children on the slopes, while NWSEF handles everything else. And the ski industry, which is well-represented by NWSEF, could see long-term benefits from the strategy, by creating regular interest in snow sports.
“Our role at the NWSEF is to find the programs that work nationwide, share our experience with them, help put together resources, and then collect data so we have the numbers to prove it works,” Malliet told Forbes. “The metric we’re shooting toward is to get 100,000 kids annually involved in some kind of winter sports program.”
NWSEF’s goal is to encourage better health among children—but it might just help keep winter sports healthy in the process.