If you are not a squealing teen, you should probably avoid Bolton Valley on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights. That’s when Bolton becomes the contemporary equivalent of a roller-skating rink in the ’80s, minus the feathered hair and off-the-shoulder sweatshirts. If you are over 18, you might as well be invisible to the hordes of kids who rule the resort on these evenings.
Some of those teens cruising down Bolton’s slopes are part of CHILL, a snowboard mentoring program that teaches at-risk and low-income youth to ride. For six weeks, CHILL participants get lessons in snowboarding and life from volunteer instructors and chaperones employed by partner agencies such as the King Street Youth Center, DREAM and the Vermont Children’s Aid Society.
Before setting foot on the mountain, the kids are outfitted in head-to-toe gear from Burton, the program’s major benefactor. The result is a slew of stylish little shredders. The CHILL youths I rode with on a recent Thursday evening put my sad little ski outfit to shame.
As the program’s name suggests, the whole setup is chill. About 30 Chittenden County kids gather outside the resort’s program office and help each other tighten goggles and adjust helmet straps. When they get the go-ahead, they head to the lifts for some informal lessons. The lack of regimentation means kids can learn at their own pace.
I started the evening riding with Matt Place and Sandi Pasagic, two Burlington youths who are well on their way to becoming sick little rippers. As we rode up the Vista Quad, the boys told me what trails they liked to ride. Sandi, 13, prefers long cruisers like Alta Vista, because after a long day at school, “it’s nice to go on a relaxing run.” Matt, 14, who is a little more advanced, opts for more technical runs, but doesn’t like the steep chutes that drop from Vista Peak.
Bolton Valley is the only resort in the state to offer night skiing and riding and, since I hadn’t skied under lights in nearly 20 years, it took me a while to get my bearings. The mountain looked entirely different in the dark, and the trails seemed to take on new personae.
After a few runs with the boys, who participate in CHILL through the Northgate Residential Association, I switched things up and rode with kids from the Sara Holbrook Community Center. Bleonda Sulejmani, an eighth grader at Hunt Middle School, and Seth Pidgeon, a senior at Burlington High School, are both peer leaders with CHILL. They’re quick learners and competent riders.
During my first run with them, I followed Bleonda, a reserved girl with long brown hair and a mouth full of braces. Bleonda headed down Hard Luck Chute, a steep, icy pitch that spills onto an easy cruiser called Sherman’s Pass. Instead of taking the green trail, she zoomed straight for Upper Vermont 200, a black diamond slightly above her skill level.
Bleonda handled it with composure and made a number of graceful, swooping turns before stopping at the junction with Lower Vermont. She exhaled a nervous laugh and high-fived her chaperone, Tim Nicholas, who congratulated her for taking the more difficult trail. Each CHILL lesson has a theme, and the theme of this particular day was courage. Lesson learned for Bleonda. Eleven down, nine to go.