Big Rock to expand Ski4Life with new small grant funding

10 months ago

MARS HILL, Maine — A recent award of a small grant to Big Rock Mountain will help the nonprofit expand its growing Ski4Life program.

More school districts will be able to sign up for the 10-week Ski4Life that begins the first week in January, said Aaron Damon, assistant general manager for Big Rock Mountain.

In the 2021-2022 ski season, there were 1,800 Ski4Life visits in 2021 that grew to 2,200 in 2022-2023. Big Rock Mountain plans on a growth rate of 20 percent for Ski4Life for every year.

 Big Rock has a goal of expanding to 2,640 visits for the Ski4Life program for the next season.

“The [Ski4Life] program is growing already. It’s actually doing very well,” Damon said.

Big Rock Mountain has received $10,000 in general operating support from the Sadie & Harry Davis Foundation. The funds will go toward expanding its Ski4Life program to create more time slots for groups that arrive at Big Rock on a half hour to hourly schedule.

Around 10 different school groups from eight school districts participated in Ski4Life, along with kids from the Wabanaki and the Mi’kmaq Nations in the past ski and snowboarding season.

The K-12 groups for Ski4Life had on average 40 visits with some groups having 90 visits at maximum, or had six visits at minimum for the program, Damon said. Around three-fourths of the Ski4Life participants are skiers.

Approximately 63.7 percent of students eligible for the free or reduced lunch program are served by Big Rock Mountain for the school districts in Aroostook and Washington counties, Damon said.

Students from school systems in Aroostook County come from Mars Hill, Presque Isle, Houlton, Portage and Ashland. One school that participates in Ski4Life is from Danforth in Washington County.

Schools that are farther away can travel to Big Rock Mountain for up to two hours. Once the kids arrive, the skis are preset to fit their needs and they can hit the slopes as quickly as possible for their allotted time.

The shortage of bus drivers in Washington County this past ski and snowboard season affected the program, but Damon hopes that will turn around.

The Ski4Life offers cooperative transportation with schools in Aroostook and Washington counties to use their school buses and Recreation Center vans like the one located in Presque Isle.

About nine kids had joined the Ski4Life program for the 2021-2022 ski season and by the 2022-2023 ski season participation increased to 18 kids, according to Andrew Perry, program director for the Recreation & Parks Department in Presque Isle.

Many kids were from Portage to Ashland and would be dropped off at the shuttle van that drives to Big Rock. Around 90 percent of the kids are skiers with 10 percent on snowboards, Perry said.

Presque Isle starts at grades 3 through 12 for school-aged kids to be involved in Ski4Life. Presque Isle’s Rec Department skis and snowboards on Thursdays for 10 weeks with some kids having never skied before.

“It takes about three visits from never having skied to being independent,” Damon said.

Ski4Life removes the barriers to skiing and snowboarding by reducing the cost for ski tickets to $15 per visit with lessons, if needed, and rentals included.