Meet Lauren Serafin of Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club
A Note From Team Share Winter: On the surface, youth learn to ski and ride programs across the US seem similar. All it takes, however, is one visit to a mountain or conversation with a founder to realize that each program Share Winter Foundation funds is as different as the community it serves. Over the next year, we are excited to show you a behind-the-scenes look at our grantee programs- from what they do best to the challenges and barriers they navigate. Share Winter is committed to dismantling the traditional funding approach and allowing our grantees to be open with us about what works and what doesn’t – so we can all grow together. Telling authentic stories is part of that journey.
To step into a day with the Share Winter funded Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club’s Bill Koch Youth Ski League, we caught up with Program Director Lauren Serafin. Share Winter believes impactful leaders work throughout organizations. Serafin shows just this and we loved learning more about her commitment to creating a more inclusive ski community in the Roaring Fork Valley. Whether learning to ski alongside the youth in the program or striking up conversations with movers and shakers in her community, Serafin is clearly a leader to track in the winter sports industry world. We can’t wait to see what she accomplishes next.
Below, AVSC Director of Marketing and Communications Katie Houser connected with Serafin to talk about her journey to AVSC – and to the sport of skiing – on the heels of her first season as a member of the AVSC team.
Katie Houser, AVSC Director of Marketing & Communications: Lauren! Give us a quick run-down of your program, which has to have the longest title of any youth on-snow program – Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club’s Bill Koch Youth Ski League.
Lauren Serafin, AVSC Bill Koch Youth Ski League Program Director: Yes! Our Bill Koch Youth Ski League is an after-school nordic skiing program that operates in Aspen and Carbondale. The program is a fun, learn-to-ski program where kids can develop not only ski skills, but life skills too – they learn a lot about teamwork and accountability. We have about 200 kids in the program. We want all kids to have the chance to learn to ski with us, so we offer program scholarships, equipment to use, and provide transportation. Our skiers range from age 5-11 and are placed in groups based on age and ability. Our groups are animal-themed – lions, cheetahs, wolves, etc. – and each group proudly takes on that identity. We have a lot of fun. Costumes are frequent, and we end every day with hot chocolate.
What group is the most enthusiastic?
Ben’s group: the wolves. They are constantly howling to meet back up on the trail – it’s their call! When they are not the ‘wolves’ they also like to call themselves the ‘chicken noodles’ as they giggle their way up the trails.
What was your relationship to skiing prior to joining the team at AVSC?
I grew up in the Roaring Fork Valley (I was born in Aspen) and was always surrounded by kids who were skiing. I only downhill skied for one season, I think for maybe six days when I was five years old. I think being part of the minority, my parents were never aware of the opportunities that were offered in this valley.
How and why did you get involved in the Bill Koch Youth Ski League?
I met August [Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club Nordic Program Director] when I was helping my mom at work. He heard me speaking Spanish with her and then switching to English with him. He started asking me questions, and it came out that I was struggling to balance work and school [Lauren is pursuing a degree in Business] and I did not feel fulfilled. After a while the conversation evolved into him talking about an open position at AVSC and asking if I would be interested. I initially considered it because I would work with the community and be outdoors. Sure enough, now that I am in the job, I really enjoy both aspects, especially the families.
I initially considered it because I would work with the community and be outdoors. Sure enough, now that I am in the job, I really enjoy both aspects, especially the families.
What was a particularly memorable moment from the season?
Skiing with the kids – with the wolfpack, actually! Although I direct this program, the coaches are the ski pros. I had never nordic skied before this winter. My first time on skis with the groups I was super nervous. The kids were very encouraging, most of them had never been on nordic skis before this season, so they knew how I felt! They were so excited for me to put skis on and have the experience alongside them – they usually see me running around dealing with logistics, making sure everyone is accounted for, talking with parents, etc.! I think them seeing that I was also new to nordic skiing encouraged them, too. Seeing me fall helped their confidence. They would think, “She’s falling, so it’s ok that I am falling – I’ll keep going.” The bruises on my legs are like nothing I’ve ever had before… but it was worth it!
The kids were so excited for me to put skis on and have the experience alongside them – they usually see me running around dealing with logistics, making sure everyone is accounted for, talking with parents, etc. I think them seeing that I was also new to nordic skiing encouraged them, too.
So awesome that you stepped out of the administrative side of things and challenged yourself to ski! How was your first time on nordic skis?
I went with Sarah, one of the Bill Koch Youth Ski League coaches. Before the season officially started, I had heard about “Coach Sarah” and knew that she grew up here as well, but I didn’t realize that our families knew each other until I saw her maiden name on her skis and put two and two together. My parents were always very grateful to know her father, he actually helped my dad open his first bank account when my dad came to the United States. Of all things, it was nordic skiing that brought Sarah and I back together. Anyway, Sarah invited me to ski with her and catch up. I did great on the uphills, the problem was going downhill! I have a lot of respect for what our coaches are able to teach the kids, Sarah was super helpful in building my confidence. I really enjoyed reconnecting with her and remembering our family connection and, on some level, all of that reiterated that I was in the right place, doing the right thing.
Wow, that is so cool to re-connect with a friend from childhood in that way.
Yes! And being coached by one of our coaches was so helpful for me in understanding their value on another level. It helped me communicate to parents how amazing the coaches are. The kids look up to the coaches, really respect and listen to them, and the coaches know what to do to get the kids to ski. You see the kids out there and they look so graceful, it comes easy to them and they just have fun. Sometimes parents would ask the coaches why the kids were playing games on their skis, thinking that they could be skiing the trails instead. When they’re playing games, they don’t realize they’re skiing, and their technique improves. They’re working on skills without even realizing it. The coaches are pretty awesome in that way.
Looking ahead, what are your goals for the program?
Building an inclusive community on skis. Specifically, for our program to reflect the diversity of the community that we live in. After this year, I have a better idea of who my points of contact will be in terms of outreach in the community. I developed relationships with many people who could be considered community experts, people who have a big reach and have established trust with many local families. Sometimes I would just start conversations by the hot chocolate table at the end of the day. I met school principals and other people who are key players in our community at that table! Looking forward, I am definitely in a better place to spread the word and make sure more kids have access to the fun programs we offer.
Looking forward, I am definitely in a better place to spread the word and make sure more kids have access to the fun programs we offer.
The hot chocolate table seems like the perfect place to connect. What do you see as the biggest hurdle for Bill Koch Youth Ski League in terms of barriers to participation?
Many parents have no experience with skiing – they don’t know what it consists of. So, fear. Specifically, fear of kids getting hurt. That’s where language is important – explaining things, answering questions, and walking parents through what the experience looks and feels like. Kids get hurt, but it’s not nearly as common or severe as they might think! I also don’t think this is a new barrier… if I think about my parents, it definitely would have been fear holding them back! My mom was sixteen when she came to the US, decided to try ice skating, and broke her ankle in three parts. That definitely impacted our participation in activities growing up – she was hesitant to get us into things and was overprotective after her own experience.
Ouch. As we plan for next season, how do you think we can overcome that fear?
With that community outreach. Taking the time to explain the experience and giving families a chance to get comfortable with what their kids will be doing. Having parents who have kids that have participated spread the word; they have seen it first-hand. The hardest part is getting families to the snow! Once we get kids to come ski, they come back. Once we meet, it’s easy to build trust and relationships. All of the kids know that I know their names, I know who they are as individuals. It is the easiest way to make them feel welcomed and known.
Thank you, Lauren! Congratulations on a successful season!
About the Authors
Lauren Serafin is the Bill Koch Youth Ski League Program Director for Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club. She was born and raised in the Roaring Fork Valley and it continues to be her home. She graduated from Basalt High School in 2018 and is now working on attaining her bachelor’s degree in Business from Colorado Mountain College. When she is not in the mountains with her family and pets, her home away from home is Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Katie Houser is the Director of Marketing & Communications for Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club. She loves working with her team to create opportunities for local kids in a sport that has given her so much. She moved to Colorado after graduating from Colby College in Maine, where she served as a captain of their NCAA Div. 1 Alpine Ski Team. East or West, on or off skis, she is happiest outdoors with friends, family, and dogs.