Step Into the World of Cross Country Skiing with the Loppet Foundation
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 Director 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.
The Loppet Foundation has been a centerpiece of recreation in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area since the early 2000s and a Share Winter Grant Recipient since 2017. Share Winter is an enthusiastic supporter of Loppet, which facilitates some of the most diverse learn to cross country ski programs in the US. Operating from Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis, the Loppet Foundation’s ski programs show youth don’t need to travel outside of city limits to experience the joy of winter sports.
By Ray Aponte – The Loppet Foundation
It’s early in the morning and I realize snow has begun to fly. As I’m gazing out the window I get this feeling deep down inside me to get outside and enjoy the winter beauty and all that it has to offer. Snow fills me with new ideas and the familiar feeling of excitement that I want to share. I start contacting community partners and together we start the conversations of how we will work together to bring young people over to the Trailhead so that they can share the same feelings I do. Skiing is my passion and making it accessible to all has become a part of it.
Mid-December, I had my first winter youth group. It was a group of twenty third graders from a local school. Not only was this their first time at the Trailhead but it was also their first time skiing. I sensed their nervousness. So many things were new to them. Boots, poles, skies, and the shuffle shuffle noise when they slide on the snow. Their eyes were wide open just soaking in everything that I was pouring into their head. They seemed a little nervous but more than anything they were willing to try. As we hit the trails the kids were having a hard time capturing the technique of skiing. It seemed to me they were not having too much fun but despite the difficulties they continued to try and try and try.
When we returned to the Trailhead and debriefed as a group, I heard comments like,
“I had fun!”
“I want to learn how to ski!”
“I am going to tell my mom!”
“I learned how to ski today!”
I expected the opposite. This reminded me how resilient kids are and how willing they are to try new things. These kids just needed opportunities, a smile, and a place to expand their own thinking about what they can do.
This day in December is just one day in the life of what I do. Growing up I never had those kinds of opportunities and instead had to create my own. My journey from Puerto Rico to Minneapolis has led me through a wide variety of experiences, understandings, and adventures. I started from humble roots and set out to prove myself and invest in my communities along the way. Most of my career has been spent as a steward for youth in education both in the classroom and outdoors.
Most of my career has been spent as a steward for youth in education both in the classroom and outdoors.
I was fortunate enough to become friends with a nordic skier, Greg, in my early twenties. Greg was kind enough to let me use his old equipment and spent his time showing me how to ski. From then on I was a person who was able to set goals for myself because I wanted to become a good cross country skier. Skiing became a huge part of my life and I found myself often looking to share those experiences with people who looked like me and thought similarly to me, but both were few and far between. This inspired me to set new goals for myself.
I got my degree in teaching and I found myself leading outdoor adventures with any child I could. First I was a gym teacher to inspire outdoor activity, then became a principal, creating field trips where kids could go out into the world and explore nature while learning a bit about themselves. Often kids of color are expected to become mathematicians and great speakers just to “fit in”, but I wanted to create space for them to be kids and have experiences just like everyone else. From taking Native kids to the Black Hills to taking new Latino immigrants to the North Shores, I hoped these experiences would expand how the youth thought of themselves as people, like it had for me. I continued to set new goals for myself all the time and that is how I came to be at The Loppet.
I hoped these experiences would expand how the youth thought of themselves as people, like it had for me.
As someone who has experienced being the “other”, an outsider with brown skin and an English-language learner, I have a unique perspective on how to create inclusivity. I use my personal experience to help us focus on the heart of our mission statement; sharing outdoor adventure with all. I never imagined that I would be tasked with creating outdoor opportunities for underserved youth and families but I wouldn’t change what I do for anything in the world and I will continue to do it for as long as I can. The opportunity gap is as wide as it’s ever been and my new goal is to see BIPOC as the norm at Theodore Wirth Park, where Loppet runs our programs. When you’re skiing you shouldn’t be shocked to see a person of color. To achieve that goal, I know it all starts with fresh snowfall and a group of kids, nervous but determined, at a trailhead.
About the Author
For the past 25 years, Ray Aponte has dedicated his existence to the development of youth. He continues to work with diverse students on their social, collaborative and leadership skills by leading various outdoor learning experiences. After receiving his Masters in Arts from Saint Thomas University, he became a Minneapolis School Principal for 29 years in high school, elementary and k-8 schools. He is currently the Director of Adventure programming for The Loppet Foundation where he has partnered with nearby organizations to create a shared passion for outdoor adventure learning and programming for underserved youth and families.