The children at Tahoe Youth & Family Services can’t wait for SkiDUCK to start once winter hits, Tahoe Youth mentor coordinator Eli Stevenson said. “These kids are just beaming. A lot of our kids don’t have a lot of money, and even though they’re locals, they might not have had the chance to participate in Tahoe activities,” she said. Clint Lunde founded SkiDUCK — which stands for Disabled and Underprivileged Children and older Kids — because he wanted to share his passion for the outdoors with children who had never strapped into a board or worn a pair of ski boots. The program launched in 2009 with four participating resorts and 120 youth. During the 2011-12 season, more than 1,000 participants skied or snowboarded in 13 resorts nationwide. Lunde hopes to continue that growth, and he plans to work with the Tahoe Truckee School District for the first time this year.SkiDUCK, a grassroots nonprofit run entirely by volunteers, partners with area resorts that provide free lift tickets, rentals, and ski or snowboard lessons. Groups like South Shore-based Tahoe Youth and Family Services will carpool to a mountain and meet up with the program’s volunteers. About 95 percent of the participants are never-evers, according to Lunde. For Sarah Olinger, former director of the South Shore SkiDUCK branch, some of the most profound stories are those of the teens from the Stockton-based Operation Peacekeeper group. “The majority of these kids prior to joining SkiDUCK had never seen snow before. The kids, you can see how they realize by the end of the day that life is really worth living. They have all these dreams about returning. We’re getting them off the streets for a weekend,” Olinger said.Olinger worked primarily at Kirkwood Mountain Resort during her time with the program. Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort might join SkiDUCK this year, but plans haven’t been finalized yet, she said. Kirkwood, now under Vail Resorts management, plans to shift away from the inner-city groups, according to Lunde. “That’s Vail’s policy over all. They want to focus on local kids. It really depends on the folks who are making the decisions,” he said. Lunde said that change won’t greatly affect SkiDuck though, and that the program is designed to be flexible. Lunde directs SkiDUCK from his home in Redmond, Wash., communicating with volunteers scattered at resorts from the Lake Tahoe Basin to Pennsylvania. It started more then three years ago when Lunde, couch-ridden with a broken ankle, began thinking about what it would be like to never ski again. He’d left a position at Microsoft to take up skiing full time, but the January accident waylaid his ski-bum plans. “It helped me think, ‘What if I couldn’t ski again?’ And I started to think about what I might miss if I couldn’t afford to ski or had never learned to,” he said. So Lunde worked to establish the nonprofit, and SkiDUCK held its first official event at Squaw Valley in February 2010. “I’m so passionate about the outdoors and skiing, and I wanted to share that with others. I’m much more passionate now about SkiDUCKs than I am about skiing. Our whole model isn’t based on a one time experience. It’s getting them up there again and again. It gives them the opportunity to think long-term — ‘Do I want to live in the mountains?’” he said.
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