As 9-year-old Niyanna Brooks skied down the medium-sized hill at Maple Ski Ridge mid-morning on Saturday, she made several turns.
“Those are great turns” cheered Ashok Ramasubramanian. “Those are really great.”
For the past six weeks, Brooks and four other students have been taking skiing lessons.
The opportunity came after Ramasubramanian, a mechanical engineering professor at Union College, recently started skiing himself and noticed the lack of diversity on the slopes.
“It really bothered me,” Ramasubramanian said.
He decided to do something about it. Ramasubramanian began reaching out to a number of organizations to help find children who wanted to ski, and began raising money to pay for all the associated costs.
“Through crowdfunding we managed to raise funds to provide the standard six-week beginner ski lessons at Maple Ski Ridge,” Ramasubramanian said.
He said it was truly a community effort through the help of organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club, COCOA House, Community Fathers Inc., Liberty Church, Maple Ski Ridge, Alpin Haus, Schenectady Foundation, Nubian Empire Ski Club and the many people who donated money.
Ramasubramanian said some of the organizations helped locate interested kids. Alpin Haus donated brand-new ski clothes, and Maple Ridge provided the rental gear and a discount for the lessons.
“We wanted to have this be zero cost to the families,” Ramasubrmanian said.
Maple Ridge became involved after Dana Walton, the Rotterdam ski center’s snow sports director and a former employee of the Boys & Girls Club, spoke to the Maple Ridge owners.
“It was really near and dear to my heart,” Walton said about the program.
She said the equipment amounts to a roughly $180 value for each of the children.
The kids received their six weeks of lessons from new instructor Dan Magil.
“He is really enjoying it,” Walton said.
The kids are, too, Walton said.
Brooks said her favorite part of the lesson was learning how to snow plow, which is a beginner’s technique for slowing down and turning.
While getting her gear on prior to a lesson, Keziah Weah, 9, who lives in Schenectady, said she loved having a chance to learn to ski.
“It’s like flying,” she said.
Weah’s mom, Yassah Degbeh, said she was grateful for the opportunity provided to her daughter.
“It’s great,” she said. “I love it. I like to introduce her to new activities.”
She said she probably wouldn’t have thought of taking her daughter skiing, but now that Keziah has participated in the program, she wants to keep doing it, Degbeh said. Since the lessons began, she said, her daughter has been pretending to ski on icy sidewalks as she walks to await her school bus some mornings. Degbeh said she will likely keep paying for the rental skis even after the lessons end so that her daughter can keep skiing.
Nyarie McCormick,7, was still trying to get dressed with her mom’s help, but her 8-year-old brother, Zion Mike, was already outside ready to ski.
Like all the other students, McCormick also loved being able to take the lessons.
“It’s like going on a roller coaster,” she said.
Her mom, Amber Nesbitt, also thinks the program was pretty cool. Without the program, she said, her kids and others “wouldn’t have really opened their minds to something like this.”
She also said that for people in Schenectady, who may not be financially able to ski, this is a great way to introduce the kids to the activity.
Now it’s all they can talk about, Nesbitt said, noting that they’ll wake up Sunday mornings asking when it’s time to ski again.
“My son thinks he’s a pro now,” Nesbitt said.
Zion has also approached Shane Bargy, director of the Boys & Girls Club, and excitedly asked if they were skiing during the weekend, Bargy said.
He said it’s important for youth organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club that children “have a wide range of opportunities.” Without help from organizations and others, the kids might not get those experiences, Bargy said.
Even during weeks in which the weather was a lot colder, the kids stayed outside almost the entire time, Nesbitt said.
She said as long as the kids are interested in skiing and it’s within her price range, she’ll take them.
Ramasubramanian said the children will get an additional two weeks of skiing, with lessons from the Nubian Empire Ski Club.
Bargy said the groups are looking into grant funding to hopefully expand the program to more children.