Hispanic children take to skis
Come every December, Father Bob Bussen, from at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, leads Hispanic children and their English-speaking skiing sponsors onto the slopes of Park City Mountain Resort for three Saturdays of lessons, fun and food. From that point on, the students and their sponsors ski together for the rest of the season.
Ten years ago, Bussen needed to find a way to bring together his multi-cultural parishioners, who did not know one another because of cultural differences.
"I decided we desperately needed bridge-building between the Hispanic community and English speakers, " Bussen said.
With Park City the World-famous ski town that it is, he got the idea to pair up Hispanic children with English-speaking sponsors. With the combined efforts of Bussen, "Niños on Skis" director Ernest Oriente, Park City Mountain Resort instructors, and with skiing as a catalyst, children and sponsors have melded like a family.
Both Father Bob and Oriente know more than a thing or two about carving turns, which doesn’t hurt the process.
"When you see his white collar ripping through the trees, you know it’s Father Bob," said Oriente.
Oriente said of his own skiing, "I came here to ski in 1998 and it’s become an addiction."
Oriente, an author and founder of PowerHour, LLC, has run "Niños on Skis" for nine years.
"Its all about giving back," he said. "It’s about being a part of the community and being grateful."
Bussen pairs Hispanic children ranging from the second to fifth grade with volunteer
sponsors. Sponsors share their love of the skiing with their new-found friends.
In late October, sponsors and students are matched up. Precision Ski Rentals provides and tunes ski equipment for the children, and the thrift shop in Heber provides the rest, including helmets, gloves, jackets, ski pants, socks, sweaters and goggles. Sponsors help the children select their gear.
All nine years that "Niños on Skis" has been in operation, Park City Mountain Resort has furnished the students with full season-passes and provided resort ski instructors to give students three mornings of instruction.
Bussen, Oriente, the children and their sponsors meet during the first three Saturdays in December. PCMR instructors teach the students from 9:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Following each morning’s instruction, students and sponsors are treated to lunch at PCMR’s Legacy Lodge, compliments of Bussen and Saint Mary’s Church.
Following the three Saturdays of instruction, lunch and afternoon skiing, students and sponsors make joint plans to ski together for the rest of the season. And soon the cultures come together.
"A lot of these sponsors are strong skiers, but they are more than happy to spend all day on the First Time run, skiing with and helping their student," Bussen said.
Oriente said that many sponsors stay closely in touch with the students for the rest of the year, celebrating birthdays and even helping them with their school work. When needed. "It’s a spark and twinkle that happens," Oriente said.
Oscar Gonzalez, 8, a student at Trailside Elementary School, thinks skiing is fun. His "Niños on Skis" sponsors also have taught his sisters Dahlia and Rebecca. Not only are his sponsors really good skiers, but they also came to his first communion, Oscar said. Oscar’s favorite part of skiing is the jumps, he said, and he can picture himself as a ski-jumper some day.
For more information on volunteering as a "Niños on Skis" sponsor, or for Hispanic parents who have children in second-fifth grades who would like to learn how to ski, contact Ernest Oriente at (435) 615-8486, or ernest30 p.m. at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, 1505 White Pine Canyon Rd. Park City, Utah 84060 (near the McPolin barn)
Or call (435) 658-3736.
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Buses, trains and gondolas doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but they make up the transit alternatives for the mountain transportation system the Central Wasatch Commission is trying to create, mostly in the Cottonwood canyons.