Youth program kicks off season
Talking life, snow sports and mentorship on Six Shooter
Flying down the slopes of Moonlight Basin, Belgrade High School sophomore Kami was often leaving her Big Sky Youth Empowerment crew in the dust. But they didn’t seem to mind, since it gave them the option to catch up, make a quick stop and blast her with snow.
Kami, along with more than 100 other BYEP kids, were back on Jan. 21 for their first day of the 2018 BYEP ski and snowboard program at Big Sky Resort. Judging by the frequent whoops and hollers coming from the runs and lifts, “byyyeeeeppp!” they were all enjoying the bluebird day to the fullest.
“She’s an all-around badass,” BYEP volunteer mentor David Biesel said as he, Kami and fellow BYEP’er and classmate Luz rode up Six Shooter. “And I don’t know if she knows it, but I’m happy to remind her on a regular basis.”
Not surprisingly, Kami agreed snowboarding is her favorite BYEP activity. “It’s awesome,” she said, looking up at the Headwaters as they zoomed closer into view. “Double blacks and blacks are pretty fun. Halfway through the season we’re going up to the ridge.”
In the summer, Kami takes part in the BYEP climbing program. “You’re a strong climber,” Biesel told her as she was clearly downplaying her skills. She laughed, “Not really.”
“No, she’s a strong climber,” Biesel reiterated.
Biesel has been with BYEP for two years. He heard about the program via a counselor he’d been seeing for several years who was involved with BYEP, eventually transitioning from seeing her to mentoring in the program.
For work, he’s a contract sewer making mountain bike straps for Backcountry Research. “Which allows me a ton of free time to work with the kids and make my time available for the other things BYEP needs—people to drive rigs, those little things in between that I can help take care of,” he said. “I make my time available to them, it’s one of my priorities in life.”
Also riding along was Belgrade High School sophomore Luz. She said she heard about BYEP from the school’s counseling department, and joined as soon as she could. “I just needed something to take off my line of bad things that were happening,” she said. “And it’s worked splendidly for me.”
Luz said she had tried snowboarding before joining BYEP, “But it wasn’t good, so I started out skiing with BYEP. And I’ve done well. In the beginning, it’s been a little rough, but I’m starting to get used to the snow again.”
During the recent outing, she requested taking only green runs, but held her own on the blues without a hitch. And after taking a short break around 2 p.m., while most of her counterparts were ready to call it a day, Luz was looking for a mentor to head back with her to the lifts for another run or two.
Luz said she’s made a lot of friends through the program, “And even the mentors are amazing. I’ve met a whole bunch of people with different personalities, and they’re great.”
BYEP kids enter the program in eighth grade. Just before Christmas, they’re ushered to a makeshift ski shop in the lunchroom at Bozeman’s Chief Joseph Middle School, where they are set up from head to toe in ski and snowboard gear at no cost. This year, 33 new eighth graders joined the program.
All the gear is donated from local shops or big sponsors like Ride, Never Summer, Rossignol and many more. If there’s something a BYEP’er needs that they can’t find in their size, they receive vouchers to go to local businesses to pick out exactly what they’d like.
“It’s number one, the best day of the year,” Biesel said without hesitation. “We have all 120 kids come into the program needing gear. Sometimes there are kids that have never snowboarded, never had an opportunity to do anything like that. It’s one of those days where kids who don’t necessarily have the opportunity to enjoy the full potential of the place they live get to realize they will get to enjoy that full potential, because of the gratuity of the surrounding area and the community.”
Biesel said he grew up in a low-income family. Now, working with kids in a similar situation is a highlight of his mentoring experience—especially on gear distribution day. “One of the things that I tell the kids is, ‘If I was your age and I was living in Bozeman, Montana, I’d be in this room too.’ So, I’m not there as a kid, but I’m there as a mentor. There’s no difference between me and them, I’m just older.”
Before hitting the longer, steeper runs with Kami, Luz and crew, Biesel spent the morning teaching kids how to snowboard. “They all made progress, I’m really proud of all of them for at least putting the effort in. One of the things that we talk about at BYEP is the commitment to growth, and this is a really nice way to push kids a little bit, to try a little bit harder, to try again.
We remind them, ‘What about your commitment to growth?’ And hopefully this is something they can take on for the rest of their lives when it comes to other challenges.”
Kids’ responses and gratitude often come in the form of hugs. “I’ve come to realize in the last couple years I am a big hugger, I love hugs,” Biesel said. “And it’s really cool to experience the kids that, let’s say, are not in an environment where a man hugging a man is okay, but they walk up to me with open arms and give me a hug every single time
I see them.”
Biesel said he gets as much out of the mentoring program as the kids seem to get out of being a part of BYEP.
“My friend and I lost horribly in a pool tournament yesterday,” he said. “But I knew that I was coming out Sunday to go snowboarding with BYEP. And I know that these kids might have bad days too, but they know every Sunday in the winter that they’re going to come see me and they’re going to come see all these other people that they love that are here to support them and help them along on their journey. We can just go out and have fun and not deal with things, just enjoy life and get exercise.”
With year-round opportunities ranging from whitewater rafting to zip-lining, mountain biking, pottery, skiing and much more, BYEP is always looking for volunteers. Biesel said anyone thinking of volunteering should take the leap.
“Your experiences in life are more important than your possessions in life,” he said. “And the experience of helping someone else through their struggles will make you understand why
you helped yourself through your struggles.”
To learn more, visit www.byep.org.