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Learn to Ski Program turns 25

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For 25 years, the Learn to Ski program has provided an opportunity for lakes area sixth-graders to gain a skill for an active lifestyle.

During that time, about 25,000 students spent a day on Ski Gull’s slopes and learned the basics for a sport they could use long after grade school. Some went on to ski on high school teams. Some found a winter activity they could master and enjoy well into adulthood. Some may have never had the opportunity to ski again. But for one day, they all learned the basics on the nonprofit Ski Gull’s slopes with the help of volunteers.

Students and teachers learned to ski through the program. Now students who learned to ski in sixth-grade are now teaching new students.

“This is kind of our major contribution back to the community,” said Mary Claire Ryan, director of the sixth-grade Learn to Ski program, said of Ski Gull.

An avid skier with a passion for the sport, Ryan said the best way to learn is to relax and take a lesson.

While students may be a little apprehensive for a first experience, teachers first show them how to fall and then how to ski under control.

“The bottom line for me is giving the kids an opportunity to learn a sport whether they master it or never ski again,” Ryan said. “I love to ski and it’s great to be able to share that with kids.”

Beyond the benefits of an active lifestyle, Ryan said the program also helps build self-esteem as the young skiers gain confidence.

“If they have a positive day, that’s all I can ask for,” Ryan said. “You see all those kids smiling in about an hour, that makes your day. It’s a great place for kids to be out and active.”

The students go step by step through learning stations, progressing as they pick up skiing skills. By late morning, most advance to the chair lift. This year when the only dependable snow base is man-made, Ski Gull has been able to ensure a place to enjoy the benefits of a Minnesota winter — downhill skiing. After 25 years with the program and coordinating endless details behind the scenes, Ryan is looking forward to Paul and Elyse Burton taking an increased role. Ryan is looking to spending time on the slopes teaching kids to ski.

When the program started in 1987, Ryan said she never imagined how long it would last or how many children’s lives it would touch — even for a day. Sixth-graders come from Brainerd, Pequot Lakes, Pine River, Backus, Pillager, Staples-Motley and Crosby. The program works with public and private school students.

“It’s a big job, but it’s a great job,” Ryan said, “When we finally get on the snow with the kids that’s the frosting on the cake.”

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
(218) 855-5852