Colleen Keane
Olympian Suzy “Chapstick” Chaffee (middle) teaches Jason and Jayla Abeyta (Ohkey Owingeh/San Juan Pueblo) how to joyfully fly like eagles on skis down Pajarito Mountain.

New Mexico-Arizona Tribal Ski Programs Help to Heal America

Suzy 'Chapstick' Chaffee
2/3/14

On January 4, Pajarito Mountain Ski Area, nestled near New Mexico’s Bandelier Canyon Cliff Dwellings, launched an unprecedented snowsports outreach for the tribal youth of New Mexico and Arizona. It was thanks so much to ski instructor David Vosburgh, also director of the newly forming Native Nations Sports Ambassadors Program (NNSAP), and local tribal mom leaders.

fFor two hours, kids and chaperones of the Laguna, Acoma, Ohkey Owingeh and Pajoaque Pueblos excitedly learned the basics of how to dance down their Los Alamos Mountains from Pajarito’s big-hearted instructors. Some youngsters rode the lift and joyfully zipped up and down the slopes until they closed. Read more heartwarming details here.

After offering the most generous Native ski outreach in history, Pajarito temporarily had to close for lack of enough snow. So Vosburgh and I made an emergency call to nearby Ski Santa Fe, which generously gave Pajarito (Tewa/Spanish for little bird) and  the Native Nations Sports Ambassador Program a hand to keep getting more Native kids on the slopes.

“I recently saw on TV the Pajarito ski program. Wow. Thanks for teaching my sister and I to ski 15 years ago in Telluride, Colorado,” Brandon Ashley, a Navajo skier, emailed me. “I go back there every year because it is an awesome place. More Native American youth should have the opportunity to experience the great outdoors. I will spread the word on our Navajo rez and perhaps I could help you expand areas in Montana and Wyoming where they have no such programs.”

Today, Brandon Ashley serves as a professional legislative staff member for the House Committee on Natural Resources' Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee in Washington D.C., and prior to that he worked as the leglislative assistant to Sen. John McCain.

Forging Teamwork in New Mexico

In a record three days, Ski Santa Fe's general manager Benny Abruzzo and Bill Gould, Santa Fe Snow Sports School director, offered any qualified tribal members of New Mexico and Arizona ages 6–16 a Never Ever Ski or Snowboard Lesson, rentals and lift ticket for $25. Reservations are required; call 505-992-5084.

Now Pajarito Mountain is inviting tribal school groups of 20 to 70 (including chaperones) from New Mexico or Arizona for a special on-going weekday learn-to-ski program that provides rental equipment, lift tickets, and two-hour lessons for $25 total, at over 60 percent off. “We include their chaperones since skiing bonds families like Suzy’s and mine,” said Vosburgh.

“Plus those with tribal membership IDs of New Mexico or Arizona can also purchase a full-day lift ticket, including rentals, for a flat fee of $25 on Friday to Sunday and holidays,” said Tom Long, Pajarito's general manager. “Cultural diversity is the key to the future of skiing and cornerstone to a wonderful life,” he added.

Reservations are needed for the weekday lesson groups, or for information on getting certified as an instructor, or how your New Mexico tribe can get a gymnastics program as part of NNSAP, which has exciting fundraising plans to expand these opportunities, contact David Vosburgh at Director@LAHighFlyers.com.   



Hoop dancing at Pajarito Mountain (Colleen Keane)

Documenting 'The Snowdance Phenomena'



In January 2012, a snowdance phenomena swept across Colorado, Utah and California’s Tahoe that helped these Western regions survive what ABC now calls “the driest winter in 130 years.” Native elders lead local skiers and boarders in "Gratitude Snowdances" that were proclaimed miracles by The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, TV stations and other media. 

RELATED: Suzy Chaffee: 'Snow Gratitude Ceremonies' Key to Reenergizing Mother Earth

Dancing for Snow Miracle Is Last Hope for Olympic Heritage Games

The same year, 192 United Nation-member countries reached the following consensus: “The key to regenerating Mother Earth is Green Technology and Ancient Wisdom through the Indigenous,” exemplified by their raindances saving farmers for eons. That was expanded to snowdances when the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympic Organizers asked the Reno Sparks Washoe and Paiutes to save their games. The UN Sustainability officer encouraged the Native American Olympic Team Foundation (NAOTF) to share these powerful snowdance stories with communities around the world to inspire people to live in better harmony with Mother Nature.

 “The Snowdance Phenomena,” also features Stanford’s late skier and Nobel Prize-winning climatologist Dr. Stephen Schneider, an advocate for combining practical and spiritual solutions to  care for the environment and increase snowfall.

"I think it is wonderful that ski areas have been inviting the tribes back to ski and snowboard, which inspires the Elders to lead these snowdances. It would be wise to further explore and expand such cross-fertilization," he said.


Here is another example of critical Ancient Wisdom that the wonderful Elders shared with me over the last 18 years in the documentary: “By living in more harmony with nature and each other  through these heart-healing sports outreaches, we are purifying the land and mountains of the negative energy it absorbs from fighting, explosions, accidents plus pollution that blankets the mountains (lowering their vibration and interfering with precipitation cycles).”  In so doing communities can heal and avoid that energy being released through painful costly ‘Frankenstorms,’ droughts, fires and flood cycles. 



Collaborating for a Better Future



It's teamwork like Parajito and Santa Fe, and ski areas across the Americas that have shared the  joy of skiing with more than 10,000 Native youth on over a million acres of their ancestral lands, and the compassion of the Elders, that brings hope for extending the future of snow and snowmelt important for global drinking water and food.

As a gift to all Creator’s children to slow down Climate Change, please help Pajarito-Santa Fe’s model blissfully ripple across America and beyond. 

To help facilitate a Native snowsports programs in your region, or info for Natives wanting to participate in a nearby Professional Ski Instructors of America certification clinic to get jobs, or to help us complete this documentary to bring in a joyous New Dawn, please contact NAOTF.org, a 501(c)3 non-profit, or Snow-riders.org.



Watch a video on the creation of the Native American Olympic Team Foundation:

Suzy "Chapstick" Chaffee made world headlines ski racing in the 1968 Grenoble Olympics. As a child ballerina, she helped to invent ski ballet, later becoming the World Freestyle Champion and a star in Bogner's world hit "Fire & Ice." As the first woman on the United States Olypmic Committee board, she united world athletes to reform the Olympic rules. She also led the Title 1X March for Equal Opportunities for women in school sports and education. Chaffee co-founded the Native Voices Foundation in 1996, now called the Native American Olympic Team Foundation (NAOTF). Out of it champions of snowsports and life have emerged like Delaney Tyon of Pine Ridge, who wants to be a green engineer.

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