Winter. A season that brings snow, darkness, and bitter cold. It may not sound like the most pleasant time of year. For some of us it’s just a time of year where we hope for days warmer than 10 degrees. For outdoor enthusiasts, it’s ski season.
It is no mystery that Maine is a skiing paradise; Sugarloaf, the second largest ski resort east of Mississippi, is just one of many ski resorts found in the state. Bates is home to both Division I Alpine and Nordic ski teams and has no shortage of students who have skied since they were two.
Maine also has no shortage of eager young students wanting to learn the sport. That’s where the Bill Koch Youth Ski League (BKL) comes in. Named after Olympic Nordic skier Bill Koch, the lessons serve approximately 60 children from toddlers to middle-school age children to introduce them to Nordic skiing, also commonly known as cross country skiing. Lessons involve interactive games between students and coaches.
“Rather than rote instruction, kids learn by playing games and having fun, so that they’re learning skills and gaining experience without really knowing it,” program director Whitney Condit said. Games can involve finding hidden toys in the snow which promotes learning technical skills in a fun way.
The YMCA program runs out of the Auburn Ski Association, and relies heavily on volunteers to act as coaches for these students. Bates skiers have volunteered regularly for the program since its start eight years ago.
Carly Harris ’22, a student volunteer, said that the program does a lot of learning by playing. Even though the students are learning and doing work, it doesn’t seem like it since the kids are having fun.
Harris has skied since she was young, but she didn’t do much Nordic skiing. However, when Harris saw the program advertised through the Harward Center, she thought she would try something new. “I thought it sounded really interesting,” she said. “I thought it be fun to add something to do outside.” She discovered that you didn’t need to know much about Nordic skiing to be a coach, only enthusiasm.
“The BKL lessons bring in a healthy level of competition through fun on-snow games that keeps kids engaged and enjoying their time on snow,” added Kaelyn Woods ’20.
Woods, a member of the Bates Nordic Ski team, now recruits fellow teammates to be coaches. She stated that “Bates students bring a fun level of energy to the program. “I think having Bates students working with this program creates a tie with the Bates community and the Lewiston/Auburn community in a new and different way,” she continued.
“[The BKL ski lessons] give kids the opportunity to get involved in a sport that is different than their typical field and court sports,” Woods said.
“Offering BKL ski lessons puts cross country skiing in the same playing field as some of those other town recreation sports while introducing students to the outdoors in ways which might be different than ways they have experienced it before. The community behind cross country skiing is so unique and so fun that being involved in lessons like this gives an immediate connection to the much larger ski community.”
The lessons combine an aspect of Bates that makes this college so appealing in the first place. They offer a chance for students to give back to the community, a chance for them to get out of their comfort zones and enjoy a beautiful season in the state which they call their home.
“Having an extra skier or two in a group allows us to provide more individual attention so that we can meet kids at their own level,” Condit said. “Bates students come with a wide range of skiing abilities, from racers to some who have only been on skis a few times before‒all are incredibly helpful to our program. Although those students with racing experience can offer tips and instruction on technique, equally valuable are those willing to get a little silly scrambling with young kids across a snowy field to find the rubber chicken.”
Though the lessons have ended this season, students who wish to find more information on volunteering for the BKL lessons can contact the Harward Center.