Feb 022010
Authors: Matt Minich

When Charlie Noone first decided to send skis to the children of Kashmir, he had no idea that he would have his boots –– and bindings –– on the ground in the region before the year was over.

“We didn’t really know where it was going to go,” he said. “It was just sending skis. It wasn’t really a program at all.”

On Monday, Noone and three other seasoned ski instructors will set off to share their skills with the region’s children as a part of Skis4Kashmir. The new non-profit is devoted to teaching one of the world’s most expensive sports to the children of one of its least stable regions.

The Kashmir region, which exists on the borders of India, China and Pakistan, has been the source of territorial conflicts between the three nations for decades. Despite the violence, the region has maintained one valuable –– if often overlooked –– resource: powder.

“A lot of the people haven’t been afforded the chance to go into the mountains,” said senior horticulture major Greg Pieper.

A life-long skier, Pieper will leave in July for Gulmarg, a ski resort he said is typically visited not by locals but “a few brave Russians,” and other Westerners willing to brave the region’s conflicts for the thrill of the slopes.

For the program’s first two-week session, it will take fifteen children from local orphanages, most of whom have never so much as seen the ski slopes, and teach them ski, wilderness survival and leadership skills.

For future sessions, the instructors hope to recruit boys and girls from all socioeconomic backgrounds. In a region with a historically rigid caste system, instructors said they hope to provide an environment of fairness and equality, providing children of all backgrounds with identical uniforms and equipment.

“The skiing is really just a tool to facilitate learning of a lot of things,” said Cisco Tharp, a 2007 CSU graduate. Currently an Outward Bound instructor, Tharp said that outdoor activities foster confidence and emotional growth in children that go beyond the value of the skills themselves.

Founded and implemented by Colorado skiers, the organization relies heavily on contacts made through the Guru Foundation, a non-profit that provides educational and health services to the poorest Kashmiri people.
The foundation is run by Kashmiri native Kurshid Guru, who praised the group, but stressed that they were working as their own entity.

“This is what people should look at when they look at the United States,” he said. “They are bringing in sportsmanship, bringing in health, bringing in friendship.”

Enfranchising children by providing sports and education, Guru said, will deter them from the paths of child labor, drugs, or radicalism.

Ski4Kashmir has only raised half of the $30,000 they say they will need to sustain the organization in the long-term, forcing the instructors to make a number of unusual compromises.

Each instructor is paying half of their own airfare to Delhi, and will be transported, along with ski gear, in borrowed apple trucks for the two-day drive to Gulmarg. The skis and other pieces of gear were all donated by Colorado ski rental shops.

“This is a tribe of mountain people from Colorado reaching out to mountain people from across the world in the way we know best,” Tharp said.

News Editor Matt Minich can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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