Refugee youths discover skiing
By Brett Prettyman
Big Cottonwood Canyon • Once the young refugees figured out that snow was “slippery,” it was all downhill from there.
Screams of delight, agony and fear rang out Sunday near the Link lift base at Solitude Mountain Resort as 17 youngsters, from 10 to 14 years old, joined volunteer instructors for a day of skiing.
“I went fast, too fast, and I fell,” said 12-year-old Jeebika Dahal, who arrived in Utah from Nepal one year ago. “I went again and didn’t fall the whole ride down.”
The ski trip was organized by Westminster College. Help in planning and staffing the event with volunteer instructors came from the Asian Association of Utah refugee and immigrant center in Salt Lake City.
“This is a great way to integrate them into the community,” said Rebecca Ely, of the Asian Association of Utah. “They hear other kids talking about skiing at school. Now, they can say, ‘I did that’ and enter the conversation.”
The lessons started on the flat area near the lodge. The kids learned how to click into their bindings, how to fall, how to get up and how, hopefully, to stop.
Those who quickly picked up the sport were on the lift before lunch. And, other than the young refugee who almost took out the “Slow” sign, things went well.
“It is most important to always have fun, not to be scared,” said 13-year-old Jokie Riak, who came to Salt Lake City from Sudan. “You can’t worry about falling.”
Adoula Biar, 14, from Sudan, wasn’t sure if she liked skiing.
“This might be my last time,” she said. “I got scared.”
The refugees came from a diverse list of countries: Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Burundi, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Congo. For some, it was their first time seeing people cruise down the mountain with planks on their feet. Some had never seen the snow piled so deep. The drive up Big Cottonwood Canyon was enough adventure for many of the kids, but it was the skiing that Ely was hoping would inspire the immigrants.
“Skiing shows them they can do things they didn’t think they could,” Ely said. “It shows them they can succeed if they get out of their comfort zone and apply themselves.”
Ely said she was encouraged by the community support that helped the first-time event to occur.
West High School student Arnaud Nodjigoto was one of those who picked up skiing quickly. After a couple of runs on Link, his instructors proclaimed he was ready for the “big lift.”
“I like to learn about everything,” said the 14-year-old from Banjul, Gambia. “It is good when it is hard to work on it and learn it. ... I am ready for more.”