Carving out a path in life

Snowboarding more than just a sport of choice in Fort Liard

Andrew Livingstone | ACHO DENE KOE/FORT LIARD
April 16, 2015
Derrick Kotchea, left, Ross Duntra and Terrance Kotchea take a short break from snowboarding during two days of boarding and instruction at Powder King resort located north of Prince George, B.C. - photo courtesy of Amy Thomas

Derrick Kotchea, left, Ross Duntra and Terrance Kotchea take a short break from snowboarding during two days of boarding and instruction at Powder King resort located north of Prince George, B.C. – photo courtesy of Amy Thomas

Snowboarding is more than just about carving up freshly fallen powder for more than a dozen youth in Fort Liard.

At least with what Roslyn Gardner Firth has seen, youth now consumed by the sport have learned more than just slope skills – they’ve learned valuable life skills that will help them find success in the future.

“The idea of the program is to have as many kids as possible engage in healthy outdoor activities and it’s the kind of sport they can continue doing well into their adulthood,” said Gardner Firth, recreation and youth manager for the hamlet. “I like to introduce sports they can continue with and it’s not just for young people.”

When it comes down to snowboarding, youth in Fort Liard have latched on to the winter sport. Since bringing snowboarding into the community five years ago, Gardner Firth said it’s difficult to get them off their boards now and the development of talent and maturity has proven fruitful.

“The first year we had our first clinic, no one knew how to snowboard,” she said. “In that time, we’ve had four athletes go to the Arctic Winter Games, so that’s a huge accomplishment for young people who were just introduced to the sport.”

A group of 16 snowboarders just returned from a trip to Powder King Mountain Resort located just outside of Prince George, B.C., and some 11 hours drive from Fort Liard.

With a day of travel on each end, the snowboarders spent two days on the slopes, engaged in training with instructors at the resort to help them improve their skills and gained experience on larger, more complicated runs.

“We’ve had five of our riders qualify for Arctic Winter Games in the past,” said Gardner Firth. “Four of them ended up going.”

Gardner Firth said they try to engage in the sport outside of the community so that youth get used to “being out there in the bigger world and having to learn all of the safety procedures and riding chair lifts.” This, she added, has them learning new things every hour they’re on the hill.

“There is a big gain in confidence when they are able to master the sport and there is a lot of confidence that goes along with that,” she said. “We try through sports, it’s an objective, to build their confidence.”

It really boosts their self-esteem to be a part of an elite team that is chosen for the Arctic Winter Games, she said, and a big part of getting the children out to tournaments and places like Powder King, is to help them not only improve their skills, but to meet new people and make new friends.

“It really helps them socially, especially in our tiny little community of 550 people, it’s important,” she said. “Our programs are about keeping kids active and healthy and also giving them the opportunity to explore and be outside and see the world and make friends and have new experiences.”

When Gardner Firth introduced snowboarding to youth in Fort Liard, she never in her wildest dreams thought it would catch on like it has – now, she has bigger aspirations for it to continue on as an activity of choice in the community.

“My dream is that when the time comes they’ll be able to teach their own children or nieces and nephews to snowboard and it will catch on,” she said. “It’s a steep learning curve in that sport so when they start out it’s quite difficult and they have to learn how to persevere to get through those first lessons to find success on the hill, so that’s an important part of it.”