Just after learning how to strap on a snowboard, 11-year-old Jamiah Jenkins was flying across the fresh snow.
“Bend your knees!” a group of instructors yelled as the first-time snowboarder sailed down the hill without falling, the mitten-clad coaches cheering with muffled claps.
“It’s like skiing, but with a board; it’s actually easier,” she said proudly.
Jenkins was part of a group of north Minneapolis students trying out snowboarding for the first time this week thanks to a new program making the pricey winter sport more accessible to all. Two Twin Cities pro snowboarders, Joe Sexton and Jake Olson-Elm, teamed up with Anthony Taylor of the Loppet Foundation to launch Cool Meets Cause this month at the new snowboard park at Theodore Wirth Regional Park to introduce the sport to more women and girls, people of color and families who may not be able to afford the hundreds of dollars in gear and lift tickets.
In a state known for its snowy, cold months, more Twin Cities nonprofits are stepping up to diversify winter activities and make them more accessible to people who wouldn’t normally try them.
“I think diversifying snowboarding is something we can do,” said Taylor, the adventures director for the foundation who’s been teaching snowboarding to north Minneapolis students for a few years. “Equity in the outdoors is really critically important. We’re really trying to break that barrier, that perception of who does this and who this is for.”
Last year, DinoMights, a longtime Minneapolis nonprofit that teaches ice skating and hockey to low-income kids, expanded to St. Paul’s West Side. Wilderness Inquiry, a Minneapolis nonprofit, has partnered with Ka Joog, a nonprofit Somali youth organization, to introduce kids to quintessentially northern Minnesota activities — dog sledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sweating in a Finnish sauna near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The Loppet Foundation has also expanded its free cross-country skiing lessons to Minneapolis middle and high schools and, just this year, added fat-tire biking classes for the North Side community. Taylor said the goal is to get more women and girls, Hmong, Latino and black participants trying out winter activities and seeing the health benefits of doing so.
“If you’re black and live in north Minneapolis, it’s invisible to you … but it’s not just what white people do,” he said of sports like cross-country skiing.
While there a lot of local efforts to introduce summer activities like canoeing and camping, winter activities come with a different challenge, Taylor said, showing people how to dress in the right gear to stay safe and still have fun in subzero temperatures.
“Summer pulls you outside; winter is an opportunity,” he said. “It’s part of life here.”
That’s why Cool Meets Cause is gathering donated snowboarding gear to let participants borrow clothing and equipment for free. (Donations will be accepted at Urban Outfitters at the Mall of America through the end of February.) The classes and access to the snowboard park are free, too.
“We get a ton of snow each year, but [some] people don’t get to experience something as cool as snowboarding,” Sexton said.
The program, which is funded by the Cultural Wellness Center in Minneapolis, is taught by volunteers, many of whom are women and people of color, on Thursday nights and Saturday and Sunday mornings and afternoons at Wirth.
On Thursday, the sun set and park lights flickered on as the small group of third-, fourth- and fifth-grade girls from Bethune Community School trekked outside. Frigid wind gusts whipped across the hill, but the girls didn’t seem to mind as they fearlessly snowboarded down the hill and grabbed the tow rope back up, over and over again.
“I’ve got more moves,” 8-year-old Amourah Hammond told instructor Libby Kloster as she showed off, waving her arms as she snowboarded down the hill before crashing with a laugh.
“There’s not too many fundamentals being learned,” Sexton said, “but they’re having fun.”