As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to limit start-of-winter traditions, a couple of Summit County-based winter sports nonprofits are adjusting programming and fundraising efforts to try to meet a new demand for their outdoor recreation services.
The Team Summit winter sports club and the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center are both targeting big fundraising days within the next week to boost their financial strength at a crucial time. Team Summit is joining forces with TV8 Summit to host the first virtual Team Summit Ski Ball on Saturday, Dec. 5.
The digital live and silent auction event replaces the annual in-person gala and will feature Team Summit athletes and alumni — including Olympians and World Cup athletes — sharing how Team Summit programming has impacted them. Community members also will provide testimonials of why they believe the club is so important.
The virtual live auction will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday and will be viewable on TV8 Summit and via Team Summit’s website until about 8:30 or 9 p.m. Due to its virtual nature, the Ski Ball is free for anyone to watch via television or online, a departure from past years, when the annual black-tie gala event was hosted at one of the county’s conference centers and had a minimum admission cost of $175. The auctions include a range of items, from gear and apparel listed at under $50 to vacations listed for thousands of dollars, such as an African safari.
Those who are interested can register for the event or bid in a auction at TeamSummit.org/skiball.
Team Summit Executive Director CB Bechtel said funds raised through the Ski Ball will directly help with the club’s ski and ride scholarships. Bechtel said interest in scholarships has skyrocketed amid the pandemic, with a 175% increase in applications compared to last year.
“This is just the general trend across Summit County — many of the events planned have had to go virtual or be canceled,” Team Summit spokesperson Phil Kubiske said. “And that’s affected how much money nonprofits are able to bring in. This year, more than ever, we are looking at the Ski Ball as a means for fundraising for our scholarships.”
Kubiske said last year’s Ski Ball raised more than $100,000 in scholarships.Bechtel said the club is on target to raise between $110,000 and $120,000 in scholarships for this winter season. As of Friday afternoon, the auction site had raised just under $32,000.
Bechtel emphasized that scholarships are important this season to help kids get active and social outside amid the pandemic.
“The rates of depression and suicide are just off the charts for kids, and much of it is due to the isolation that comes from COVID and the restrictions of COVID,” Bechtel said. “None of our kids pretty much can even go to school right now. Team Summit is one of the programs, because it’s outdoors, that’s naturally socially distanced. We wear masks all the time, and it’s an activity that can be relatively safe and continue in the COVID environment.
“And the other side of the coin is that a lot of families are in difficult financial circumstances because their occupations and income have been impacted by COVID in a negative way. So it’s more difficult than ever for families to get their kids into Team Summit.”
At the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, Executive Director Sonya Norris said Colorado Gives Day on Tuesday, Dec. 8, will be integral to the adaptive and youth winter sports nonprofit’s financial situation.
The center’s winter and summer programming has been disrupted over the past nine months, forcing the ski program to shut down six weeks early last winter and the cancellation of the majority of summer programming. Norris said the organization has since pivoted to providing more programming for local youths.
To start winter, the Outdoor Education Center has begun with some snowshoe and cross-country ski programming for local youths at the Breckenridge Nordic Center. The nonprofit recently reopened its Breckenridge and Keystone offices, so Norris said workers are there to provide lessons to the best of their ability for “whoever has the courage to make a reservation.”
Adaptive skiing and riding has been upended by the pandemic, as evidenced by the traditional Hartford Disabled Sports USA Ski Spectacular going virtual this week. The annual event traditionally brings hundreds of people to Summit County.
Beyond that, Norris said the nonprofit is having to undertake much more of its adaptive ski and ride preparation outdoors, which limits numbers. For an adaptive and military population that needs human interaction, Norris said the organization is trying Zoom events to help with social isolation. Later in winter, organizers are hoping to host some of the group’s traditional military and adaptive programming.
For now, the nonprofit is trying to surf the wave of an anticipated 50% decrease in program revenue for this winter, which Norris said might turn out to be more than that.
“We don’t anticipate this being over any time soon,” Norris said. “And the more we know about the virus, the more we know we just have to be cautious and careful with those we serve.”