I was driving down to work the other morning via our infamous “Summer Road” and saw the local school bus waiting near the top of the Summer Road, as it does most mornings. The school bus turns around and waits on the neighborhood road for the parents to drop their children off to board the bus, which then takes it into Nederland’s Middle/Senior high schools or its elementary school. I’ve often reflected how different life is for kids raised in mountain towns like Nederland compared to my own mundane suburban upbringing. How might I have been different if I had grown up in a small mountain town?
One thing is for sure, you probably spend a lot more time outside than a kid who grows up in a large metro area. The neighborhood kids across the street from us concocted their very own zip line between trees, as well as regularly tooling around on their own ATV up and down the dirt back roads. In many mountain towns, kids have different school schedules to allow them time to ski at the local ski resorts. In Grand County near Winter Park ski resort, local kids have every Friday off to ski. Instead of football and baseball, many of the high school kids compete on the alpine and nordic ski teams, and are done with classes every day at 11:30 a.m. so they can train. In Lake Tahoe, not only did kids get spring break, but they also got a week off in February for “Ski-Skate Week”, so they could take advantage of recreating outside during the best snow conditions of the season.
The premiere sports of football and baseball are not the big deals they are for city kids, because classes are so small, they rarely have enough kids to field a proper football or baseball team. Nederland High School graduates around 50 kids per year, so it’s difficult to find enough kids to make up a proper football team. For years, they tried to compete in conventional 11-man football, with kids playing “both ways” on offense and defense, only to be slaughtered by other larger Front Range schools. After years of losing records, they finally accepted their small town status and switched to a more reasonable 8-man football style where they are competing with other small town teams.
Kids in small mountain towns seem to know each other better, and be less concerned with the social hierarchy and cliques that you see in larger urban schools. Their connection to nature, wildlife and the outdoors seems to be stronger. And while they still love to text on their smart phones, they may well spend much of their time in places where they don’t even get cell service, or they are more interested in sliding down a mountain than staring at a computer screen.
Olympic gold medalist, Mikaela Shiffrin, grew up in Vail, Colorado as well as the mountains of New Hampshire. Stories tell of her learning to ski at the age of three, and of her family regularly skiing together frequently throughout the winter. You see that a lot in Colorado — families going hiking up in Rocky Mountain National Park together, or families skiing together at the local ski resort. Witnessing this, I couldn’t help but wonder, could I or one of my friends perhaps been a world-class skier if I too had grown up in the Rocky Mountains? Whatever the outcome, I’d like to think the child that grows up mountain style is one who becomes both physically and psychologically better off because of the experience.