Afterschool ski registration now open

Popular program begins Jan. 13

Dec. 15, 2011

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff


Cochran’s Ski Area in Richmond has been the home of the Williston school district’s afterschool ski-and-ride program since the 1970s. The 2012 program begins on Jan. 13 and runs through mid-March. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

It’s no secret that Friday afternoon is the least productive time of the week.

It’s the home stretch of the five-day rat race, when the week’s travails fade from memory and the promise of a two-day furlough dangles like a morsel of cheese; rendering any attempt at productivity futile.

The Williston School District and the town’s Parks and Recreation Department recognize this fact of life. So each year, during the proverbial dead of winter, they provide respite to the Friday afternoon malaise by way of an afterschool ski-and-ride program at Cochran’s Ski Area in Richmond.

Marilyn Cochran, the current proprietor of the facility founded by her family in 1961, said the Williston ski and snowboarding program is a clear standout among area school districts.

“Williston has always been the best organized (town),” Cochran said. “They have a lot of involvement from the community in trying to teach the kids.”

Former Williston physical education instructor Dick Farrell founded the program in the mid-1970s, but he said it took time before it gained traction.

“When it really took off was when I started accumulating a supply of equipment and I started loaning out equipment for free to kids that didn’t have it,” said Farrell, who retired four years ago and moved to New Hampshire. “Then when I went into snowboarding (in the early 1990s), it experienced another huge jump.”

Another key component to the program’s continued viability was Farrell’s decision to use eighth-graders as ski and snowboarding instructors.

“As far as eighth-graders teaching, that’s something that I started also,” Farrell said. “(As the program grew) the availability of adult instructors was going the other direction because people were working longer hours … so I went to eighth graders, and that’s one of the best moves I ever made. They are just incredible instructors if you get the right ones.”

Today, physical education teachers, college students and parents, along with seventh and eighth grade students, teach the program.

As part of her Williston Central School eighth grade challenge, 13-year-old Natalie Casson will teach telemark skiing, or “tele skiing,” which differs from traditional downhill skiing in that ones’ heels aren’t attached to the skis and turns are executed by bending a knee.

“I had taught (downhill skiing) in the program before, and I thought it would be fun to get other kids interested in tele skiing,” Casson said. “That’s why I thought it would be nice to incorporate that into my eighth grade challenge and teach other kids.”

Williston PE teacher Lynn McClintock, who took over the program when Farrell retired, echoed her predecessor’s comments about the value of student instructors.

“It empowers those students that have been involved with the program that really are great role models,” McClintock said.

The program is open to students at Williston Central and Allen Brook schools, and is divided into eight skill levels.

“If students obtain a certain level by the end of the year — if they make it to level 5 — we actually have an all-day ski trip where we take them to one of the big mountains,” said McClintock. “The thing that’s nice is sometimes this is the only chance some kids get to see what a big ski area looks like, and we’re able to get discounted prices.”

John Colt, a Williston resident who began teaching as a level 3 instructor when his son was in kindergarten, praised the program.

“The program is designed to be more or less open to any skill level, it’s extremely affordable, it’s a community effort and the Cochran people bend over backward to accommodate the various school programs,” Colt said.

Colt encouraged more parents to volunteer as “a way of giving something back to the community,” and said the program would suffer without parental support.

“I don’t think this program would be as good as it is and as comprehensive as it is, or as affordable as it is, if it wasn’t a grassroots, community-based thing,” he said.

McClintock added that skiing aptitude is not a prerequisite for volunteering.

“If parents don’t feel like they know how to ski, that’s not important,” she said. “We need parents for helping out with getting the kids organized in different groups … and just making sure kids feel safe there.”

The 2012 Williston afterschool ski-and-ride program begins on Jan. 13 and runs through mid-March. Registration began on Dec. 1 and continues until Dec. 22, at a cost of $55 per participant. Late registrations are subject to an additional $10 fee. Bus transportation is available at a cost of $10 per participant. The cost of equipment rental is $25 for the season. Registration forms are available under the Parks & Recreation section of the Williston town website. For questions, contact Kevin Finnegan at or by calling 878-1239.