Snowboarding for social change

Whistler Question
March 15, 2016
By: Michelle Ratcliffe
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When you find that special sport that you’re truly passionate about, it’s always a unique privilege to share it with others.

Court “Blackbird” Larabee is lucky to have made a career out of this privilege by channeling his passion for snowboarding into a program that is empowering aboriginal athletes across the country.

Larabee is vice president of The First Nations Snowboard Association (FNSA), a nonprofit whose mission is “to improve the quality of life and empower First Nations youth by using snowboarding as a fundamental tool for excellence.”

First introduced to the team as a volunteer coach, Larabee quickly recognized how special the FNSA was and how many lives it was affecting. Larabee’s leadership has grown with the association, first as Whistler team manager and now as vice president.

“Through the past seven years we have witnessed hundreds of youth come in and move on from our programs. They all learn a sense of empowerment and boosted self esteem,” said Larabee. “Our program helps build strength within the community and within each of the riders.”

A team effort

The First Nations Snowboard Association was born in 2006 when the Aboriginal Youth Sport Legacy Fund (established as part of Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympic Games bid) enabled the vision of local shredder Aaron Marchant to come to life. Larabee said they had the help of many, including the former chair of the organization Steve Podborski, Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob, as well as Doug Forsythe and Arthur DeJong at Whistler Blackcomb.

Through the pursuit of partnerships with the snowboard industry, First Nations communities, resorts and key stakeholders, what started as a team of 10 from the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations has snowballed to nearly 400.

“The team began with a humble 10 youth and now has grown to a nationwide nonprofit, helping hundreds of youth every year across the entire nation — from Mount Washington all the way to Nova Scotia,” said Larabee.

A standard of excellence

The program aims to produce high-performance snowboarders at a competitive level, but the positive impacts reach well beyond any podium, creating role models and healthy lifestyles.

Youth aged six to 17 are introduced to snowboarding via the recreational team that feeds to the High Performance Team where athletes commit to staying drug and alcohol free, maintaining a minimum C+ average in school and upholding a strong community standing in exchange for a season’s pass to their local mountain, extensive coaching, equipment, cultural events and competition support.

“We have a holistic approach to our coaching program, focusing on healthy living choices and discipline,” said Larabee.

Along with the benefits of youth leadership, mentoring and instructor-training programs, the FNSA also promotes awareness and training for other opportunities in the sport as coaches, managers, judges, officials and volunteers.

“We not only offer an opportunity for the youth to get out and experience more of the world, but offer career and employment opportunities as well,” said Larabee.

Reaching those at risk

This year, the FNSA focused on reaching new special populations in an effort to provide a healthy outlet for at-risk youth.

The association piloted a female-specific snowboard program and now has all-girl teams in Vancouver and Whistler. Larabee also worked to reach out specifically to youth in foster care.

“Our snowboard team teaches goal setting and builds self-esteem and confidence. The project has been very successful so far with our North Vancouver team consisting of over 80 per cent youth from foster care,” he said.

The FNSA and their support network believe that investing in youth today will help create a bright future, so they rely on sponsors and local fundraising events to continue new programs like these. Larabee and his First Nations Snowboard Team will be hosting a community celebration at 7 p.m. on March 23 at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre. Anyone interested in learning more can email Court Larabee at snowboardcourt@gmail.com for details.

Link to Whistler Question article: http://ow.ly/ZvjU3