Let’s face it: 2016 has disrupted everyone’s zen, and 2017 forecasts aren’t looking much better.

Years before the dawn of this new era that many would deem dystopian, our little town of Stockton was known as “most miserable.” But, perhaps we Stocktonians are the lucky ones; we’ve developed all the character and pragmatism necessary to deal with it. “Misery” is no longer a threatening word. We’ve learned how to work the system, and how to make the system work for us. While the rest of the world struggles to regain their grip on reality, we’re molding the clay of it, creating our own.

It is this pragmatic, been-around-the-block attitude that I encountered when I sat down to interview a Stocktonian who informed me that, in the snow-sports world, they know him as “Snowy Claus.” He’s the man behind Stockton SkiBus, the transportation system that collaborates with SkiDuck. Together, they are the embodiment of an idea: that a system catered to the privileged can be made to benefit those who aren’t.

Essentially, Stockton Skibus shuttles kids from high schools within the Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) who are involved with the SkiDuck program, and takes them up one of the major ski resorts for a day on the slopes. The program gives teens inexpensive access to a sport that would normally cost an arm and a leg to participate in. In the past, SkiDuck has taken Stockton’s youth to Sugarbowl, Kirkwood, Tahoe Donner, Sierra-at-Tahoe, and Squaw Valley.

2011-04-23 Squaw 045.jpg SkiDuck crew gets together in Squaw Valley

So who are you and what is “SkiDuck”?

SkiDuck is a 501c3 [nonprofit] that works with the various snow-sports resorts to provide snow-sports access to low income and disadvantaged youth at no or very little cost. Though SkiDuck works with high school kids, the program isn’t managed or sponsored by the SUSD in any way. SkiDuck is entirely privately-run.

Many people in the program know me as “Snowy Claus.” I’m SkiDuck’s coordinator for certain clubs. In the early years, I was primarily responsible for working to extend SkiDuck’s presence in the San Joaquin Valley area, mainly Stockton.

Where does Stockton SkiBus come in?

Stockton SkiBus is a transportation service that SkiDuck participants have the option to use. The fare is $40. It’s not required that any one use the service, but they are invited to.

So what do you and the kids do when you want to go up [to the snow]?

Well, there’s two scenarios: they go up and they get a lesson package, the use of equipment, and a lift pass—that’s a kid who’s never done it before. They’re given everything that they need in order to enter the sport. Or, if they’re experienced, they get the lift pass and the equipment.

2011-04-23 Squaw 024.jpg SHREDison High kids riding up in the Gondola at Squaw Valley

So you guys comp all their equipment?

Everything is comped. In addition, we loan or give them articles of clothing specialized for the snow. It’s pretty amazing; a day pass on-demand alone to Squaw Valley would normally be a $159, and the rental would be $59. Add on the normal price of snow clothes, and it’d be double.

And is this just mainly based in Stockton?

No. It extends all over the country but Stockton is a big piece of it.

OK, so if I was a kid attending, say, Edison High School, how would I go about doing this?

I would say that one of the teachers, Sam Jones, is the snow sports club mentor or whatever they call him. In order for clubs to exist on high school campuses, a teacher has to agree to be the leader and they actually establish a club. In years past, every once in awhile they’d announce on the loudspeaker, “the snow-sports club is having a blah blah blah, if you wanna learn how to snowboard or ski or see the snow, go see Mr. Sam Jones in room number 42,” or something like that. But now I think it’s just common knowledge in the school which teacher is the contact point to get involved.

And how successful would you say the trips are?

13 on a 10 scale.

2011-04-17 Sugar Bowl 036.jpg On top of the world at Sugar Bowl

Really? So the kids love it.

It’s mind-bendingly good. I mean, it really is. First of all, on so many levels, it just transforms… And a lot of people are more involved in it, including the Peacekeepers, gang outreach, ya know, and it has to do with my original work with the founder Mr. Big Duck that you saw… When he just started, it was him, me, and a few other people. Now, though, the credit really goes to the various teachers who act as team leaders at the campuses, and to the other insiders acting in concert to keep the magic alive.

And [the kids] get to see a world where you know, they don’t have to worry about everything, everybody’s nice, they love the sport—the sport is so addicting—there’s actually a technical, medical reason why snow sports are addicting, it’s something I could explain to you. It’s technical.

2011-04-17 Sugar Bowl 042.jpg Shredding the gnar at Sugar Bowl

Anyway, they get to see a world that’s not “ghetto,” and it gives them something to work for, to be a good student for, it helps the teachers manage behavioral issues in the classroom because if they’re bad we bounce them out (laughs). They know that in order for things to go smooth, they have to be smooth. It really is a great program, they give these kids VIP treatment.

One of the best things about the program is, prior to this company—well, I’m gonna talk: you’ve got money, you’re German, you go to Santa Cruz—you’ve seen money-people before. I call ‘em “trustafarians.” See, here’s the problem with this, and I’m gonna be insulting, almost…

Go ahead.

Nice people are nice, right? But they’re kinda nice-Nazis. It’s always at their convenience, and when they feel like it, but the thing is, when you’re doing outreach, it really isn’t about the outreach hitting at the benefactors convenience, it’s about the beneficiary’s need. So you have to operate on their schedule and with their needs. So a lot of what they’ll do is they’ll say “OK, we’ll do all this nice stuff for ya, but, you gotta do it the way I say it.” And then if [the beneficiaries] don’t do it the way they’re told to do it, well, then they’re the jerks and they get cut off. Or they just get a taste of it. And there’s this class culture clash that in years past has been really hard to get over in the world of snow sports.

But that’s the fantastic thing about SkiDuck: this program had a vision, and was able to push past one of the biggest trustafarian issues that annoyed me in the past. Mammoth Mountain has a great example of this—it opens its pricey doors for a weekend for Bishop youth, but for only one or two events. This gives the lower-class kids a “taste of champagne” and then, nothing, just cut off. Although I understand the resort is trying to do something positive, I believe they miss the point of outreach. When SkiDuck arrived on the scene, they literally blew this kind of glitch out of the water, in no small way. With the Duck, the fun goes on weekend after weekend after weekend!

2011-03-27 Squaw Valley 052.jpg SHREDison High at Squaw Valley

So there was a need to bypass this bare-minimum type of outreach?

Yeah, and you know, sometimes it’s still a dance with the egos of the privileged class. And god bless ‘em, they’re nice people, but unless they’re the rain-maker or they’re self-made… Don’t get me wrong, there are some good trustafarians out there. I mean, like so good, they bypass the “trustafarian” title all together. But of course, you still run into the ones who aren’t so good, and that can be frustrating.

Can you give an example?

When I was at Squaw a couple of days ago, I came down this mountain, and I’m rippin’ down it (I been skiing for 40 plus years, I mean I’m good) so there’s the single’s line, and I zip into it, and I’m going fast and there’s no place where I can make a wedge or a hockey stop. I don’t wanna bump into people, so I kinda pull off to the left and scoot four or five positions up, and it looks like I’m cutting the line. I’m really not, I’m just trying to stop without hitting anybody. And then I figure I’ll just wait, and let the line pass me up. Well about four or five places back, there’s this dude wearing a US Ski team shirt, yelling “Hey you can’t cut the line! What are you doing?” I mean, if I cut the line that means he has to wait another five or 10 seconds before he can get on the lift. I said, “Look, I’ll just stand here and let you guys go by,” but he wouldn’t shut up. He wouldn’t stop complaining. And as he’s complaining, the line is moving, and I just stand there. And when he got in front of me, I got behind him, and I was like “See? It’s all good dude.” And I’m thinking to myself, “All you’ve got in life to worry about is whether somebody cuts off 10 seconds of your life in a lift line of a major ski resort? Where do you come from, man?”

2011-04-23 Squaw 037.jpg Edison kids, ready to shred

The trustafarian attitude?

The trustafarian attitude. They’re trustafarians, god bless ‘em. That’s the kind of political flavor of dealing with the clash of cultures. That being said, the whole idea of SkiDuck was figured out by someone from privilege. This program gives the kids something to look forward to and a reason to “fly straight” so they can continue to be involved in it, and it was an affluent individual who figured this out.

How do the kids deal with the culture clash?

We tell ‘em, straight up. I explain to them what the trustafarian thing is all about. And they get it, because we’ve got like Saint Mary’s High School out here. I say, “Look kids, just leave the ghetto at home, tell ‘em what they want to hear, be nice, give em some game, and you get all this free stuff. Just don’t be a knucklehead, and we’ll hook you up!”

2011-04-17 Sugar Bowl 038.jpg Stockton-style chillin’

And they’re pretty cooperative?

They just totally get it. And they are totally cooperative. That’s the best part. All of a sudden, they got something to lose if they act out, and they don’t act out. Cause we prep ‘em. And the other side goes, “Oh they’re so cute! They’re so nice!” And it gets that synergy going. The kids don’t wanna blow it, so it moderates their behavior, they learn how to socialize out of their box, and then they get to go ski in one of the top resorts in the goddamn world!

2011-04-03 Shredison Sugar Bowl 007.jpg SHREDison at Sugar Bowl

There’s something to be said about the pragmatism of Snowy Claus. Rather than pretending that these classist undertones aren’t real, he’s taken the honest approach, and from the sound of things, it works.

This season, SkiDuck is be taking their high schoolers to Tahoe-Donner and Squaw Valley. On the dates of SkiDuck trips, Stockton SkiBus will be parked at Empresso Coffeehouse in the Empire theater on Miracle Mile. The bus is scheduled to depart at 5:45 AM, and to return the same day at 7:30 PM or later, depending on weather and traffic conditions.

On those Sundays of Stockton SkiBus operation, Empresso Coffeehouse will open at 5 AM instead of their usual 6 AM opening time. Empresso stays open until at midnight, so when the bus returns, no one will have to wait on the street for their ride home. Please support their business!

If you are interested in learning more about the Stockton SkiBus and SkiDuck, or would like to get involved, you can contact stocktonskibus[at]gmail [dot]com, or www[dot]skiduck[dot] org.

Dates of SkiDuck operation:

March 5, 12, 19, 26

April 2, 9*, 23*

“Squaw Valley Express” SkiBus dates with seats available:

March 19

March 26

*= No lessons

All photos originally appeared on the “SHREDison High” blog.

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Placeholder.