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Changing the Ski World One Kid at a Time: the Doug Coombs Foundation

The infectious energy that skiing brings us is exactly what the Coombs Foundation sets out to share with everyone in the Jackson community. Jonathan Selkowitz photo. 

To most in the ski world, the name Doug Coombs conjures up images of pioneering ski descents down the biggest mountains in the world, like the Chugach and the French Alps. But to Coombs, and the mountains around Jackson Hole, Wyoming were always home. It was here that he perfected his craft and shared it with the town’s vibrant mountain community.

After his death in an avalanche in 2006, Doug’s wife Emily raised their son in that same vibrant community but noticed one thing had changed: that it all seemed very exclusive to only those who could afford it. She observed that the ever-growing population of low-income families in Jackson were almost entirely absent from the skiing and snowboarding world.

The problem of low-income families living a separate life from the rest of the community certainly persists. The irony? Without their hard work, ski areas like Jackson would never be able to function. Yes, the paradise we live in does shares the same problems facing the rest of the world.

Emily wants to make a difference in the lives of the lives of everyone in Jackson. "You can do it too," she says, "next time you see a family in the grocery store, say hi, or better yet 'Hola!' They will smile, guaranteed." Max Ritter photo.

In an effort to change this and reverse what she saw as a segregated community, Emily launched the Doug Coombs Foundation in 2012, to not only honor Doug’s legacy but provide a concrete way to get those families’ kids out on skis. Her reasoning was simple: by providing opportunities for children of low income families to get into skiing, the community would become a more integrated, healthy and happy place for everyone. 

"A few years ago, I started noticing that the growing community of Hispanic immigrant workers in Jackson, the ones we see everyday at the grocery store and working on the mountain, were being ignored and just didn't seem to share in the same incredible quality of life we have," says Emily Coombs. She wanted to do something concrete to allow them to experience the town the same way as she did.

Some of the kids involved telling their favorite stories of their time with the Doug Coombs Foundation at last week's Skiing with the Stars fundraiser event. Jonathan Selkowitz photo.

Through skiing, Emily hoped to provide the tools these children needed to lift themselves out of poverty and achieve their maximum potential. In nutshell, the foundation provides tuition, lift tickets, and ski equipment to these low-income families to give them a chance at the same experience we all so treasure in the mountains. Outside of the skiing, the kids get an opportunity to play soccer, go rock climbing, and explore all other avenues of the mountain life that make Jackson what it is.

After growing steadily for the past five years, the foundation now enrolls 166 children and 37 parents in the Snow King Winter Sports Program as well as 28 children in Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club Programs. In total, 194 children skied this past winter thanks to the Foundation’s work. Additionally, the Foundation recently launched a pilot program to provide a day of skiing to over 65 children from the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Teaching kids how to ski is still an expensive endeavor. Thanks to the generosity of donors connected to Doug, Jackson, and the ski community in general, the Foundation is able to do what it does. In addition to fundraising events like last week’s Skiing with the Stars, CoombsFest is another Jackson tradition to benefit the Coombs Foundation. The annual party celebrates the kids, their accomplishments, and shows to the world what the Foundation has done.

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