Dean Cummings wasn't exactly a well-behaved teen. "I was a total hellion," remembers the globe-trotting skilebrity and helicopter guide. "I wasn't into structure or rules -- just adventure and good times." He credits his turnaround to a wilderness trip he took at age 14 led by world-class rock climber Kenny Sims. "That's what I'm going to do," Cummings remembers thinking. "I'm making my living in the mountains."
Now Deano is inspiring at-risk teens to do the same. Four years ago, Cummings devised Experience the Mountains, a charitable program in Taos, New Mexico, that funds ski days for youth from the Taos Pueblo. "It's especially beneficial for kids who are on the cusp and may be drifting," explains Taos patroller Rene Romero, who now oversees the Pueblo program. "It feeds that inner spirit and develops pride, direction, and other strengths we need."
The Taos program isn't alone. Freeskier Chris Winter operates Zero Ceiling, a biweekly program that brings busloads of Vancouver street kids to Whistler for a day on the slopes. Each year four of those kids attend a week-long snowboard-instructor training program; several now teach for Whistler-Blackcomb. Nevada's Rite of Passage program takes rehabilitating juvenile offenders to Kirkwood, California, to work in the rental shop and ski four times a week. Native Voices, promoted by Billy Kidd and Suzy Chaffee, sends youth from several Native American tribes skiing at a handful of Colorado resorts. And San Francisco's Youth Expeditions -- formerly Afrosurf Shack, an early influence for Cummings' program -- sends low-income kids skiing at Alpine Meadows with mentors from Bay Area businesses.
Meanwhile, Cummings has moved to Valdez, Alaska, where locals from the Valdez Teen Center spend a day learning mountain-guide skills -- while heli-skiing -- with his H2O Avalanche Awareness program. "Now you see these kids around town with their Life-Link packs and shovels," Cummings says. "They're future guides. They're on it. They've seen the vision."