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A library for ski gear? It’s not a new idea, yet it’s still revolutionary. Everyone who’s ever been skiing—or spent a moment at Skimag.com—knows that our sport revolves around gear. It doesn’t need to be the newest or the fanciest, it just has to be functional.
Ironically, gear is also the thing that presents one of the biggest obstacles to getting new people into skiing. From a lack of knowledge about what they need to the steep price tag attached to buying it, gear—the very thing that allows us to ski—also keeps people from skiing.
That’s why the nonprofit Great Outdoors Leadville! received $3 million from Great Outdoors Colorado’s Generation Wild initiative to open a community gear library on the Leadville, Colo. campus of Colorado Mountain College. The facility opened in its new, spacious digs in mid-April.
Although the two-story gear library, which houses jackets, snow pants, gloves, base layers, snowshoes, mountain bikes, camping gear, and more, is an idea that predates GOL’s new executive director, Vanessa Saldivar, it’s a project that’s close to her heart. Saldivar, who took the helm at the nonprofit earlier this month, grew up near Mt. Hood, Ore., where both of her parents worked in the kitchens of restaurants frequented by tourists.
“My father took me skiing for the first time when I was 5,” Saldivar says, “and even though our family was low-income, my father wanted something different for us. That was my start in the outdoors and it was transformative for me.”
Saldivar, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico as an infant, says that while she was raised in a beautiful place with trails literally in her backyard, there was a cultural and linguistic barrier to the outdoors that silently gave her parents the message that they didn’t belong there.
“My parents didn’t think it was for them to enjoy,” says Saldivar. “They didn’t see people who looked like them, they saw them working in the restaurants and the hotels, making the industry hum behind the scenes, but never on the trails or the slopes.”
Saldivar studied social work and dedicated her career prior to joining GOL to educating smaller communities on how to better serve their immigrant and refugee populations. So when the opportunity arose to help break down the barriers of access to the outdoors, she knew it was meant to be.
The new gear library’s location at Colorado Mountain College’s Leadville campus is also no accident. One of the college’s first residential campuses, opened in 1967, the Leadville college’s programming has a heavy outdoor focus, including offering degrees in Ski Area Operations and Outdoor Recreation Leadership. Not surprisingly, CMC students work at the gear library and get the chance to see firsthand how programs such as this one can directly benefit the community. GOL also offers paid internships through the local high school.
“The location in Leadville is important because it’s so close to open space,” says Saldivar. “It’s easy for people to say ‘everyone has access in Leadville,’ but that’s not the case. Like where I grew up, so close to trails in proximity, but so far away thanks to other barriers.”
One of GOL’s missions is to make sure that even in these pockets of proximity, they’re still addressing the more invisible barriers to the outdoors such as cultural and linguistic ones. “We had an event a couple weeks ago and it was presented entirely in Spanish, with English interpretation,” Saldivar shares proudly. “Our trail signs are in both languages, too, that’s so important.”
The gear library is a project very closely intertwined with GOL’s greater objective, which is to advance equity and access for its community members across outdoor recreation. Part of a larger web of nonprofits called the Outdoors Empowered Network, GOL reaches its goals by creating partnerships with local businesses, accepting gear donations, and acquiring gear at wholesale. The Outdoors Empowered Network supports gear libraries around the country in cities such as Detroit, Chicago, and Austin (though all are centered around camping and hiking, not snowsports).
GOL is in the process of restructuring its membership programs to better align with its core values of equity and diversity, but Saldivar says that no one in need of gear will be turned away for financial reasons. Members do, however, need to be Lake County residents. You can see a list of items available to borrow from the Gear Library here. There’s no downhill ski equipment, but Saldivar says she’d love to see it added to the inventory.
While Saldivar doesn’t know of any other gear libraries operating in small mountain communities, she does say that GOL is getting a ton of inquiries from other organizations curious to see if this model could work in their communities.
“Thinking back to my experience growing up in a tourist town but not having access to gear—my mother says we wore socks on our hands while skiing,” Saldivar says, “I would have loved to have a gear library. What a huge difference it would have made in getting more people into the outdoors.”
Learn more about the Community Gear Library and Get Outdoors Leadville! here.