BRIDGTON — Jared Hill ducked his head to peer outside Shawnee Peak’s lodge during a snowboard break. As he looked up at Pleasant Mountain’s sun-splashed ski trails, lined by thick woods, Hill stepped away from his pack of friends and shook his head wonderingly.

“This is a good experience. Look at that out there. It’s nature. We don’t see scenery like this,” said Hill, 17, who came to Shawnee Peak from Boston with the Boys & Girls Club of Dorchester.

Each January for the past 10 years, the club has brought 150 youngsters, ages 8 to 18, to Shawnee Peak to learn to ski or snowboard, or to practice the winter sports skills they learned the year before. The ski area provides the rental equipment, lessons, lift passes and dinner, all at no cost to the club. It also pays to bus the group from Dorchester, Massachusetts, three hours away.

Though the ski area declined to tally the amount, a quick calculation of the expenses covered based on Shawnee Peak pricing adds up to at least $19,000.

Dorchester Day started 10 years ago, the brainchild of Chet Homer, who has owned the ski area for 25 years.

“He literally just picked up the phone, called and said, ‘What do you think about taking 150 kids skiing?’ ” said Mike Joyce, the club’s vice president of programming. “I thought about it for about three seconds, and said, ‘Yeah, we can do that.'”

Homer said he gets thank-you and Christmas cards from Dorchester kids. But for him the biggest reward is watching them enjoy the mountain and get a break from one of Boston’s tougher neighborhoods.

“There is gunfire right outside their club,” said Homer, a native of Massachusetts, who said the idea for the day came from a Dorchester acquaintance.

“We are right in the thick of it,” Joyce agreed with a nod.

Statistics bear that out. In 2018 Dorchester accounted for 25 percent of the crime in Boston, and 22 of the city’s 56 homicides, according to the Boston Police Department. The year before, Dorchester (which comprises just two of the city’s 12 police districts) accounted for 58 percent of Boston’s homicides, according to the department. Moreover, 23 percent of the neighborhood falls below the poverty level – compared to 12 percent of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Sophia Barros, 11, gets bundled up as she skis at Shawnee Peak. Her mom bought her a facemask for the trip.

Joyce said Dorchester offers few opportunities for the young people to experience life beyond its boundaries. The ski trip is one of the three trips outside the city that the Boys & Girls Club leads annually: they can also camp in Maine or travel to Disney World in Florida. To put the lack of opportunities into perspective, Joyce noted that though the club is less than a mile from the Atlantic Ocean, many of its members have never been on a boat or visited one of the many islands in Boston Harbor.

The trip to Bridgton is as much about the kids having a rare experience together as it is about their learning a sport, Joyce said. “Many years later you hear over and over that the favorite memory was learning to ski, or trying to ski. They don’t really do anything like this at home,” he said.

The closest ski area to Dorchester is Blue Hills in Canton, Massachusetts, a half-hour away. It offers a smaller hill (635 feet of elevation). But Joyce said the club could not afford lessons there for 150 kids.

Gearing up for the cold Maine ski day was itself an undertaking. Nehemiah Suneus, 10, was distracted and worried when he lost a mitten. Jasmina Phan, 13, said her parents bought her snow pants just for the ski trip, and Sophia Barros’ mom bought her a facemask. But despite the 20-degree chill, the kids seemed mesmerized by the views.

Sasha Van Baars teaches Jasmina Phan, 13, how to snowboard. Phan took a couple of falls while learning but called the mountain scene “calming” and “quite amazing.”

Kasper Dziabek, 12, talked with wonder how one of his friends got to see Mt. Washington from the top of a Shawnee Peak chairlift last year. So as Dziabek ventured up the mountain to a more challenging trail, he turned in his seat to see if he could glimpse it. He wasn’t sure the white mountain he spotted in the distance was New England’s tallest, but he was delighted after he skied to the bottom of the blue trail with only one wipeout.

Suneus was snowboarding for the first time at Shawnee Peak – but he picked it up in 10 minutes..

“I just tried to learn from my mistakes. When I fell, I tried to figure out why,” Suneus said.

Phan, another snowboarding newcomer, fell frequently during her lesson. Despite the spills, she called the mountain scene “calming” and “quite amazing.”

“For some reason I thought it would be really crowded with people moving everywhere,” said Phan, 13. “But it’s a nice, quiet place. There are so many trees. I’m used to tall buildings. And it’s so quiet.”

This year Phan will fly for the first time when she visits Vietnam with her parents to see their homeland. On the same trip, she will visit Australia to see her grandparents. Yet, like Suneus, Phan called the trip to the Maine ski mountain one of the greatest experiences of her young life.

From where she sat on the beginner slope, she eyed the chairlift. “Before I leave,” she said, “I want to ride on the mythical, magical flying bench in the sky.”

 


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