Read the original article published in the 2016 issue of JH Style here.
Doug Coombs Foundation Gets Kids Outside
WORDS Kristen Pope
IMAGES Courtesy Emily Coombs
Jackson offers some of the best skiing, snowboarding, and outdoor recreation opportunities in the world, but a lot of local, low-income kids weren’t getting out and experiencing those things. Emily Coombs noticed this and made it her mission to reverse that trend by creating the Doug Coombs Foundation.
Her late husband, Doug Coombs, was a legendary ski mountaineer who passed away in the French Alps in 2006 while attempting to rescue his skiing partner. Emily Coombs created the foundation, in part, to honor his memory. “He was all about instilling the spirit of adventure and the belief anything was possible,” she says.
Now, thanks to the foundation, many local kids are able to experience the joy of outdoor recreation and sports. Coombs started with just seven kids in the program over the winter of 2012-2013, and she paid for the initial costs out of her own pocket.
Soon, many donors and volunteers offered to help with the cause, and the following winter 75 young people participated. Last year, over 133 low-income Jackson kids were able to get out on the slopes, and the program is also reaching out to children on the Wind River Reservation. Kids are eligible for the program based on their family’s income, and almost all participants are eligible for free or reduced price school lunch.
But the foundation doesn’t just get kids outdoors—it also encourages their parents to learn
how to ski and participate in outdoor sports so the whole family can enjoy these activities together. They’ve taught 25 parents to ski and enjoy other outdoor activities, including going into Grand Teton National Park. “It creates a ripple effect to ‘Let’s go outside this weekend’ rather than going to the mall in Idaho Falls,” Coombs says.
When the snow melts, the foundation still works to keep kids outdoors. “The effort is to keep them active, integrated, and engaged,” Coombs says. Over the summer, kids can participate in a number of activities including soccer, lacrosse, rock climbing, and one student was even able to attend a pony camp thanks to a generous community member’s donation.
The program is a true community effort, with local ski resorts, brands, retailers, guiding companies, and other businesses all pitching in to help get the kids outside. Exum Mountain Guides, Wilderness Ventures, and The Hirschfield Center have all donated lessons or camps to participants. Many community members and outdoor lovers throughout the country often pitch in a few dollars when they can in order to help low-income Jackson-area youth have opportunities to experience the wonders in their backyard.
And the results are rewarding. Coombs refers to two local program participants who typically spent their school vacations in their family’s basement apartment before they became involved with the program. Last summer, the kids joined a hike to Phelps Overlook in Grand Teton
National Park. “They were so interested in everything,” Coombs recalls. “They were infatuated by things we take for granted.”