Two-time Paralympic snowboarder John Leslie grew up enjoying the coldest season, and with his new non-profit organization, he's looking to help children share the feeling.
Late in 2018, Leslie's new endeavour, Loving Winter, took flight at Calgary's Varsity Acres Elementary School. While it's athletically focused for the time being, he hopes to incorporate artistic elements such as painting and photography.
"The primary focus right now is bridging the gap between signing up for a ski-school day and showing up for that first day on snow," said Leslie, who recently moved to Vancouver after spending eight seasons in Whistler. "Generally, kids don't get a lot of time to prepare with equipment or prepare with dryland training, or practice equipment.
"The kids show up on the ski day and if they've never skied before, it can kind of be a (mess)."
The pilot program saw 570 students from Kindergarten to Grade 6, with sessions held for 30 minutes per day for nine days. The program helps kids understand the basics, right from interacting with the equipment to information such as how to use ratchets on snowboard bindings.
"We got the local ski hill to bring in enough equipment for 50 kids (at a time) to touch, play with, see, look at," he said.
Leslie explained the teaching processes are done with help from the Burton Riglet program as well as Snowboard Addiction. As well, there is some yoga training mixed in.
Leslie funded this initial endeavour with his own money, but now that he knows it's a workable program, he's looking to bring in more support.
"Now that it's done and we've got a product, I'm going to start to market it and hopefully fundraise some money to put it into more schools," he said.
To get started, Leslie tapped organizations such as Canada Snowboard, BC Snowboard, Alberta Snowboard, Canada Sport Institute and Ever Active Schools in Calgary to create a curriculum sanctioned by all involved. Leslie added that the curriculum can be tailored to a school's needs, while he is looking to tweak it along the way as well.
Leslie isn't in the gym the entirety of the program, but will come by toward the end and get the students particularly amped up to head to the hill.
"I designed it so I could be competing or training or on the road doing my own thing and then come in for the last few days," he said. "We made photos and videos to accompany the program, with me in it.
"When I got there, I was a very familiar face and they got to see me in the flesh. It was exciting."
On the competitive side of things, Leslie started the season with fourth- and fifth-place finishes in the banked slalom at the International Paralympic Committee World Cup stop at Landgraaf, Netherlands in November. He then took a seventh-place result at the Dew Tour in Colorado last month.
Leslie is taking some steps back early in the four-year cycle before the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in China, where he will attempt to represent Canada a third time.
Leslie is planning to forgo an upcoming training camp in Quebec, but will continue the World Cup schedule at Big White in February. Being so far from another Games, if there was any time to stop and take a breather, he said, it's now.
"This will be my third quad. It's definitely a marathon, not a sprint," he said. "I'm so used to being at every training camp, not missing a single second, because last year was so serious. This year, it feels weird to take time off, but I think it's the most important year (to do it)."
Leslie added that the down time would also be used to adjust to living in Vancouver, where he moved with his girlfriend.
"My girlfriend and I were just looking to try something else. I had been in Whistler for seven or eight seasons and my girlfriend had been there for four," he said. "We were finding that we were having so much work in the city and with me doing my public speaking, there's a lot more opportunity.
"I did the math and I was spending 20 hours a month just driving back and forth."
However, he had plans to spend the first week of the New Year in Whistler boarding pow and staying with his former roommates.
More information on the organization is available online at www.lovingwinter.org.