Coalition to help parents guide kids through Tahoe’s high-risk sports climate | SierraSun.com

Coalition to help parents guide kids through Tahoe’s high-risk sports climate

Kaleb M. Roedel | kroedel@sierrasun.com

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — When local and legendary athlete Erik Roner died in a skydiving accident near Squaw Valley ski resort on Sept. 28, it shook the Lake Tahoe action sports community to its core.

Moreover, it shook up a lot of the Tahoe region's parents — especially those with children participating in action sports.

As a result, many of those parents went to Dr. Robb Gaffney, a sports psychiatrist and founder of Sportgevity.com, an information website geared toward creating longevity and sustainability in sports.

"The death of Erik Roner prompted many parents to come forward with their concerns," said Gaffney, a lifelong skier and father of two.

In response to the growing concerns, Gaffney and a group of local experts — composed of sports psychologists, ski coaches, Olympic athletes and other community members — organically formed the Go Bigger Coalition.

"The Go Bigger Coalition," Gaffney said, "is taking up one of the biggest issues facing families today in mountain culture: raising children in a such a way they remain alive and healthy so that they can live life to the fullest."

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MOVING AWAY FROM RISK

The fact remains, Roner's death was only the latest in an unfortunate string of tragedies within the Lake Tahoe and Squaw Valley skiing community.

Since 2008, nine Tahoe-area athletes have died at various locations across the world, according to previous reports.

"I've had a lot of parents come up to me over the years and ask if they should be moving down to the ocean to get their kids out of the risk environment of the mountains," Gaffney said. "To me, that's a red flag that the culture isn't necessarily heading in the right direction. And these are people that have skied their whole lives and have multi-generational ski families.

"This is their home and they're considering leaving the mountains. That says a lot about the action sports climate in general."

Gaffney said that while many in the community are thinking about the high-risk culture and the path it's paving for children, few are discussing it publicly.

GBC member John Walsh, a US Ski Team athlete and Squaw Valley ski coach, said the coalition is an important aspect to opening that discussion. His nephew Timy Dutton, a Tahoe native and professional freeskiing master, died in a skydiving accident in 2014 in Acampo, Calif.

"It hurts my family every day," Walsh said. "I feel some bad decisions were made that day due to the cool GoPro shot — not OK.

"Should we continue as a community supporting and pushing the mentality that it is cool and without serious consequences, many times serious injuries or even death?" Walsh added. "Or should we start the conversation that longevity and doing it for the soul, is the best way to respect any sport you love?"

'LOOK UNDERNEATH THE SURFACE'

In an effort to initiate the conversation, the coalition is holding a presentation titled "Why the Huck?" at the Tahoe Art Haus and Cinema from 7-9 p.m. Monday, Dec. 14. (For those uninitiated, "huck" is a term for jumping or going off an object or cliff.)

According to a press release, the two-hour event is aimed to give parents the tools to help their children navigate the high-risk action sports climate and address issues that could improve their overall quality of life.

"We want to look underneath the surface of why our culture is where it is, and also look underneath the psychology and sociology that drives us to take these risk," said Gaffney, who will open the event with a half hour presentation on those matters.

Following Gaffney's presentation, fellow coalition members will give 5-minute insights. Included on the panel are: Alenka Vrecek and Jason Dobbs (heads of Squaw's Big Mountain and Freestyle Ski teams), Carolyn Hamilton (creator of Squaw Valley Institute Kids), local fire chief Alan Whisler, and the aforementioned Walsh.

World Cup champion Tamara McKinney is also serving as a guest speaker. Former SVI Executive Director Renee Koijane will give a brief introduction to kick-off the event.

Additionally, local Tahoe kids will share personal insights in a five-minute video. "Why the Huck?" will conclude with a 45-minute moderated panel discussion with a Q-and-A.

If you go

What: “Why the Huck?” presentation on Tahoe’s high-risk sports climate

Where: Tahoe Art Haus and Cinema, Tahoe City

When: 7-9 p.m. Monday, Dec. 14

Cost: Free. Seats are limited and must be reserved in advance at tahoearthaus.com