Local school program launches careers and memories
Last updated 3/14/2023 at Noon
Back in the 1980s and ’90s, Nate Turner lived in Camp Sherman, near Lake Creek Lodge. Little did he know that his elementary school experience was unusual compared to that of most young Americans. Now he’s living the dream as a professional outdoorsman.
Turner attended Black Butte School (BBS), a tiny, single-school district and schoolhouse that now serves kindergarteners through eighth graders. On Fridays, the kids head up the hill to ski at Hoodoo, just like when Turner was a kid.
This weekend he returned with his family to enjoy some night skiing and take part in a reunion of sorts: the 50th Anniversary of Ski & Ride, a collaboration between BBS and Hoodoo Ski Bowl.
“It absolutely carved out who I am right now,” he said of the Ski & Ride program. “I chase snowstorms and I chase fish for a living.” He paused to help his daughter Talulah put on her gloves.
“I didn’t know how different Black Butte School really was until afterward. A two-room schoolhouse with kids of all ages, friends who were older and younger,” he recalled. “After school you’re out exploring the creeks and rivers, getting taught how to ski up here by ski schoolers and ski patrollers and parents, getting drug through rain and mud and slush and powder... It set the bar.”
Turner didn’t know this was wildly unlike normal American education until he transferred to Sisters School District. “That was a shell shock for sure. A big school, nobody knows anybody,” he remembered, shaking his head.
“I kind of ignored what was normal after that,” said Turner, who graduated from Sisters High in 1997. “I just wanted to go fishing and snowboarding. And that’s what I do.”
As the owner of Skookum Outfitters, Turner is a full-time professional fishing guide on the Lower Deschutes and other rivers, including the Columbia and the Klickitat. “I was in the ski and snowboard industry almost my whole life, until now,” he explained. “I got out of that to pursue the fishing thing.”
Based in The Dalles, he has sought out a nature- and outdoor-based education option for his own children. Back at Hoodoo, he described fond feelings for BBS and Ski & Ride. He concluded, “I just hope it keeps going.”
Also at the 50th anniversary party, parent Emily Roper shared her family’s story. “We moved up here during the pandemic,” she explained. “The school is amazing. It was such a nice opportunity, not just for the Friday Ski & Ride, but on Wednesdays they do experiential education.
“Black Butte School was such a great, magical, wonderful opportunity for our kids. The pandemic was so hard, and yet we have this incredible memory of the experience of being here,” Roper said. “If we could have stayed, we would have stayed.”
The Roper kids now go to school in the Valley, where the family normally lives. “We’re really big fans of Hoodoo,” said Roper. “We’re on HART (Hoodoo Alpine Race Team), the ski team here; we spend a lot of time up here on the mountain. It’s our home away from home.
“It’s such a unique opportunity to have one day a week that the school gets to spend out in the snow, breathing fresh air, learning to ski. Not too many schools in the world have this,” Roper went on. “I’ve told people, ‘You won’t believe what my kids got to do during the pandemic!’”
Munching on snacks at the anniversary event, Amy “Rainbow” Duarte described being on the teaching end of the equation. “I think Ski & Ride is amazing,” Duarte said.
“It gets the kids outdoors, and it actually shows them what the community is about,” Duarte explained. “We have Mother Earth at our fingertips. We are so blessed in this area.”
The 35-year-old graduate of Sisters High School was born and raised in Sisters. In her sixth season as a ski and snowboard instructor, she is now the on-snow supervisor and staff manager of Hoodoo Ski School.
Nicknamed Rainbow “because I’m usually very happy and positive,” Duarte appears to be living the dream. “I’m living my dream,” she specified, “to be out in the woods and to be happy. Here I am.”
What would she like to see the kids learn? “For some of them, patience. For some of them, to continue with the sport, whether it’s skiing or snowboarding. I’ve seen a lot of them progress.”
She’s watched some BBS kids grow and mature. “They’re amazing kids and they’re given a huge opportunity. I honestly wish that a few of them would come and work in ski school.”
She imagined what it might be like if more kids could take part in this kind of hands-on, outdoor programming. “I think it would open a whole new avenue for a lot of kids,” stated Duarte. “Growing up in Sisters and coming up through the SOAR program, which is now SPRD—that’s how I started snowboarding. Given that opportunity, I found my passion and I’m living my dream. People don’t know what they like until they
Duarte said she wished there was “more awareness of the mountain” throughout Sisters Country. In particular, she’d like people to be more aware of ski and snowboard lessons and mountain safety. Tree wells, avalanche training, and a responsibility code should be learned by people of all ages.
“There’s so many people who come here who are not aware of those things. If the community could do more multi-week programs, mountain and outdoor programs, that would be great,” Duarte finished. “This is my passion, this is my dream.”