by | August 16 2022

The Difference A Name Makes

Note: This post contains mentions of mental health and suicide. If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide, a mental health or substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, you can reach free, live support by calling or texting 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

Saskadena Six has a remarkable history. The resort lays claim to having installed the first ski lift (in 1934, powered by a Ford Model T engine), staged one of the first snowboarding championships in 1982, and have, since 1937, held the longest running ski race on the continent, The Fisk Trophy Race.

They also have a history with the Vertical Challenge. We first held an event there in 1997 and have returned there many times in recent years, including this past March 13th. Four months to the day from that visit, the ski area made history again.

In 1934, resort founder Wallace “Bunny” Bertram had apparently jokingly declared that an attempt to descend the Hill No. 6 could be fatal. His observation resulted in the facility’s first name: Suicide 6.

In July of 2022, its current owners, the Woodstock Foundation, changed the name to one that references both the business’s heritage and that of local indigenous peoples.

We’re really looking forward to putting the new moniker, Saskadena Six, on our schedule this winter. Not only does it sound cool off the tongue, the change carries deeper meaning in view of our own past and present.

When they first made the move, we applauded it publicly on social media. The name adjustment made sense to us and we always want to support our resort partners. But as we continued to discuss it among ourselves, we discovered we had more reasons to appreciate it.

When making the announcement, Courtney Lowe, president of the Woodstock Inn & Resort, said, “We embrace the need for the increasing awareness of mental health and share the growing concern about the insensitivity of the word and the strong feelings it evokes on those in our community who have been touched by the tragedy of suicide.”

We hope to make everyone, regardless of age, ability level, ethnicity, or anything else feel comfortable on the ski slopes. We also want to make a difference beyond the mountain, too, by encouraging kids to be their best selves and also to show generosity to others through work with Make-A-Wish. Our founder, Frank Tansey, shared a story with us about how we worked to assist a young person in her early teens who needed help on the snow and more.

“The young girl was at an event with her brother, and was having a tough time throughout school of being picked on and being bullied and had very minimal self-worth. And as we did the events, the crew members embraced her and came to me and said, ‘I think we have a girl that has some issues,’” Frank explained. “And as we talked about what the Vertical Challenge is, and what we do and why we do it, it came to a realization that this girl fell in love with what we did, and understood that her life was worth hanging on to.”

The girl’s parents continued to bring her to VC races.

“The Vertical Challenge crew actually stepped up and embraced her as a person, taught her how to snowboard. And as she was learning how to snowboard with us, she would fall every two feet. But she got up and she kept on going until she came across the finish line. And with that, we encouraged her to understand that no matter how difficult a challenge may be, as long as you put your heart and passion behind it, you will overcome any obstacles.”

We’re not professional psychologists. A VC event is not a treatment for any medical condition and we’d always encourage anyone with a depressive condition to seek help from those with formal training. What we will aim to do is be supportive and encouraging with every child and adult who interacts with us.

It turns out that outlook helps our own personnel, too. We’ve always looked to establish a mentoring tree, in which older crew members guide younger ones, and all mentor our young racers. In working on this Saskadena Six article, we found that members of our management team had themselves overcome mental health struggles. And one of our younger crew members wrote this:

“Vertical Challenge really helps our racers, but it also helps our crew members more than you know. Not only does it give college students an opportunity to learn through actual experience, but it also brings students together even if we are not from the same university. I’ve had numerous crew members confide in me that they were struggling mentally or with making friends, and VC gave them the structure they needed and an opportunity to meet some great people. VC helps everyone!”

That’s our goal: to help everyone with whom we interact. That includes our sponsors, our resort partners like Saskadena Six, and our participants. We’re ready to meet you where you are – meet you and welcome you. See you at an event soon.