A city kid, Schone Malliet ’74 didn’t strap on his first pair of skis until he was an adult. He’s since made up for lost time, becoming a prominent figure in the winter sports scene and taking on a mission to give all youth the outdoor winter opportunities he never had.
Bolstering a resume that could be optioned as a feature film (U.S. Marine pilot, ski-racing coach, CEO), Malliet leads a group that turned a dormant New Jersey ski area into a nonprofit whose goal is to expose urban, suburban and rural children in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to snowboarding, as well as Nordic and alpine skiing. Malliet believes “every kid should have access — for the outdoor activity, the opportunity to excel and, hey, just for fun.”
While winter fun is a noble goal in its own right, there’s a lot more to Malliet’s National Winter Activity Center (NWAC) mission than schussing and hot chocolate. Participation in winter sports helps reduce the incidence of childhood obesity, which has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. and is linked to diseases such as Type 2 diabetes. This form of diabetes is growing alarmingly among children and teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Exercise is a key weapon in the fight against the disease, and experts say too many youth stop traditional outdoor play once winter sets in.
Raised in the South Bronx, Malliet notes, “I grew up on asphalt sports.” (He eventually played basketball at Holy Cross, making the team as a walk-on.) His initial exposure to skiing was less than glorious — and that’s putting it mildly. The introduction came during Marine Corps leave, when a buddy took him skiing in Park City, Utah.
How’d that go? “I had a terrible time,” Malliet says. “Promised I’d never do it again.”
But he’s hard-wired for persistence. He joined a ski club, practiced and “went from being really bad to a little better.” He got good enough to coach, eventually founding and chairing the National Winter Sports Education Foundation (NWSEF), an “enabling foundation,” as Malliet puts it, focused on gathering resources (including financing, best practices and partnerships) to introduce 100,000 urban children to winter sports.
In 2014, NWSEF learned that Hidden Valley, a bankrupt ski area in Vernon Township, New Jersey, was available for sale. Malliet saw the opportunity to put NWSEF principles into practice, and thus was born the NWAC — but not before he left his private-banking career to work full time on the organization. Approximately $20 million was raised from such groups as NWSEF (now ShareWinter), Howland Capital, the Boston Foundation and the Community Foundation of New Jersey to fund the 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Schone Malliet as he appeared in the 1974 Purple Patcher and on the slopes in 2012. Photo courtesy of Schone Malliet
Raising funds and re-engineering Hidden Valley were only the first of many challenges. When the program launched, students had to be transported to the mountain. They had to be provisioned and outfitted (as many know, simply getting kids into boots and binders for the first time is a harrowing experience). They had to be fed, instructed and transported back home.
NWAC ran a pilot program in 2015, serving 180 children. “We confirmed there was an opportunity to make a difference,” Malliet says. “We also found there were a number of youth-serving agencies that would support the program.”
Since then, growth has been impressive: 800 children served in 2016; more than 1,100 in 2017; 1,748 this past season and a projected 2,100 this year. Most students participate in the program “ELEV8 Learn,” which focuses on the basics: healthy meals, proper clothing, instruction and mentoring. Also available is the “ELEV8 Compete” program, which allows youth to advance their skills and become skiing or snowboarding racers — a world otherwise unattainable for many.
Under NWAC’s business model, each participant pays $450 for the winter program — but the organization’s clients are youth-serving organizations, such as the YMCA, the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, schools and other groups. Some partner with the Community Foundation of New Jersey’s Warm Jacket Fund or others to provide supporting resources. Most participants don’t pay a dime.
By 2022, “we expect to be able to be sustainable without fundraising,” Malliet says, which means serving up to 8,000 students per year. When that sustainability target is met, any revenue over and above operating costs will be used to drive down the per-participant fee. NWAC appears poised to meet the ambitious 2022 goal; it just finished a new Nordic complex and is adding 27,000 square feet to its lodge.
Attracting new skiers and snowboarders shouldn’t be a problem given the program’s popularity with its current members, such as Trey’von Dunns of Newark, New Jersey. His mother, Brearra, reports that the NWAC is a highlight for the 7-year-old: “Everything about the [program] was great.” Trey’von’s looking forward to participating again this year — and bringing along his younger brother.
While the organization’s early success and impact is already impressive, what may be more so was Malliet’s decision to leave his career as a Fortune 50 banking executive for the world of nonprofits. Inspiration for that move can be traced to another often-snowy hill.
“It wouldn’t have happened without Holy Cross,” Malliet says. “The book education, the coping skills, my classmates … when so much is given to you, you want to pay it forward.”
Written by Steve Ulfelder for the Winter 2019 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
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