Cindy Wright Berlack (Franconia, N.H.), whose son Ronnie was one of two U.S. Ski Team athletes killed in an avalanche five years ago, was honored by U.S. Ski & Snowboard with its Russell Wilder Award for service to youth, recognizing her work in avalanche education. The BRASS 101 programs she has spearheaded have reached thousands with the message of avalanche safety.
The Wilder Award is one of the most prestigious annual honors, dating back to 1955. Its recipients are a who’s who of individuals and organizations who have provided unique and valuable service to youth.
Berlack is passionate about helping youth. Her efforts to bring avalanche safety education to clubs around New England are making a difference. In the memory of Ronnie, and his friend Bryce Astle, the Bryce and Ronnie Snow Safety Foundation was formed in 2016 to help educate athletes and coaches about the danger of avalanches.
A certified level 200 alpine coach, Berlack has been the pied piper of the BRASS 101 program. Through her initiatives across New England, the free program has been delivered to over 2,000 youth and young adults at clubs, academies and other public presentations. She helped architect the program and its content, find presenters and schedule workshops.
The program was designed to highlight the basics of avalanche education, with a turnkey curriculum that could be delivered by local presenters. It’s most impactful component is the 13-minute film, Off Piste, which features a poignant re-creation of the accident.
“Our initial goal was to develop an introductory program for schools and ski clubs, making avalanche education available to young adults who hadn’t had access to avalanche education,” said Berlack.
With support grants from industry companies like Blizzard-Technica, BRASS developed a program using the film Off Piste as its base and expanding upon the five key safety points outlined in the popular Know Before You Go safety program.
“We wanted to make it as easy as possible for clubs and schools and to offer it for free,” she added.
The program began in earnest in the winter of 2017-18 with ski clubs and academies. The next winter it branched out to high schools across New England. At the same time, Cindy’s husband, Steve, who grew up in Wellesley, Mass. and has been a longtime coach at Burke Mountain Academy, began presenting a version of the BRASS 101 program at ski races and camps across the country, reaching thousands more young racers.
Together, the Berlack and Astle families have grown BRASS to be a highly respected advocacy organization with its work impacting the entire ski and snowboard industry nationwide. Cindy Berlack has appeared at avalanche workshops around the world and at national conferences around the country, redirecting her life from mother, teacher and coach to be a tireless proponent of snow safety on behalf of the organization that was so much a part of Ronnie's life.
Both families have been appreciative of the response they have generated in broadening awareness of avalanche safety.
"What’s been most gratifying to me is that, across the board, coaches and administrators have been extremely appreciative and the young people have been so enthusiastic,” said Cindy Berlack. “Ronnie knew nothing about avalanches. I’m so thankful for the opportunity through BRASS to draw in an audience. People feel we can be trusted. And I accept this award on behalf of BRASS."
In addition to her work with BRASS, Cindy Berlack has remained an active masters racer for over 40 years and a seven-time age class national champion.
Schools and clubs interested in playing host to a BRASS 101 workshop - either in person or virtually - can get more information from the BRASS Foundation website at brassfoundation.org or by reaching out to firstname.lastname@example.org.