WinterKids’ annual License to Chill fundraiser Dec. 7 at Après in East Bayside had an appropriately outdoorsy and chill ski lodge vibe. About 140 guests enjoyed live music by T.J. Swan, charcuterie, tacos, s’mores donuts and drink specials with names like Fresh Pow, Maine Yeti and Snowball Effect.

“It’s winter in here,” said executive director Julie Mulkern, pointing to snowflake décor and pine trees decorated with blue and white twinkling lights. “And Après is a huge supporter of WinterKids.”

The 21-plus event raised nearly $40,000 for the nonprofit focused on getting kids more active during the long winter months through school, community and family programs.

“Kids spend so much time in front of screens,” said board member Stephen Lindsay of Portland. “WinterKids encourages more outdoor activity. Real life.”

This season’s WinterKids programming kicks off this week with the Welcome to Winter festival at Lost Valley Ski Area in Auburn from 5-7 p.m. Thursday. This free event gives kids a chance to try snowshoeing, Nordic and downhill skiing, snowboarding and snow sculpting.

School programs include the Learn Outside guide, which incorporates outdoor activities in math, science and English language arts curriculum for pre-K to grade 8, and the WinterKids Winter Games, a four-week program that includes physical activity, nutrition, community engagement and an all-school winter carnival. Three thousand students from 16 Maine schools are registered for the WinterKids Winter Games, Jan. 8 to Feb. 2.


“Two of my nephews go to Winterport Elementary School and have such pride in winning the Winter Games last year,” said Dustan Larsen of Harpswell. “It inspires them to be outside more. It’s important for kids to get out their crazy energy.”

The core family program is the WinterKids app. It’s like a digital passport, with opportunities for kids to try downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating when they go with a paying adult. An annual membership costs $40 for a family of five ($10 for each additional child).

“We’ve been a WinterKids family for several years,” said Greg Soule of Standish. “When we think about what we’re doing over the weekend, we check the app and go places we haven’t been before. WinterKids gets us out every weekend.”

Many License to Chill guests are now fundraising for the WinterKids Downhill 24, a 24-hour ski event at Sugarloaf, Feb. 29 to March 1.

“Downhill 24 has continued to grow and grow,” said education director Marion Doyle. “Last year, we raised over $950,000. That allows us to offer free programming to kids in Maine and to offer Downhill 24 Outdoor Fund grants to schools, outdoor recreation departments and nonprofits.”

Acadia Insurance, one of the dozen corporate sponsors for License to Chill, has at least one team in the Downhill 24 every year.

“It’s a big thing in our company,” said Matt McManus, who has participated five times. “It’s an exhausting experience but very fun. And we engage our employees and customers in raising money.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at

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