When former professional snowboarder Mitch Nelson would get packages in the mail from his sponsors, there was always plenty of nice, expensive stuff to look at and try on—goggles, hats, gloves, coats, etc. But as Nelson sorted through everything, there was just one fairly inexpensive, simple item that he was really in search of: a pair of socks.
“One of my favorite things is how nice a sweet pair of socks feels,” Nelson says. “It probably has a lot to do with being in a pair of boots all the time when you’re a professional snowboarder and your feet are cold. Nothing beats how sweet it is to take off those boots and put a pair of warm socks on.”
In 2005, Nelson and his wife Katie were touring The Road Home shelter in Salt Lake City and learned that the No. 1 thing homeless people always need is, of all things, socks. “I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s my No. 1 item, too,” says Mitch. “It may sound silly, but it really struck me.”
“It makes sense,” says Katie of socks being the most needed item for homeless people. “When your feet are cold, you’re miserable. Socks are a very functional item.”
The Nelsons decided “one item wouldn’t be too difficult” to collect, according to Katie, and formed Stoked on Socks (StokedOnSocks.org), an organization that holds fund-raisers and sock donations to provide socks to local organizations that serve the homeless. The couple, who have two children, “thought now we can help people more than we are [currently doing]” Mitch says.
The Nelsons have waged their campaign on what they call the “ground level,” holding their first fund-raiser in their driveway with a taco stand on hand, working with community groups and holding “sock hops” at Z Pizzeria. They have managed to come up with more than 4,000 pairs of socks to donate to the Road Home shelter, Rescue Mission of Salt Lake, Volunteers of America and Wasatch Homeless Healthcare.“When your feet are cold, you’re miserable. socks are a very functional item.”
On Thursday, Feb. 26, Stoked on Socks will team up with Powder Mountain Resort for a “sock-raiser” that will benefit both those who need socks and those who want to catch a break on the price of a lift ticket.
Anyone who brings a new pair of socks that day will get $16 off the normal $56 price for a lift ticket. (That ends up being $40 for all you math majors.) Holding the event at Powder Mountain represents coming full circle for Mitch, who was raised in Farmington. “Powder Mountain was where we grew up,” he says of himself and his friends. “It’s where I learned to snowboard.”
“We’re all for it because one of our initiatives this year is to do the right thing,” says Carolyn Daniels of Powder Mountain, while also noting the resort’s other service-oriented programs. “We want to make a difference in our community.”
The Nelsons say they’ve generally received a good and helpful reception to Stoked on Socks from the snowboarding community, but in a way, it’s just one more instance where Mitch does not fit into the popular perception of the hard-partying snowboard scene, which he admits is not far off the mark in many cases. Before he became a professional snowboarder, he served a mission for the LDS Church, and after he became a professional snowboarder he regularly spoke at firesides where he “told kids there’s more to life than riding around on a little piece of wood.” As Katie put it, “He wants kids to know you don’t have to always party to be a snowboarder.”
Although the Nelsons’ charity might seem a bit unusual for the snowboarding scene, the couple doesn’t see themselves as doing anything particularly noteworthy.
They were simply thinking about what they could do to help others, and they found out they could donate something that had always been important to them. “We found a way to be more focused on everyone,” Mitch says. This week, the results of their effort will combine much-needed footwear with shredding the slopes.