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As the Buffalo winter finally sets in, many Western New Yorkers have only one thought on their minds: skiing.

The cold air slipping under your scarf, speeding down and across each hill, looking across to see your best friend or little sister close beside you, the conversations on the chair lift -- a combination of laughs about school and the decision of where to go next, the feeling of taking the heavy boots off after a long day on the slopes.

Winter would be unbearable without it.

Skiing and snowboarding, for many high school students, is a reprieve from the school week and keep away the winter blues. The cold-weather activity brings everyone together -- it becomes a social atmosphere, something that is special to our extended community and a way to survive the Western New York winters.

Skiing and snowboarding can connect everyone.

Carlee Frank, a junior at Springville-Griffith Institute, knows about the bonds that form from skiing. Her adventurous personality, along with persuasion from her friends, led her to learn to ski during last year's winter break from school.

With the help of her friends, she was flying down the hills like a natural in just a few tries.

"I knew I was missing out on something special," she said.

Since then, Carlee has taught her sister to ski.

"It's just a good release from stress and school, where you can go with friends, but see everyone. It's like a big social event," Carlee said.

Brandi Burgard, a junior at Springville-Griffithm, has spent her life dedicated to skiing and teaching the next generation. She spends every weekend and her days off from school at the Holiday Valley Creek Side Lodge. Brandi, who has been skiing since she was 2, enjoys being with friends and family and getting together to have a good time on the ski slopes.

Holiday Valley's Learning Center teaches kids, ages 3 to 12, to ski. Twice a day, Brandi takes the kids out on the hill to learn and improve their skills.

"Children are the future of the skiing industry," she says. "It's important to teach them. They will encourage their parents and teach their children. They will invest in skiing."

For Sierra Bowen, a junior at Springville-Griffith, skiing takes on something different -- a competitive side. Sierra has been ski racing at Kissing Bridge for nine years. Sierra, 16, hits the slopes every week with her team, developing the necessary skills for the highly competitive and fast-paced races. She is one of the oldest members of the team.

Sierra, who has been skiing since she was 2, has developed a passion for skiing. Her race team travels to other resorts across the area for events throughout the season.

"And there is [the state competition] at the end [of the season]," she says. "The big event.

"Ski racing isn't just the activity of skiing," Sierra continues. "It's a sport that I am dedicated to, and the social time combined."

Sierra has made some close friendships through competitive skiing, whether it's from time spent traveling on chairlifts together or to far-away events.

The warmer weather this year has slowed the ski season for many skiers who like to wait for the perfect powder to cover the hills. Brandi and Sierra both agree that although the weather affects the conditions, they don't let it dampen their fun.

"The weather changes the number, variety and quality of the hills," Brandi says.

Sierra adds that her events can get canceled. "But, when it comes down to it," she says, "dedicated skiers don't care what the weather's like -- whether it is rain, snow, 70 degrees, or negative-20, we'll ski in all sorts of weather."

Brandi nods in agreement. "We go out anyway," she says. "To have fun."

The idea for the ski slopes at Kissing Bridge started in 1959 when Harry Loomis (who died in a car accident Jan. 20 at age 83) restored a cabin on some land in Glenwood. He had thought about buying a used tractor and building a rope tow. He contacted his brother-in-law, Robert James, with the idea.

"I was interested," James said. "I was not a skier, but he was. He knew how to make the terrain and together we learned how to make the snow."

Today, James is 88 and still working and researching. From his office window, the original Kissing Bridge sign letters are visible, mounted together, a birthday present from his family.

"Fifty-three years ago we started talking about it. Now it's complete. It provides about 500 jobs in the wintertime -- about 500 people work there part time and there are now eight chairlifts," he said. "It's being developed and improved all the time, each year. And people love to go there."

Rainah Umlauf is a junior at Springville-Griffith Institute.