Adaptive programs expand horizons
Many Colorado ski resorts have learn-to-ski programs for visitors with disabilities. The programs are all affiliated chapters of Disabled Sports USA and offer lessons, instruction and guidance for people of all ages and disabilities.
“We’ve had people skiing with us who are over 80,” said Jeremy Steinhauer, the director of Colorado Discover Ability at Powderhorn Ski Area.
Most disabled skiers at that age aren’t first learning to ski at 80; they’re lifelong skiers who have suffered some sort of impairment later in life and are learning to adapt to it on the slopes with the help of an instructor. All instructors with Colorado Discover Ability, whether they’re working with an 80-year old relearning to ski with a vision impairment or an 18-year-old with a cognitive disability, are volunteers.
“That’s what makes our program,” Steinhauer said. “We’re very fortunate in that we have a lot of expertise and knowledge in our volunteers.”
There are some volunteers who have worked with the program for more than 15 years. Volunteers go through training and are paired with a veteran instructor during their first year. About 70 volunteers work with the program throughout the season, giving between 400 and 500 lessons, depending on the quality of the snow and length of the season.
“Volunteers enable us to make our program affordable and accessible to those who want to learn to ski,” Steinhauer said. Scholarship assistance is also available to help those who can’t afford the lessons.
Colorado Discover Ability works with many local programs, including the Wounded Warrior Program and many of Hilltop’s service agencies to get people out and moving. Because Powderhorn is such a local mountain, the majority of the participants in Colorado Discover Ability are local Western Slope residents. The program also works with visitors who come and want to ski multiple days in a row, but most of their participants want to ski over a season or once per week for several weeks. Lessons are offered seven days per week throughout the season.
The adaptive racing program sponsored by Colorado Discover Ability has one of the largest teams on the Western Slope. Between 20 and 25 skiers race from December to March, with an equally large number of coaches who devote their weekends to the program, too.
Many of the other Western Slope ski areas are destination resorts, with out-of-area visitors who come and stay for multiple days rather than locals who ski over an entire season.
The Adaptive Sports Association of Durango works with Durango Mountain Resort to provide instruction to disabled skiers and snowboarders, with about 40 percent of the participants coming from outside the area. The association has a small paid staff, which includes a few instructors and trainers, but also relies on a huge contingent of volunteers.
“We have 250 trained volunteers who donate between 15,000 and 17,000 hours of volunteer hours per year,” said Tim Kroes, executive director of the Adaptive Sports Association of Durango. “It’s pretty cool in a small town like Durango.”
Lessons are offered seven days per week and reservations are required. Some instructors are trained to work with specific disabilities and the program want to make sure that the best instructor gets paired with every student.
“We do a lot of scholarships,” Kroes said. “We bring people from all around the U.S. for learn-to-ski weekends.”
Many of the scholarships are funded by outside resources, including a Kiwanis Club in San Diego, Calif. and another from Madison, Wis. that send disabled individuals from their community to participate in the program.
“It’s a wonderful tool to empower people and give them a sense of independence,” Kroes said. “It allows people to stretch their boundaries and stretch their self-perceived limitations.”
At Crested Butte, most of the participants in the Adaptive Sports Center come from out of the area, although there is a core group of locals from Gunnison County who participate. Many of the out-of-state disabled guests come back year after year, staying anywhere from three days to a week.
“One of our biggest goals is not only to have people enjoy their experience in Crested Butte, but gain more independence and have those skills translate into everyday life,” said Erin English, marketing and communications director for the Adaptive Sports Center of Crested Butte. “We try to give them confidence and have them realize that they can do anything they want.”
At Crested Butte, none of the instructors are volunteers. They’re all paid, certified adaptive instructors. Although the program tries to accommodate walk-in visitors, reservations are recommended.
“We cater to individuals and families, but also serve groups from rehab hospitals or Veterans hospitals,” English said. “For this winter, we have only one week still available for groups.”
There is plenty of room for individuals and the Adaptive Sports Center hopes to bring in a few new faces this year in February when the program celebrates its 25 anniversary by offering 25 percent off the price of individual lessons from Feb. 1-17.
Other Western Slope ski areas with adaptive ski lessons include Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports at Steamboat Springs, Challenge Aspen and the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program.
NELA POLAN has competed for three years with the Adaptive Racing Program Team Powderhorn as a snowboarder. (Courtesy photo)