My most formative experience as a young woman careening down a snowy mountain didn’t come on two legs. It came in a sled, guided by two adaptive sports program volunteers. Three years ago, I was a fresh-out-of-college, twenty-something writing an article about the adaptive sports program at Bretton Woods in Carroll, New Hampshire. While research for my articles normally involved a fair amount of talking and listening, this was the first time I had been strapped to a sit-ski and sent down a mountain in the name of a story. And it was amazing. Not so much for the experience of racing down the mountain (though that was exhilarating), but for the amazing people I met: the volunteers who dedicate their time and energy to helping others learn how to ski, and the participants who put their faith in these volunteers and pushed themselves past the limit of what others assumed was possible.
Getting involved in an adaptive skiing program – either as a volunteer instructor or participant – can be a great way to live the Go Girl mantra of challenging your limits and making meaningful connections with other people. Here are five things to know about adaptive programs, along with a list of some of the programs available in the country.
It adapts to anyone’s level
As you may have guessed from the moniker, adaptive sports program work to design a program for any degree of physical or developmental disability. For some, that means using the sit-ski I mentioned above. There is a wide range of equipment: everything from traditional skis, boots, and poles to sliders (walkers mounted on skis) to outriggers (forearm crutches with skis mounted on the bottom). One participant in the Bretton Woods program is blind, save for some opacity, in his left eye. He skis down the mountain with very little help from the adaptive volunteers, assisted by only a blocker who makes sure other skiers and snowboarders are aware of his presence and a second volunteer to call out “left,” “right,” or – in an emergency – “down.”
About to take the ride down Bretton Woods on a sit-ski, a piece of modified equipment used in adaptive skiing.
It’s been around for more than 50 years
Adaptive skiing isn’t a recent development in the world of mountain sports. In fact, it’s been around since 1942, when German Franz Wendel, a disabled war veteran himself, designed the first adaptive skiing contraption. Wendel attached a pair of crutches to short skis allowing him to ski down the mountain. Ten years later, adaptive skiing came to America when Korean War Veteran, Bob Engelien, opened the American Amputee Ski School in California.
However, it was the 10th Mountain Division, prominent during World War II, that truly pioneered adaptive skiing in America — specifically Instructor Jim Winthurs. Winthurs started an adaptive skiing program at Donner Summit in California, dedicating his life to adapting ski techniques and equipment for disabled skiers.
It can be a great way to volunteer
Adaptive sports programs can be excellent opportunities to get involved in a ski community — not only as a participant, but also as a volunteer instructor. Many adaptive programs offer perks for those who commit their time as a volunteer, which doesn’t even take into account the perks of helping others learn and maintain a new skill. Consider volunteering for an adaptive sports program in your area!
A volunteer instructor and adaptive sports participant prepare to ski Bretton Woods.
It has a strong veteran connection
Perhaps because of its early development, adaptive sports have a strong connection to America’s veteran population and offer programs that actively cater to “Wounded Warriors.” As a country that is in the process of ending not one, but two decade-long wars, there are many soldiers who have returned, or who are returning to America, with new disabilities. Adaptive programs can be a great resource for these women and men, and there are many funding opportunities available to help cover the costs of such programs.
There are programs across the country
Although my experience with adaptive sports is specific to the White Mountains of New Hampshire (where programs are available at both Bretton Woods and Cannon Mountain), adaptive sports programs are available across the country. Here is a sampling of some of the programs (alphabetical, by state):
- Alpine Meadows – Tahoe City, CA
- Challenge Aspen – Snowmass Village, CO
- Adaptive Adventures – Colorado and Illinois
- Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center – Colorado
- Adaptive Sports Association of Durango Colorado
- Adaptive Sports Center — Crested Butte, CO
- National Sports Center of the Disabled – Miles High, CO
- Recreation Unlimited – Boise, ID
- Sun Valley Adaptive Sports – Ketchum, ID
- The RHI Sports Program – Paoli Peaks and Perfect North Slopes, IN
- Disabled Sports USA – Rockville, MD
- S.T.R.I.D.E – Jiminy Peak Resort and Brodie Mountain, MA
- Maine Handicapped Skiing – Newry, ME
- AbilityPLUS Inc. – Wachusett Mountain, ME
- Michigan Adaptive Sports — Keego Harbor, MI
- Challenge Mountain of Walloon Hills — Boyne City, MI
- DREAM Adaptive Recreation – Whitefish, MT
- Eagle Mount – Bozeman, Greatfalls, Missoula, and Billings, MT
- White Mountain Adaptive Ski School – Loon Mountain, NH
- Northeast Passage – Durham, NH
- AbilityPLUS Inc. – Waterville Valley, NH
- Bretton Woods Adaptive Sports & Recreation – Carroll, NH
- New England Handicapped Sports Association – Sunapee, NH
- Waterville Adaptive Skiing Program – Waterville, NH
- The Adaptive Ski Program — Santa Fe Ski Area, New Mexico
- Adaptive Sports Foundation – Windham, NY
- Green Peak Adaptive – Cortland, NY
- Hole in the Woods Ranch – Lake Luzerne, NY
- The Bill Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program NY. – Ellicottville, NY
- S.T.R.I.D.E. — Rensselaer, NY
- The Adaptive Adventure Sports Coalition (TAASC) – Mad River Mountain, OH
- Oregon Adaptive Sports – Bend, OR
- City of Eugene Recreation Services – Eugene, OR
- Two Top Mountain Adaptive Sports Foundation – Whitetail Resort, PA
- Blue Ridge Adaptive Snow Sports – Carroll Valley, PA
- Common Ground Outdoor Adventures – Logan, UT
- Wasatch Adaptive Sports — Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, UT
- AbilityPLUS Inc. — Mt. Snow, VT
- Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports – Killington, VT
- Wintergreen Adaptive Skiing – Lovingston, VA
- Adaptive Sports at Snowshoe – Snowshoe Mountain Resort, WV
- Crystal Adaptive Winter Sports – Bellingham, WA