Ski Industry News

Adaptive Skiing & Boarding Programs Get Disabled Pointed Downhill

by Greg Colquitt | January 4, 2017

There’s a guy I know that could out-ski me in his sleep. I’m not claiming to be a world-class skier but I can hold my own. This guy I know also happens to be blind–completely and totally blind.

In the US, based on the 2010 Census, over 56 million Americans classified themselves as disabled. Americans with a severe disability numbered over 38 million–the population of California. With over $200 billion dollars in discretionary spending, the disabled population in the US has tremendous influence in the marketplace and on slop-side innovation.

Across the country skiers and boarders like my friend are taking to the slopes. From California to the Midwest, and from the Rockies to New England, resorts are finding ways to get disabled skiers and boarders the chance to participate in a sport that would have otherwise been deemed impossible. To date, 29 adaptive sport centers dot the country with five in New Hampshire alone.

A little farther West, though, in Winter Park, Colorado, the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD), gave me my first glimpse into adaptive skiing.

I was coasting lazily down a groomer one day when the neon vests of NSCD passed me for the first time. On the back of the vest the words “Blind Skier” were clearly indicated. “How could this be possible?” I thought to myself. It took me forever, it seemed, to feel comfortable on a groomer with perfect vision. With the guidance of trained instructors, blind skiers are guided down the mountain to get to enjoy that same feeling of sliding on snow the rest of us get to do without thinking twice about it. While NSCD is one of the few programs in the country to help blind skiers, their program is far more comprehensive than that. To give you an idea, I pulled a list of disabilities they work with from their website. It proceeded as follows:

ADD/ADHD, amputation, arthritis, autism, behavioral health, bone disorder, brain injury, cerebral palsy, deafness, developmental disabilities, diabetes, down syndrome, epilepsy, fragile X syndrome, hemophilia, learning disabilities, multiple sclerosis, muscular disorder, muscular dystrophy, nerve disorders, neurological disorders, paraplegia, post-polio, post-traumatic stress disorder, quadriplegia, respiratory disorder, spina bifida, spinal cord injury, stroke, substance abuse, vision loss/blindness.

Adaptive skiers at Winter Park

And that’s a flexible list, so regardless of the disability, there is a way to ski or board at Winter Park.

The options, however, not limited to downhill skiing. NSCD has programs for Nordic skiing, backcountry hut trips, snowshoeing excursions, and ski racing if alpine isn’t your thing. Then in the summer, they offer rock climbing and kayak lessons, too, to whet your warm weather whistle.

Like I mentioned earlier, adaptive skiing & boarding programs dot the country so stay in your region and find something in your backyard. My hope is that as the disabled population continues to grow, the skiing industry will continue to come up with new ways to get folks outside. The US Adaptive Ski Team is, with the help of great minds like Joachim Grenestedt at Lehigh University, continuing to push ahead on this front, developing equipment that works with the athlete. In fact, I just read a great article about the great innovation going on to get adaptive skiers on equipment that works with their bodies. It all boils down to the fact that disabilities provide a platform for great ideas. They encourage the consideration of ideas that never would cross the mind of a someone with two legs, for example, and gets that sought after outside-the-box thinking going.

In a world headed towards exclusion, adaptive programs like NSCD and others across the country provide a glimpse into inclusion that we can all benefit from. Next time you see adaptive programs zipping past you at your slope, give them a wave and remember what you’ve read. This is the future of skiing.

For more information about Winter Park’s adaptive program, visit www.nscd.org

For a comprehensive list of adaptive programs across the US, head to http://usarc.org/adaptive-programs

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