Reflections of Personal Experience
The Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program (LASP) has been part of Holiday Valley’s offerings for almost 25 years and was named for Bill Lounsbury, a member of the Holiday Valley Ski Patrol who lost a leg to cancer in the 1980s. Undaunted and determined to remain active in the sport he loved, Lounsbury taught himself to ski on one leg. Unfortunately, he eventually lost his battle with cancer, but his courage and love of skiing was an inspiration to everyone who watched his struggle.
In September of 1988, a group of dedicated Holiday Valley Ski School instructors, with the full support of Holiday Valley Ski Resort and Ski Patrol, founded the Bill Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program to honor his memory. The first pieces of adaptive equipment for the program were purchased using donations that were sent to the Holiday Valley Ski Patrol in Lounsbury’s memory shortly after his death.
In 1988, there were four instructors and 14 students. That year 32 lessons were taught. Twenty-five years later, the program has grown to 50 instructors who collectively teach over 250 lessons during the course of a single ski season. All instructors are specially trained in adaptive ski teaching methods and over half of these instructors are certified by the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA).
LASP Program Director Mary Ellen Racich is extremely proud of the ability and dedication of the Lounsbury instructors adding and said, “It’s a real pleasure to work with such a marvelous group of volunteers!”
LASP offers lessons to persons with virtually all disabilities, both physical and cognitive. The operative word in this program is “adaptive.” If someone wants to ski, the dedicated Lounsbury volunteers will do everything they can to find a way to get them out on the slopes. The focus is always on what a student can do, not on what they can’t.
A single lesson usually involves two instructors and sometimes three depending on the severity of the student’s disability and the type of adaptive ski equipment required. Results vary, but many students become skiers and virtually all of them experience a sense of achievement, excitement and freedom that helps them to gain new confidence to tackle other activities.
When Holiday Valley lost 34-year-veteran Mountain Manager Dave Schumacher in February of 2009, his wife Trudy requested that all memorial donations be made to LASP. Holiday Valley matched those donations and created a scholarship in Schumacher’s memory that offers free adaptive ski lessons through LASP to residents of Cattaraugus or Allegany counties who are recommended to the program by a teacher or therapist and cannot afford to pay.
Each February LASP hosts an annual Veteran’s Day at Holiday Valley that attracts disabled skiing veterans from western New York, northeast Ohio and northern Pennsylvania.
Racich said she is “very proud and pleased” about evolving plans to expand the disabled veterans program through the Buffalo VA to give disabled Veterans weekly lessons for 4–6 weeks during the season.
Penguin Paddle a Playful Good Time
Visitors to Holiday Valley won’t want to miss one of the most anticipated events of the ski season and the major source of funding for the Lounsbury Program. The Penguin Paddle is an all-day event that is held on the slope side of the Yodeler lodge in cooperation with Holiday Valley Ski Resort. Most of the students who participate in LASP require specially designed adaptive equipment, which is very expensive. The proceeds from Penguin Paddle help to purchase and maintain this equipment and to fund ongoing adaptive training programs for the 50 volunteer instructors.
And they don’t call it the Penguin Paddle for nothing. Every year hundreds of playful Penguin Paddle participants of all ages flock to Holiday Valley for the Penguin Paddle Races. These slippery schussmeisters throw caution and dignity to the wind, and don helmets and large black garbage bags to “make like penguins” and slide down the lower part of the Yodeler ski slope on their bellies. I’m never sure if it’s more fun to do or watch. Either way, I’m usually laughing so hard it doesn’t matter.
In addition to the Penguin Paddle races, the day’s festivities include a buffet cookout lunch, silent auction and raffle. This year the Penguin Paddle will be held on Saturday, Feb. 23.
Racich is hoping for another beautiful day on the slopes and “all our fabulous Penguin Paddlers will come out and have a great time. The day is great fun for the entire family and an opportunity to support a wonderful program. “
Lounsbury Volunteers Humbled and Inspired
My husband Tom and I are often asked about our volunteer work as instructors for LASP. Folks are invariably complimentary and impressed by our commitment as if it involves some huge sacrifice on our part. Nothing could be further from the truth. Working with these special students and dedicated volunteers is probably the most selfish thing we’ve ever done in our lives. We get 100 times more out of our involvement with LASP than we can ever contribute. In the face of all their apparent physical, intellectual and developmental deficiencies, each student has a beautiful and lasting gift to share with the rest of us. That gift is the ability to humble and inspire everyone they encounter with their undaunted, joyful spirit and courage. They are always reminding us that the most precious gifts in life are not the ones we receive with our hands but those we accept with our hearts.