By Jeff Martin
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past two decades, you’ve probably heard about the Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program at Holiday Valley.
Sue Whistler, an instructor and scheduler for the program for the past six years, said each year proves to be more successful than the last.
“It amazes me just how popular and successful it has become,” she said recently.
Created as a way to honor Bill Lounsbury, a member of the Holiday Valley Ski Patrol who lost a leg to cancer, the program aims to instruct people with disabilities — any disability — to ski.
Consider these facts: In 1988, there were four instructors and 14 students, and 32 lessons were taught, according to information provided by Whistler. Fast forward 25 years and the numbers are staggering: Now, there are 50 instructors teaching over 250 lessons.
Whistler, a member of the organization with her husband, sees the program as both therapeutic for both the people being taught and the people teaching it.
“So many benefits you can’t begin to number them,” she said.
Two instructors typically do the instructing. While not all students become competent skiers, those that don’t learn other skills — at the very least, the satisfaction that they tried and someone tried to help them.
“We find a way to get them on the slopes,” she said.
In the years that Whistler has been teaching, she and other instructors have seen a variety of people with disabilities. More and more people with autism appear to be coming for lessons.
“We’re not sure if it’s an increase in autism itself or if it’s being diagnosed more, we just know there’s more cases,” she said, adding that those with autism benefit significantly from skiing because of the visual and biological stimulation.
Frequent disabilities seen in the program include spinal cord injuries, Down’s syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment and developmental delay.
The group also works with veterans, specifically on its Veterans Day event. They come from as far as Cleveland, Ohio, a fact that Whistler appreciates. Still, she and others would like is best if more veterans from the Buffalo area would try the program.
“It’s one thing we want to focus on this year — getting more vets from the local area,” she said.
Whistler said there are no new offerings this year, though there is some new equipment. The program relies on donations and volunteers, and there’s always room for more certified volunteers.
The season begins on Dec. 26 and lessons are by reservation only. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for reservation information. For more information about the program, visit http://skilasp.wix.com/lounsburyadaptive.