By Alicia Dziak
Adaptive skiing has been gaining popularity for many years. And it’s also been gaining in competitiveness.
This year’s 36th annual Empire State Winter Games, which kicked off this week (Feb. 3-8) in the Adirondacks, is a case in point. The 2016 event is drawing more adaptive athletes (defined as athletes with a physical – including vision/hearing – or cognitive disability) from around the country and Canada than ever before. The number of events also has grown and includes more Nordic and alpine skiing events, as well as snowboarding, sled hockey, figure skating, bobsled and luge racing and so much more.
While competing on a national or international level might not be everyone’s goal, all athletes got a start somewhere, and both Holiday Valley and HoliMont are two great places for adaptive skiers to learn the joys and challenge of snowsports with a focus on ability – not disability.
Holiday Valley’s Lounsbury Adaptive Program
The Lounsbury Adaptive Program was named for Bill Lounsbury, a member of Holiday Valley’s Ski Patrol who lost a leg to cancer in the 1980’s. Undaunted and determined to remain active in the sport he loved, Bill taught himself to ski on one leg. Bill eventually lost his battle with cancer, but his courage and love of skiing was an inspiration to everyone who knew him.
In September 1988 a group of dedicated Holiday Valley Ski Patrollers, with the cooperation and support of the resort, founded The Bill Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program (LASP) 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 Bill’s memory shortly after his death.
In that first year, instructors taught 32 adaptive lessons. Today, 45 volunteer instructors teach 225-250 lessons per year.
Each student is instructed individually with full emphasis on his/her ability, rather than disability. All instructors are specially trained in adaptive ski teaching methods and more than half are certified by the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA). (For the first time this year, both HoliMont and Holiday Valley instructors recently participated in combined training through a PSIA prep clinic.)
Rates are $50 for one lesson, $150 for a book of four lessons. The lesson includes a lift ticket, two hours of private instruction and equipment use. Mary Ellen Racich, LASP Director, noted that scholarships are also available for those who may need financial aid in order to participate in the program. Reservations are required for all lessons, offered seven days a week. The program runs through mid-March. For more info, or to make a reservation, call (716) 699-3504 or email email@example.com.
The major fundraiser for LASP is the Annual Penguin Paddle, which will be held this year on Saturday, Feb. 20. This fun-filled day features live and silent auctions, raffles, a lunch tent and of course the penguin slide, where people don a garbage bag and slide on their bellies “penguin style” down the bottom of Yodeler slope.
According to Racich, this year’s Penguin Paddle event will feature 75 auction items, as well as some new elements that are still in the works. Money raised from this event goes toward equipment, instructor training, the scholarship program and an annual Veterans ski day, this year held on March 4, when disabled veterans from all over can come and learn to ski.
HoliMont’s Phoenix Adaptive Program
HoliMont’s Phoenix Adaptive Program began in 1996 when former program director Chuck Richardson was asked to work with a special needs student. Since then, the program has grown to include 12-18 regular students, plus several drop-in students.
This season, Richardson has stepped into the position of athlete coordinator, with his former role as Phoenix program director being filled by David Berghash.
At HoliMont, each student typically has at least one lead instructor and one volunteer with them at all times. In some instances there will be multiple instructors and volunteers. The director typically assigns the instructors and volunteers based on the needs of each particular student.
Berghash emphasized the in-depth training Phoenix instructors receive, as well as instructor-student consistency as differentiators in HoliMont’s adaptive program.
One of the Phoenix season highlights is the annual Phoenix Rise to the Challenge race, this year being held on March 5. What started as a club race has grown into an international event, with enthusiastic participants traveling from Canada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and beyond to meet on the slopes of HoliMont for a day of competition, bonding and fun.
Races are open to the public, and everyone is encouraged to come and cheer for these determined adaptive competitors.
For more information, call 716-699-8159 or visit holimont.com.
Area adaptive programs share one common goal: to get everyone who wants to ski out on those slopes!
If you or someone you know would like to participate, EVL’s programs are second to none. By focusing on abilities rather than disabilities, those who may have thought skiing was out of reach can head to EVL and get the most out of winter. And if you aren’t an adaptive skier, you can support the programs by cheering on the racers or contributing to the fundraising efforts—great fun for a great cause!