Disabled skiers hit the slopes
Dale Thompson Of the Record Staff
You don’t have to be able to walk in order to ski. The National Ability Center Ski Program offers lessons to people of all ages with a disability be it physical or cognitive. "We’re making people more aware that anyone can ski. Unless they have a doctor’s order, they can ski," said Kristen Stowell, Ski Program Manager for the NAC.
Meeche White co-founded the National Ability Center in 1985. The Ski Program was the first of many offerings to the disabled and began with 45 lessons during the 1985-1986 ski season. That number has ballooned to 6,000 lessons, or approximately 300 a week.
Stowell started with the NAC as an intern in 1999 and this is her second season as Ski Program Manager. She says she enjoys her work because, "I love that this organization provides recreation to people with disabilities. Recreation is something that should be there for everyone."
At the beginning of a ski lesson the instructor meets with the student to assess what kind of equipment will be needed and to learn what goals the student has in mind.
Tim Clark, an NAC ski instructor from Colorado says, "I love it, it’s a great opportunity to help out."
He affirms what Stowell believes, that skiing is accessible to anyone. "The biggest issue that I see is a misunderstanding of people with disabilities who ski. Anybody can do this as long as they’re willing to try."
Clark mentions that one of the program participants started as a novice skier from Florida and has since moved to Utah where he skies as part of the Park City Disabled Ski Team. "They start as recreational skiers and fall in love with it," Clark said.
Jason Malczyk, another ski instructor with the NAC notes that some of the students he teaches have aspirations to be professional skiers. "Some kids want to go to the Paralympics," he said. Malczyk added that one of his favorite things about the job is, "giving them an idea of what’s possible."
Corey Behrendt, 17, from Boone, Iowa was signed up for a lesson by his aunt and uncle who he described as "ski freaks." As he loaded into his bi-ski Behrendt confessed, "I’m a little on the nervous side, but I’ll be fine."
His lesson was taught by Jeff Zenger who has been with the NAC for 12 years. He is a river guide with the organization during summer months.
Clark said many students express a lot of joy after skiing. "I love seeing the smiles on their faces when they’ve overcome hurdles," he said.
The ski program makes recreation with the family more accessible. "Students see they can do something with the rest of the family," Clark said. The lesson includes a buddy pass so family and friends can accompany student on a lesson. NAC also offer a discounted pass for $20 that allows the friends to ski with them at any time.
Lessons are priced affordably. A two-hour private lesson costs $60 and includes a lift pass and adaptive equipment. For those interested in multiple lessons, a five-week session can be bought for $100. This includes a two-hour private lesson held once a week, a lift pass and adaptive equipment. Scholarships are available to low-income families.
The retail value of the five-week session is $1,000. Fees cover approximately 14 percent of their costs while grants and donations make up the rest. "It’s not uncommon for people to come in and see what we’re doing and donate," Stowell said.
Volunteers are also an integral part of the program and Stowell notes they are always looking for more. They have about 70 volunteers this season who assist with everything from loading and unloading sit skiers to helping the students up after they fall. Volunteers also help create a buffer zone around students to allow them more room to ski.
Volunteers must participate in three days of training with additional education throughout the season. For their assistance volunteers receive a day pass.
The National Ability Center is located at Park City Mountain Resort near the ice skating rink, they also host classes at Deer Valley and The Canyons. Stowell said of the NAC’s partnership with Park City Mountain Resort, "They are wonderful to us and very accommodating."
For more information about the ski program or the National Ability Center call: 435-649-3991
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