On January 3, 2024

Skiing with disabilities



Skiing presents challenges to all skiiers.


By Tony Crespi

At the top of Killington’s Skyepeak a skier smiles. An onlooker appears apprehensive. Another skier gasps. Sadly, such reactions are not uncommon: this skier has one leg and one ski.

For those not fully aware of the kind of skiing options open to skiers with physical, emotional, or intellectual challenges, it may be helpful to know that there are mountains of possibilities. 

As Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest who survive, nor the most intelligent, but those who can adapt to change.”

Spotting that skier later, their skiing looked smooth. While they might not post the fastest run they gave the impression of using sports in a wonderful way. 

Walk through the base lodge at many areas and, if you look carefully, you might notice skiers coping with differing challenges. Fortunately, at first glance, you might not see the disabilities. Like many athletes, they often grin, smile and laugh. Sure, there may be leg braces and artificial limbs, but there is also an enthusiasm for life.

From tragedy some triumph. 

“I don’t feel disabled on the hill,” exclaimed one skier.  “I can’t walk stairs very well but I can ski!”

Ski programs for the physically challenged can help. 

From weekend adventures to Olympic racing, the range and diversity of programs is impressive. The United Disabled Ski Team represents one pinnacle of achievement, drawing elite, world-class, athletes. With Olympic medalists as powerful role models, athletes can set high goals. So often kids and adults feel badly because they can’t run and jump. But these opportunities can help build spirit, strength and add a normalizing experience to life. 

“It builds up that part of them that they thought would never be a source of strength or pride,” reflects psychology professor Paula Gill Lopez. “It gives them dreams.” 

If you need proof that these programs are valuable, and fun, look at the faces of skiers. The smiles light the world. It’s something, it seems, all skiers have in common.

This winter, stop and smile if you glance at a skier with challenges. Realize too, that many resorts boast programs for skiers with physical and emotional challenges. Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports based at Killington is one of those programs. Others help veterans who returned from service deployments who now are coping with a range of challenges. All these programs can help build confidence and add a positive enjoyment to life. 

“It is not the strongest body or the most dazzling mind that counts. It is the invincible spirit which overcomes all handicaps. For without this spirit, winning medals is empty. But with it, there is no defeat.”

Tony Crespi has served as both a development team coach and ski school supervisor. He is a frequent contributor to publications throughout snow country.

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