Initiated into Adaptive Skiing


Written by Claire, Winter Intern

I initially heard about Challenge Aspen through my sister. She called me up one day to say there was a job going in Snowmass that she thought I would be interested in. What did I have to lose? I had been living overseas for four years and was looking for the next thing to do. Challenge Aspen sounded like a fun opportunity.

The application was an eye opener in itself: Have I ever worked with people with disabilities before…? No, not ever. Had I worked with veterans before…? No, I have not. I was beginning to question why my sister thought I would be a good candidate for the job. I love skiing and I’ve been instructing sports for years, but none of my experiences led me to any adaptive training or work.

Despite my initial hesitance I could not be happier that I was chosen. Challenge Aspen is feeling like a great fit for me. It was hard to really envision what all goes into adaptive instructing until the training began. Now I can’t imagine learning any other way.

Today ends our third week of training with Challenge Aspen. Every day has brought forth new queries, conundrums, and ways to problem solve that makes up the adaptive part of our job. Our instructors, both in the classroom and on the slopes, have been amazing at turning everything about a traditional ski lesson on its head. Really showing us the diversity and variations we can expect to face in the upcoming winter.

This past week has been the highlight for me so far. We have been on the snow everyday learning about all of the different adaptive equipment that we will be using with our cliental. Because we are going to be instructing people on how to use this equipment, we have to first learn ourselves. It has been challenging, but really fun. We are experiencing what it’s like to be a beginner again and learning how to teach the progression of skiing as we ourselves are learning the different adaptive methods.


My favorite lesson so far has been learning about the Mono-ski and Bi-ski. The Mono-ski and Bi-skis allow cliental who have little to no lower body strength, or whose cognitive disability prevents them from controlling aspects of their body, to ski in a seated manor. After some practice loading the skis empty onto the chairlifts we were allowed to practice with the interns in the seats. I loved this. Both seated in the seat and driving it from behind, the Mono-ski and Bi-skis gave me my first real taste of what it’s going to be like to bring people the opportunity to enjoy skiing who may not have the chance otherwise.

We practice each type of equipment by trying to replicate the different types of disabilities we may encounter. This gives us an idea of what the client will be feeling and what instruction will work best to teach that initial turn or first slide down an inclined slope.

There are a couple more weeks of training before lessons begin. But already it’s clear that with adaptive instructing, you never finish absorbing. Everyday is an opportunity to learn about someone new and how we can modify our instructions and equipment to work for them. In the end it’s not about following the manual and getting our students to pass the next level. It’s about giving people the opportunity to live their lives. And if they want to ski then we will get down to the equipment room and rig up whatever type of mechanism that will allow them to do that.

Challenge Aspen has an amazing mission, bringing possibilities to people with disabilities, and I am elated to be a part of it this winter. I have so much respect for everyone who works at Challenge and all of the adaptive instructors. I can’t wait to meet and learn from the hundreds of people that will pass through this winter.

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