THE HISTORY OF CHALLENGE ASPEN
Challenge Aspen is an organic outgrowth of the individually conceived dreams of co-founders, Houston Cowan and Amanda Boxtel. Houston Cowan became interested in teaching blind people to ski in 1991 and was first introduced to the field through BOLD (Blind Outdoor Leisure Development) as a volunteer guide and instructor and later with Ed Lucks, who was a pioneer in developing adaptive teaching techniques and equipment. In 1994, Houston became a full-time Aspen resident, focused on the pursuit of his dream to make working with the disabled his life’s work.
Amanda Boxtel’s love of art and teaching children brought her to Aspen in 1988. While skiing on Snowmass Mountain on February 27, 1992 she took a tragic fall resulting in a broken back and leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. Amanda was forced to experience first hand, the personal courage required to regain her life and the activities seemingly lost to her after the fall. Throughout her road to recovery, she maintained a deep desire to continue to teach and work with children. Personal experience with disability gave Amanda a genuine understanding of the importance of creating greater access to the many recreational and creative opportunities in the Rocky Mountains for the disabled community. At the urging of mutual friends, Houston and Amanda met in 1994 to explore their shared vision, and Challenge Aspen was born.
Following a year of organization and the establishment of a close working relationship with Aspen Skiing Company and local outfitters, Challenge Aspen was formally established in 1995. Since 1995, Challenge Aspen has continued to listen to participants and has responded in kind with services and year-round offerings, providing access for all to a wide variety of seasonal sports, recreational and cultural activities for adults and children. Thanks to Challenge Aspen and an intensely dedicated volunteer staff and board of directors, those with physical and mental challenges now have access to recreational sports like downhill and cross-country skiing, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, swimming, gymnastics, hiking and fishing.
Through the years, seasonal camps have become a large outreach of Challenge Aspen, and the fun includes a mono-ski camp and a rock climbing camp for paraplegics and amputees, a ski festival for the visually impaired, and children’s art and music camps in the summertime. Summer camps are crafted with kids specifically in mind, to invite a sense of creative success and achievement while creating memories with friends who have similar life challenges. Based in Snowmass Village with access to the area’s four ski mountains, Challenge Aspen currently serves more than 400 participants each year, with over 2,100 participant days. Challenge Aspen has built a committed full-time staff of eight, a stellar volunteer force of more than 100 and an esteemed volunteer board of directors. Houston Cowan and Amanda Boxtel, believed from the beginning that access, community and participation were the keys to healing and establishing rewarding lives for those with disabilities. Challenge Aspen has carried those ideals forward and continues to connect, encourage and inspire those with physical and cognitive disabilities and those who are privileged enough to work with them. Challenge Aspen is helping to break through barriers, helping individuals gain the self-esteem and confidence needed to lead fulfilling, productive lives.