Hopefully you have been reading about the new Andrea Mead
Lawrence Lodge that the Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports program and
the Pico Ski Education Foundation are engaged in building at Pico
to facilitate and enhance their respective programs.
By sharing the two-story building, they will each have new
headquarters that will enable them to better serve skiers,
snowboarders and competitors of various ages.
Having kids learn to race through programs like the one the Pico
Ski Club makes possible- via support from the Pico Ski Education
Foundation, which is an important fundraising arm-is a very
powerful testament to community support for our children and
teenagers. Most importantly, these programs teach skills, which
lead to growing confidence and competence. Those are traits that
help kids grow into adulthood with a greater sense of worth and
resiliency-the necessary attitude of 'I can do it' or 'I can make
it' that helps in overcoming life's adversities.
More than winning races-and that is admittedly a
goal-competitors are taught that it is about hard work, teamwork,
and good sportsmanship, all good character-building traits.
But what of the children and adults for whom getting out on the
slopes seems impossible due to disabilities?
Thanks to the world of adaptive snow sports, that "improbable
experience" is possible and has been empowering hundreds of people
of all ages at Pico Mountain.
It was the sound of cowbells that stopped me in my tracks. On the
slope below, a Blind Skier was traversing with two guides. They
were gliding along in a synchronized dance, the bells providing
auditory cues to turn as they skied the Snowmass (CO) trail - a
But not a common one in 1974.
Whereas in the post-Vietnam era I had seen amputees skiing on one
leg - balancing with special ski-tipped poles - I had never seen a
blind person ski. Deeply moved (I was skiing six months pregnant
with my first child), I watched and witnessed another early step in
the adaptive movement that was slowly gaining hold in this
Fast forward to March 12, 2011.
A lone wheelchair sits in a snow bank outside the Pico Mountain
Someone, seeing the camera around my neck, tells me it would
make a good picture.
"Already got it," I say.
What we both "get" is that its occupant has "gone skiing."
Here, in that cast-aside chair, was another reminder of life's
possibilities. And of the importance of volunteers who were not
only making adaptive skiing and riding possible but on this
particular day also making participating in a race possible for a
There was my friend, and fellow writer, Linda Goodspeed racing.
Diagnosed with glaucoma at age ten, surgeries and medication helped
maintain her fading eyesight for many years, but gradually she went
"I started skiing at age five and raced a little in the
Mid-Vermont program. I stopped skiing for a few years while living
in Boston but then skied with friends or family a little and found
out about Vermont Adaptive. We moved back to Rutland and ski every
weekend now," Linda related.
The "we" includes her daughter Masha, who also participated in
the Pico racing program, often while Linda skied with a Vermont
Adaptive volunteer. Then Masha became a volunteer, too.
"Sometimes Masha is one of my guides. I'm proud of her doing
that. It's a great way for us to share the experience of skiing,
gets us outdoors, and provides a social group.
"It's like walking into Cheers when we walk into the base lodge;
everybody knows each other . . . they call out 'Hi Linda,' 'Hi
"Camaraderie has always been such an important part of the
sport," Linda added.
Linda, who usually free skis with a guide behind her calling out
left, right, or downhill, actually skied in the race using ankle
tethers. It was a way to foster the "precision needed to turn
around the poles," she said.
"Racing's fun and by participating we give something back. And
yeah, I'm adventurous. Masha and I were a team and called our
selves One and a Half Women," she added with her mischievous
Loss of eyesight had not robbed Linda of her daring sense or her
sense of humor.
A post-race banquet and auction provided part of the social life
Linda alluded to. Close to 90 racers - able bodied and disabled -
competed in the Ski Challenge that day, which together with the
other festivities raised $14,000 for the Adaptive program ($20,000
raised in 2012 Ski Challenge).
Volunteers Personify Spirit of Giving
The dedicated volunteers who serve as instructors and guides with
Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports make "gone skiing" a reality for
children and adults who have physical, cognitive, and/or emotional
"Volunteers often use their vacation days to help out during
busy times like Presidents' Week. It's that kind of dedication that
enables us to provide more lessons for our clients," notes Vermont
Adaptive's Executive Director Erin Fernandez. She added that it
takes two or three volunteers for each client so it really is "the
dedication that makes the program work."
The Vermont Adaptive program, which began in 1987 at Mount
Ascutney, has grown tremendously as the ability to empower
individuals with self-confidence and independence became recognized
and valued. That is how it grew into a statewide non-profit
organization that now has three winter sites - Sugarbush, Bolton
Valley, and Pico (its headquarters) -and a staff of six. They work
with over 400 volunteers, who also serve as instructors and guides
for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding, sailing,
tandem biking, hiking, camping, and many other sports.
"The vast majority of the volunteers who work with Alpine skiing
specialize in a particular area. Physical therapists might work
with the physically disabled while special educators might choose
to work with developmentally or mentally challenged youngsters.
They usually get a feel for what they might be good at and enjoy
through our orientation sessions. That's when we explain who we
are, what we do, our policies and things like disability awareness
with the focus first on people, not the disability," Fernandez
Off-snow trainings cover topics like what it is like to be
visually impaired, seizures, safety, and medicines. They commence
in October and change to on-snow sessions in December. There's been
much team building in the process and come snow season, the new
volunteers have become assistant instructors who work with
experienced "lead instructors." Over time, they often become
lead instructors themselves, while the latter may become trainers.
Many work with the Professional Ski Instructors of America and earn
"There's also a Junior Volunteer program with youngsters
sometimes as young as ten becoming volunteers because they might be
working with a parent or like to assist lead instructors with
youngsters. Junior volunteers who work as assistant instructors can
help youngsters feel better about themselves because they are among
their peer group," Fernandez noted.
"We always need new volunteers who are strong skiers or riders,"
Fernandez said, adding that because it is a four-season program,
anyone with a love of the outdoors might find volunteering
beneficial. She said that volunteers for winter come from many
nearby towns but also from out of state, citing wonderful support
for the program.
That support extends to Killington and Pico, which donated the
land for the new lodge.
Fernandez added that, "Pico will be raffled off for a private
ski day." The tickets are $100 each but only 500 will be sold. The
drawing will occur in March and the winner will get to choose a
Tuesday or Wednesday (days Pico is normally closed) in 2013-14 to
host up to 500 of their friends and family on the slopes that day
"This is an example of how Killington (the two areas are siblings
with the same president and general manager), Pico, and the
community believe in us and are making the new building happen,"
she said, noting they still have "a way to go to raise all the
funds needed for the project."
Empowerment is Contagious
It was through Vermont Adaptive that Jack Rasmussen began skiing
when he was in first grade. His mom Sarah credits "his wonderful
instructors" with his being able to ski with the family.
"We are a skiing family, that is what we do. We wanted Jack to
share that with us and not stay at home with a babysitter," she
As a baby Jack had been diagnosed at Boston Children's Hospital
as having Dup 15q Syndrome (formerly know as Idic 15,) a rare
chromosome disorder that "the doctors didn't know a lot about. They
sent us on our way, saying early intervention was important," Sarah
A child born with the syndrome has extra genetic material from
chromosome 15 and typically has 47 chromosomes in their body cells
instead of 46. This causes delays in language development and motor
skills such as walking or sitting up. Low muscle tone, seizures,
short stature, mental retardation, or autism may be among the
challenges. Early diagnosis, physical, occupational, and speech
therapies along with special education techniques help them to
develop to their full potential.
Sarah Rasmussen recalled a momentous occasions when Jack's
therapist announced she would bring a walker to start Jack walking.
When she showed up without it, Sarah's heart sank - until her 'why'
was answered with "we are going to teach him to walk without one."
And he did.
Equally talented Vermont Adaptive instructors sent his mother's
spirits soaring again. They not only taught him to ski but when he
was in the third grade, they took him off the harness in his
midweek ski lessons with the Sherburne Elementary School winter
sports program at Killington.
After one rest stop, Jack took off first, and someone exclaimed,
"Follow our leader." Like that day in Snowmass, my spirits
And that's what I found when I talked to people on chairlift rides
up the mountain. They noticed kids and adults in the program, and
often commented "how wonderful" or "It's great to see what they can
do - we ski better for watching them."
After several runs with Jack and then with mono skier Ann
Williams, I skied the steepish and slick Bronco and realized he was
right. Instead of holding back, I tried a little harder, pushing my
old legs to 'one more run' four times.
Empowered, my spirits soared again!