This winter, as many as 400 individuals with disabilities, will go skiing or snowboarding thanks to Oregon Adaptive Sports.
This homegrown non-profit, volunteer-driven organization envisions a day when everyone enjoys the benefits of outdoor recreation, regardless of ability.
“It started with winter sports. We are all skiers, and our love of snow is really what unites us here,” said Pat Addabbo, Oregon Adaptive Sports executive director. “It’s something you see from these school groups; a teacher or a teenager’s first time coming up to the mountain, to some of our experienced really high-level skiers. It’s that shared enjoyment of sliding on snow, moving through the mountains. Those benefits that you get.”
People with disabilities face numerous barriers to getting on the mountain.
Adaptive sports equipment such as sit skis are expensive, starting at $6,000.
Oregon Adaptive Sports offers the equipment and specialized instruction at low or no cost.
Brooke Snavely caught up with OAS as they were helping a dozen students from Bend Senior High learn how to ski.
“These students are part of the Life Skills Program. That’s the program in the public school system that supports students with disabilities,” Addabbo said. “A lot of these students have various disabilities whether intellectual or developmental. We have students with autism or potentially Downs syndrome. The school system has programs to support those kids educational, social and life skills needs. Our program comes in and we provide recreation, the outdoor skills. In this case, learning how to ski.”
The most any student will pay to participate in Oregon Adaptive Sports ski program is $35.
That includes a lift ticket, equipment and personalized instruction provided by an army of specially trained volunteers.
“Her first day on the mountain, she snowplowed. She snowplowed to a stop, and she did turns. It was awesome,” said OAS volunteer Denice Christiano of the student she was helping. “It was all her. She took great instruction. She did a great job.”
One of the big focuses for folks on their first day of skiing is just to enjoy being out on the snow.
“It’s not so much how good of a skier you become or how fast you progress, it’s just making that positive association with snow, the mountains and what it does for you as a person. The self-confidence, the self-esteem, pushing through different layers of challenge,” Addabbo said.
“It’s really great because they are going to become more independent, more self-reliant, which is going to transfer into more success at school and out in the community,” said Tim Harroun, a Bend High School learning specialist.
Adaptive skiers range from never ever beginners to advanced racers who compete internationally.
If you’ve ever been around a learning area on a mountain, you probably want to give these skiers a little space.
They may not be able to turn on a dime.
“Sometimes you’ll see our athletes wearing orange bibs. Our volunteers always wear bibs. We sometimes have athletes that are visually impaired. If you see that, that’s a good indicator to give distance because may perform better with added space around them,” Addabbo said. “But if they are stopped or you are riding the chairlift with them, have the same conversation you would with any other skier.”
Interact with adaptative skiers that same as you would with your family or friends. Ask them: How’s the snow? Are you warm enough? What’s for lunch?
“This is our first day up here,” said Jessica Scameheorn, Bend High School learning specialist. “I think they are going to learn ‘Hey, maybe next time I need to bring a hat and warmer gloves.’ So there is that life skill aspect to this experience.”
“I’m a volunteer with OAS and, just so you know, I get more joy out of this than the athletes. I’ve ended many a day in tears of joy,” said Christiano.
Oregon Adaptive Sports volunteers will donate nearly 5,000 hours of time this year to help people with disabilities have life-changing outdoor recreation experiences.
“The thing we often hear from the volunteers is, ‘I sometimes feel bad because I get more out of it than my students.’ It speaks to that shared love of being in the mountains. They work together. They are invested in their student’s success. The students take an interest in their volunteer, and it just becomes this partnership in collaboration,” Addabbo said. “We would not exist without volunteers. We were founded by volunteers. We are still led by a volunteer board of directors. Every year hundreds of volunteers give thousands of hours to make it possible.”
Also providing support are the resorts that host Oregon Adaptative Sports programs, foundations, companies and individuals who donate to a program that leads to enhanced quality of life through outdoor recreation.