I grew up skiing on Park City Mountain watching skiers wearing bibs that read: “Blind Skier.” I always wondered, “How do they do that?” Finally this year, I had the honor of spending the day with the incredible team that makes magic and miracles happen.
The National Ability Center has been changing lives for over thirty years. People who want to ski can have that opportunity no matter their ability level or age. The NAC helps families who have children or adults–regardless of skill level–find a way to participate together in the outdoors. The NAC Programs are inclusive and multi-faceted. There are year-round programs where they teach skiing, snowboarding, horseback riding, river-rafting and much more.
Spending a morning on the slopes with Jennifer Kennedy who has a visual impairment and her NAC instructor Patricia Stokes helped me understand what it takes to learn this sport without vision. The NAC is also training Kennedy’s husband to be her skiing guide.
There are many people who have differences in their physical, cognitive or developmental abilities. In fact, according to the CDC, one in five American adults live with some kind of disability. Our physical condition may change due to injury or an illness like Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis or Alzheimer’s. As people live longer there is a higher likelihood that their physical, cognitive or emotional condition will evolve and they will need a new way to be out on the mountain. The NAC has programs for everyone. If you want to know more, they welcome volunteers to come once a week or once a year during a ski holiday.
I spent an afternoon skiing with Matt Krumweide who was serving our country in Afghanistan when he was injured in June 2012. He lost both legs above the knee and now uses a wheelchair. Krumweide wants to purchase his own mono-ski and came to NAC to learn how to ride the slopes and have a good time.
“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” Krumweide told me at the top of the mountain. “If you have a disability, they can figure it out and you can go skiing. I enjoy this a lot. It’s freedom. I love it.”
The entire team at NAC are highly trained and amazing people. I enjoyed learning about their teaching philosophies. Instructor Chris Gaillard shared his style: “I do not want to ask anyone what they can’t do. I want to know what you can do. We never, ever tell someone they can’t do something, we will figure it out. However much duct tape and padding it takes, we are going to get everyone out and having fun.” Spending time with Chris, I saw that it takes science, artistry, coaching and persistence but they are ready to teach anyone who wants to learn to ski or snowboard.
“Park City Mountain offers access to NAC and their participants so that people of all abilities can be active on the mountain,” explained Davy Ratchford, the Senior Director of Marketing and Strategic Alliance for the Park City/Vail Resorts Team.
Ratchford told me about the Epic Promise program of Vail Resorts and how they work with 30 different non-profits in the area and are supportive of all that the NAC is doing on their mountain. “All the lift operators are trained to help everyone enjoy their day here,” Ratchford said. “Park City Mountain is one of my favorite places to ski and now to volunteer.”
I hope you can see why I love Park City Mountain for its stunning slopes, beautiful vistas and incredible team members. The EPIC Promise that supports the National Ability Center lets all athletes challenge their limitations and make their dreams come true. I hope you will focus on what you can do and share how we can all be stronger together. Remember you can do anything you choose to do!
Editor’s Note: This piece was orignially published on the Ski Utah blog.