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Record number of adaptive sports participants glide down slopes at Sun Peaks

Instructors at Adaptive Sports at Sun Peaks training for the 2021/2022 season.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Adaptive Sports at Sun Peaks

An adaptive sports program at Sun Peaks is exploding with a record number of students and instructors this year, after enduring a pitiful season last year due to COVID restrictions.

Adaptive Sports at Sun Peaks near Kamloops has been helping those with disabilities enjoy the freedom of gliding down the slopes since 2008, with the mission to “make the mountain accessible to all."

Coordinators have seen a steady 20 to 30 per cent growth most years, with 84 students and over 60 instructors currently preparing for the first set of lessons starting next week.

READ MORE: Extreme cold forces some lift closures at Kamloops, Okanagan ski resorts

“We are back in action after limping through a reduced season last year because of COVID restrictions,” former program coordinator and volunteer organizer Jenny Hawes said. “We are bigger than ever and there is a lot to manage. I love seeing the increase in interest in the program from local, regional and international participants.”

The program provides ski and snowboard lessons to riders, and training to volunteer instructors. The focus is on supporting the physical, mental and emotional well-being of persons with disabilities. The majority of students are under the age of 18.

Instructors use specialized equipment to meet their client’s unique needs, such as the sit ski, which consists of a seat mounted to a frame above one or two skis. A shock absorber links the frame to the skis. Hawes said the organization works hard to keep up with the latest technology, and there are very few people they are unable to accommodate.

“This year we are seeing a lot of enquiries for sit ski lessons,” Hawes said. “We have seven or eight students who have registered. We have a Tessier dual ski which is a kind of sit ski that enables people living with spinal cord injuries to ski. We use outriggers, which are poles with skis on the end to assist with balance, and we use headsets to improve communication for those with visual impairments.”

A skier on a sit ski at Sun Peaks.
A skier on a sit ski at Sun Peaks.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Adaptive Sports at Sun Peaks

Hawes said instructor training is rigorous and follows national training standards to maintain professionalism and safety. Certification programs are offered to skiers and snowboarders so they can become certified instructors. Hawes said instructors are blown away by the professional training provided.

“This year we have an instructor who rose through the ranks as a student and the last couple years he was shadowing instructors,” she said. “This year we trained him up as an instructor and his family is so proud of him. Instructors feel good experiencing the impact and connections they make.”

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Hawes said the weather poses the biggest risks to safety, and this past week’s extreme cold snap has set clients back.

“We have cold weather policies that have prevented drop-in students from skiing this past week,” she said. “We don’t do lessons below -15 Celsius for stand-up skiers and -12 C for sit skiers. We ensure breaks and regular hydration, and make sure instructors are highly visible at all times."

The non-profit organization is supported by grants and fundraising and relies on volunteers.

“For me personally, and for most of us, there is no better feeling than seeing a student or a family watching their child come down the mountain for the first time,” Hawes said. “Many of them don’t think it is possible and we have given that student new skills and confidence.”

Kamloops resident Shannon Gillis’ son has been a part of the program for a decade. He joined when he was six years old.

“He didn't talk very much,” Gillis said. “We didn't know how he was going to take to skis or the cold or even chairlifts going super high. It took less than an hour before he was communicating to his instructor that he wanted to go on the lift.  She said he needed to learn skills before they could take a ride on the chairlift, so he did and off they went."

At the end of the season the program hosted a family dinner and awards day.

“I heard my son speak in full sentences to a room full of parents as tears filled our eyes,” Gillis said. “I saw how much the program helped my soon and other families. Ten years later he skis double black diamond runs and wants to be a ski life operator when he graduates.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Ainslie or call 250-819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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