Ross Ehrhardt turned a once-tragic situation into a legacy of helping disabled men and women grow stronger through learning to ski.
He founded the Learn to Ski Scholarship at Purgatory Resort and helped thousands of people struggling with disabilities.
Ehrhardt, who died June 6 at age 75 in San Diego, is being remembered Saturday at a celebration of life at Purgatory.
Ehrhardt became involved with providing outdoor, sport and recreational experiences for people with disabilities when he and his wife, Sue Ehrhardt, visited Durango during Thanksgiving 1982.
They went to Purgatory for the day, and Sue Ehrhardt, who had lost her left leg in a boating accident in 1977, noticed a young ski instructor named Dave Spencer who was skiing on one leg. Spencer lost a leg to cancer.
Spencer showed Sue Ehrhardt how to ski with one leg.
“It was a different way of skiing,” she said, in an interview with The Durango Herald. “I had to center around one boot. After a few days, I felt like I was getting it.”
Ross Ehrhardt saw how the experience changed Sue’s view on life, and it set in motion the Durango Adaptive Sports Association and a ski scholarship.
Sue Ehrhardt said having a sport and a reason to workout made her stronger because before learning how to ski, she could only play bridge or work in the garden.
Her husband, she said, was passionate about helping other disabled men and women find the same success.
“He absolutely loved it and did it for 36 years. He saw what it did for people and how it changed lives,” Sue Ehrhardt said. “He loved the whole experience and the people in Durango.”
Ross Ehrhardt convinced a group of young Durango ski instructors to set up the present-day Adaptive Sports Association, said Tim Kroes, former executive director of the nonprofit.
“Ross brought this newfound mission back to San Diego where he convinced the Torrey Pines Kiwanis Club to raise money to send San Diegans with physical disabilities to Durango,” Kroes said. “The goal was for these individuals, funded through the club, to go through similar life-altering experiences that had resulted in such a positive change in Sue’s life.”
The club sponsors 15 to 20 adults with disabilities to visit Purgatory Resort from San Diego for a ski trip each year, complete with airfare and lodging.
Adaptive Sports Executive Director Ann Marie Meighan said she spent hours on the phone with Ross Ehrhardt planning the yearly ski trips.
“He would call as soon as his group got on the plane and would tell me his favorite thing about each one of them and why they would be so successful,” Meighan said. “He would talk about instructors and who would be a good fit for them because it was all so personalized.”
Meighan said he was like a proud dad each time someone would complete a ski run.
Ross Ehrhardt’s work at Adaptive Sports led to the development of two other adaptive sport programs, one at New Dimensions in Durango and the other at Madison West Kiwanis Club in Wisconsin.
“There are a lot of people in the Durango area who have had their lives positively impacted by someone with adaptive sports, maybe a neighbor, family or friend, and they might not realize Ross was the impetus for getting this started,” Meighan said.