Everyone deserves a chance to play in the snow. Thanks to the Adaptive Sports Association in Durango, everyone can.
Skiing and snowboarding conditions have been oh-so-good at Southwest Colorado ski areas in recent weeks. If the forecast is any indication, the next week is going to be another one to remember, if you can navigate the President’s Day weekend crowds.
Open Snow is calling for 31 inches in the next five days at Wolf Creek Ski Area, where you will need to purchase your lift ticket in advance online if you want to ski this weekend. Purgatory Resort could see up to 25 inches.
Both mountains are 100% open with a 44-inch base depth at Purgatory and an 88-inch base depth at Wolf Creek. The new snow could help Hesperus Ski Area reopen after a closure this week, too. Fingers crossed.
In the last two weeks, I have ridden most chairlifts alone. But Friday was different. I arrived at Purgatory along with a mass of out-of-town visitors eager to start their four-day weekend. I was on my first chair shortly after 9 a.m. with a local gentleman who taught me a bit about his job as a property inspector in town. We chatted about our rental history of old homes in Durango, and he informed me of how one in every two dwellings in Durango have issues with radon, a naturally occurring, radioactive gas that can cause cancer. I’ll be sure to keep that in mind while searching for my first home to buy in the coming year or so.
Next, I split a chair with another Durango local. Married for 18 years, she has taken at least one scuba diving trip each year since her honeymoon with her husband, who has long been a diver from his days growing up in California. I learned of all kinds of tropical fish and of some of her preferred reefs to visit across the world. I think this is a hobby I might need to explore if I am ever around water again.
The rest of my lift rides were reserved for a special experience. After reading my initial entry in this column series, “Flies & Lies” fly fishing columnist Don Oliver invited me to share a ride with the folks at the Adaptive Sports Association.
Don, a longtime fly fishing guide, ski instructor and volunteer with ASA, is a wonderful writer who always makes me smile with his column while teaching me something new. I had a feeling this meeting would leave me with a similar experience, so I eagerly accepted his invitation.
I met ASA Executive Director Ann Marie Beresford and was soon introduced to Reagan, a 16-year-old from Texas. Reagan, who has a cognitive disability, has been skiing at Purgatory with the assistance of ASA for 10 years. I met his mother, Leslie, who told me they bought a place to stay at Purgatory so they can come up every holiday.
Reagan is one of more than 500 disabled clients ASA helps get on the slopes for roughly 1,000 ski lessons each winter.
Like any teenager, Reagan was ready to get on his skis and make some turns down the mountain after tossing a few snowballs around with the ASA crew.
For his first run, Reagan had a pair of clamps on the tips of his skis with a chain attached to them to prevent him from crossing up his tips. Eric Beyler, the treasurer for ASA and a longtime volunteer, also followed behind Reagan with tethers to keep him from veering too far off course. Another ASA instructor, Mark, was the driver. He held a pole with two handles on it that Reagan could grab as he initiated his turns down the mountain. While Mark could help steer, he still made sure Reagan was doing the work.
“We can use those to help build a strong stance for him, and we can add what is called a spacer bar on the back of the skis for someone who has a lot of leg weakness,” Beresford said. “Devices like that can help teach muscle memory. We can create that stable platform for them to stand on and the instructor can ski behind them to help initiate and finish a turn.”
By his second run, Reagan had shed the tethers and was ready for more independence. And by the third run, he ditched the clamps on the tips of his skis and was making beautiful turns on his way back to the Graduate lift.
I have long admired the work of ASA while riding at Purgatory, watching them assist with a variety of clients, including sit-skiers. I first became aware of the work of ASA because of Alana Nichols, a five-time Paralympian from Farmington with six medals in alpine sit-skiing and wheelchair basketball. She credited ASA for helping her get back on the slopes after a snowboarding accident in 2002 left her paralyzed below the waist.
From those who have been in an accident to disabled veterans and those with cognitive disabilities, ASA welcomes anyone interested in getting out on the mountain in the winter as well as those interested in camping, canoeing, cycling or rafting in the summer.
“We get to see this progression of people who come here and aren’t sure if they will be able to ski because they are blind or have lost a leg or use a wheelchair,” Beresford said. “Over the course of time, you get to see them experience success and they go home and realize, ‘I did that. What else in my life is still possible? If I can do that, I can do anything.’ The skiing is just the carrot. It’s the thing that gets people excited about coming out, but it’s the big impact stuff for their lives we get to see on a regular basis.”
This week, ASA will host its Dave Spencer Classic from Feb. 15-21. Normally, it is a weekend-long event at Purgatory Resort. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 23rd year of the event will look a little different. Participants can sign up for a movement challenge to stay active each day of the week. And for locals who register, there will be a scavenger hunt around Durango with a new location each day, beginning with Purgatory on Sunday.
ASA has a goal to raise $70,000 through the Dave Spencer Classic and had raised $52,000 by Friday afternoon.
Roughly one-third of ASA’s funding comes from fundraising events such as the Dave Spencer Classic. Another third comes from contributions from the community and the rest from grants.
The incredible work of ASA, a non-profit organization with more than 200 volunteers with the youngest 12 and the oldest in his 80s, cannot be understated. In four lift rides, the passion and spirit of those involved had filled me with awe.
“We are truly blessed to work with this population,” Beyler said. “To take someone through the progression and see their skill growth is incredible, and I think I learn as much from them as they do from us. Every day is a different day, and one of the things I’m particularly impressed with is our instructors and the attitude and heart they bring to it. We are blessed with a great bunch of people.”
While ASA is able to change lives in so many ways, I was blown away to find out they make scholarships available to any participant who is in need. If a day of skiing lessons costs $180, ASA asks how much the client is willing to pay. If the answer is only $5, ASA will cover the rest through the funding it receives. Last year, ASA was able to cover 80% of its clients through scholarships.
While I go to ski areas for the snowboarding, it is so often the connections made that make days memorable. My morning spent with ASA is a day on the mountain I won’t forget. And I hope to have a few more interactions with these fine people who make sure everyone has the chance to play in the snow.
John Livingston is the Regional Sports Editor of The Durango Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @jlivi2.