Karen Skillen didn't think much about adaptive sports like skiing until she had her own ski accident a year-and-a-half ago, injuring her knee.
"I had ACL surgery, and for the first time in my life I wasn't able-bodied. For a few months I was using a wheelchair and crutches, and I became aware that there was a whole other community out there that I hadn't noticed before, and shame on me," she said.
"When I started to recover and I was on the mountain, I saw the adaptive programs and the wonderful things that they were doing for people with congenital disabilities and as rehabilitation for people who have had unfortunate accidents."
Soon after that, Skillen came up with the idea of travelling around the world, skiing on six continents and roughly 52 ski resorts, and then using that experience to draw more attention to adaptive skiing programs.
Her trip started in New Zealand, in July, followed by trips to Australia, South Africa and South America. She took a short break, then came to Whistler for a few days last week, spending time with the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program. She left on Friday for Japan, which will be followed by ski days in South Korea, China, India, Russia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and back to the east coast of the U.S. in March before making her way back west again. Skillen's around the world trip will end in California in April.
Skillen contacts adaptive skiing organizations wherever she goes. She stays with friends and contacts every chance she gets to keep her costs down. She was particularly impressed with Whistler, with Whistler Blackcomb providing her a place to stay and lift passes. That gave Skillen the opportunity to shadow the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program for a few days.
"There were a couple of different things going on," she said. "One is that they had a new student, what (WASP director) Chelsey Walker called a 'never-ever.' It was his first time ever in a sit ski, and he had a couple of instructors up there with him. It was very interesting and rewarding to see the incredibly fast progress he was making. He was making turns by lunchtime."
Rob Gosse, a member of the B.C. Para-Alpine Ski Team, also helped out, which Skillen says is unique to any of the programs she's visited. "It's so much easier for someone to be able to relate to someone with a similar disability and similar equipment, rather than an able-bodied person on two legs," she said.
On the same day, Skillen also sat in on a course for adaptive skiing instructors, many of them volunteers.
She is accepting donations and distributing them to adaptive skiing organizations, but Skillen says her main goal is to bring attention to adaptive skiing and get more people with disabilities on the slopes.
"The most important thing is to get people with disabilities up the mountain, just because it's a fantastic sport for people with disabilities, whether they're developmental or physical," said Skillen. "The skills and confidence that people get out of this sport will serve them well in other areas of life. People really benefit from a day on the mountains, that's really what this is about."
You can follow Skillen's adventures on her website, www.skitheworldforall.com or by visiting her Facebook page, Ski the World For All.