This year the annual Winter Nordic Carnival at Nicklaus North takes on extra meaning as it will also be the official launch of the Whistler Adaptive Ski Programs new cross country program.
"The whole cross country ski side of our adaptive ski program is opening up this season," says Sian Blyth, the director of WASP. "Before we didnt have the equipment or the expertise to host this kind of program, but that has changed. Were up and running, and its open to everyone."
WASP used the funds raised at the annual Mouton Cadet Festival, through the James Hustvedt Foundation, for the purchase two cross country sit-skis for paraplegic and quadriplegic skiers. Nicklaus North provided headsets and other equipment to guide blind skiers.
Coaching for the programs more than 30 adaptive ski instructors was also provided two weeks ago by Kaspar Wirz, the national coach for cross country skiing and the Paralympic team.
"Its huge for us because were now able to offer a whole new area of recreation for people with disabilities," Blyth says. "We will continue to offer our downhill programs, but in truth a lot of people with disabilities are apprehensive about downhill skiing. Cross country is a lot easier, calmer, and far less involved for people who may not be comfortable hitting the slopes. With cross country gear, we can still help people get up to Whistler and into the mountains."
Various hills around the U.S. offer adaptive cross country skiing, with Winter Park in Colorado providing the model for other programs to follow. Whistlers downhill program was inspired by Winter Park, and with the expansion into cross country, it can now offer the same range of activities.
The program will benefit disabled people from the Lower Mainland and as far away as Seattle. But while the focus has always been local, word has already gotten out about the downhill program. Without any advertising or promotions to back it up, disabled skiers have started to come to Whistler from around the world.
Blyth believes the same notoriety could be achieved with the cross country program.
"Theres a market out there that will come to Whistler to pay for these programs, which in turn allows us to subsidize these sports for more local people or organizations who cant afford it. There is a cost for instruction and equipment rental, but for the most part that goes back into the program."
The program will also help the Paralympic cross country team mine talent "find people who want to take it to the next level," explains Blyth. The national team is planning to double in size for the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, which Vancouver is currently bidding for.
Down the road, Blyth hopes to expand the Adaptive Ski Program even further, offering summer activities to the disabled such as mountain biking, hiking, sailing, and golf.
The Winter Nordic Carnival is this Saturday (Feb. 23) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
There will be cross country demos, ski clinics, waxing clinics, kick sleds, sleigh rides for the family, Quebec Maple syrup. In addition, James Husvedt himself will be here to demonstrate cross country sit-skis.
While all the events are free, the organizers at Whistler X-Country Ski and Hike and Blackcomb Sleighrides are asking guests for donations to the Whistler Adaptive Ski Program.