The Whistler Adaptive Sports Program (WASP) is already working at capacity this winter with the number of bookings and lessons up, programs full, and more awareness of what recreational opportunities are available in Whistler for people with disabilities or special needs.
According to Chelsey Walker, executive director of WASP, the number of people taking lessons through the Ski and Scotiabank Learn to Ride Program is up 90 per cent this season, compared to last year. Volunteer and paid instructors also taught 304 adaptive ski and snowboard lessons up to Jan. 6, compared to 136 by Jan. 6, 2007 — an increase of 125 per cent.
And while the resort was busier in general for the holiday season, WASP is also seeing a 50 per cent increase in pre-bookings through the end of winter.
“It’s been absolutely unbelievable,” said Walker. “We’re actually at capacity for our programs, and now our job is to increase our funding so we can increase that capacity for the future.
“Our projected increase of 35 per cent more ski and snowboard lessons was completely blown out of the water.”
Although WASP programs are at capacity, so far the organization has been able to keep up with the demand.
“I don’t know of anyone who has been turned away,” said Walker. “We do run a waitlist, but generally we try to accommodate people as best as possible. It also helps that most people who enroll in our programs book well ahead of time. It’s not often that someone shows up and books a lesson without contacting us first, although that does happen.”
Currently WASP is looking to raise funding to expand its equipment centre at Olympic Station on Whistler Mountain, to house their growing collection of skis, adapted snowboards, harnesses, radios, and other gear used to assist people with disabilities that are learning or need support on the slopes.
Whistler-Blackcomb does have paid instructors in its ski and snowboard school for people booking lessons and guides, but for the most part WASP instructors are mainly volunteers. Currently WASP has more than 140 active volunteers for all of its programs, including at least 85 volunteer alpine skiing and snowboarding instructors and coaches.
Whistler-Blackcomb now has five of its own paid instructors who work full time providing lessons to people with disabilities, up from three instructors last year.
The emphasis is on keeping the programs affordable and in reach of as many people as possible, says Walker, although some clients and returning visitors do pay for lessons and guides.