There are not many people who would give up the biggest powder day of the year to learn new teaching skills and equipment, but thats how dedicated instructors and volunteers from the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program really are.
For four days last week WASP played host to Beth Fox from the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) in Winterpark, Colorado, which is recognized around the world for its leading edge programs. Fox, who has been an adaptive ski instructor for the past 22 years, was leading a course on serving the needs of people with cognitive disabilities, sometimes combined with physical disabilities.
The goal, according to WASP executive director Chelsey Walker, is to build capacity within the club by training instructors to train other instructors how to use various tools and techniques.
"We have a lot of great people in the organization, but it helps to bring in someone like Beth who has been doing this for a long time and can answer questions and show us things to do with our skiers we might not have thought of that could make the experience even better," she said.
"Instructors also need to have confidence with what theyre doing, and it helps to know that youre using the same techniques theyre using at the National Sports Center for the Disabled, which is pretty much the leader in this field."
According to Walker, WASP started out focusing on skiers with physical disabilities, but the demand for instructors to work with people with cognitive disabilities continues to grow. She estimates that approximately 60 per cent of WASP clients are cognitively impaired.
Some of the tools they use include harnesses, different bras to keep ski tips together, bungee cords and dividers to keep the tails of skis apart. The progression means taking one different element over the course of a lesson as the client begins to get the hang of turning and stopping.
Communication is especially important with people that have cognitive disabilities, and most clients will understand things differently.
Fox teaches skiers, snowboarders and cross-country skiers with a wide range of disabilities. Some of her past students have gone on to represent the U.S. at the Paralympics, while others compete in the Winter Special Olympics.
Although its inspiring to see her students take their sport to the highest level, she still believes participation and accessibility are the most important aspects of an adaptive program.
"Helping people to achieve their goals is what its all about, so its important that we have contests, we have the Paralympics, because its a motivator for some people who watch and say to themselves I can do that. Theyre role models.