Connecting All Abilities in Adventure with Outdoor Equity Grants
Colorado attracts people from around the globe who come to ski and snowboard on our snowy mountain ranges. Although many Coloradans share a passion for winter sports, some people face barriers like paying for expensive gear or lift tickets, or need special equipment or learning tools to participate.
Adaptive Sports Association (ASA) eliminates hurdles to adventure sports for youth in Durango, Colo., by providing outdoor, sport and recreational experiences for people with disabilities.
As a recipient of a Outdoor Equity Grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), ASA is continuing its 25-year tradition of providing opportunities for people with disabilities to experience the outdoor adventures Colorado has to offer. The $50,000 award from the Outdoor Equity Grant Program will support ASA’s year-round outdoor programming to help participants overcome physical and cognitive challenges to participating in outdoor recreation. Outdoor Equity Grants fund organizations like ASA that reduce barriers to the outdoors for groups of people that traditionally have been excluded from Colorado’s outdoor culture.
On a bright bluebird day in February, I visited ASA at their winter headquarters at Purgatory Resort near Durango, where the staff and volunteers spend all winter welcoming youth and their families and teaching them how to ski and snowboard. I took a tour of their bustling space, a refurbished U.S. Forest Service office at the base of the resort, which houses dozens of unique skiing and snowboarding set-ups that are adapted for the physical needs of the skier or snowboarder with disabilities. ASA has sit-skis, mono-skis, and adaptive snowboards modified with support bars or handheld outriggers to assist in balancing and turning, as well as a gear library of jackets and snow pants of every size, and boxes of fun costumes to wear while you ride.
That morning, volunteers helped a group of veterans choose their equipment for the day as we waited for a bus to arrive from the local middle school with the day’s youth participants. ASA nurtures special partnerships with all the area schools to help youth with disabilities participate in outdoor activities. By providing financial assistance, they provide opportunities to anyone with a disability who wants to learn about snow sports, regardless of their ability to pay for lessons.
It was beautiful to see ASA in action, as they brought volunteers and participants together to ensure everyone felt included in an unforgettable outdoor experience. ASA’s special partnership with Purgatory Resort and its staff ensures that participants are welcomed and celebrated on the mountain and that lift operators know how to help someone with a sit-ski or a snow bike safely ride the chair lift. During ASA’s school programs, students without disabilities can sign up to ride with their peers with disabilities. This helps foster friendships between people who share a love for snow sports, helps them connect with others regardless of differing ability levels and build new outdoor memories and experiences together. For people with cognitive disabilities like Down’s Syndrome, ASA provides a supportive environment and offers lessons that are adapted to youth with different learning needs and that provide a welcoming and comfortable environment.
ASA also has an incredible partnership with the local community — more than 250 volunteers from Durango and the surrounding areas volunteer with ASA programs each year. In the summer, ASA also provides rafting, camping and other outdoor activities for people with disabilities and their families.
ASA staff asked some of the parents of their participants to share their experiences with ASA and why programs like adaptive skiing are important:
“Calvin started skiing with Adaptive Sports Association five years ago when we traveled from the Midwest to visit friends in Durango. I never dreamed he would be able to ski! His experience with ASA was one of the reasons we decided to move to Durango. The instructors and staff are friendly, welcoming and always eager to make the day fun. Since we moved here, he has had the opportunity to participate in biking, kayaking, rafting, the school ski program and many weekend ski days. I am so thankful for the growth in his strength and confidence, not to mention all of the smiles and excitement about being a part of the group. His participation in ASA has allowed our family to do things together that we never thought we would be able to do. ASA will always hold a very special place in our hearts.” – Stevie, mother to Calvin, 10
“Adaptive gear means Oliver can ski, bike and camp. He can have fun in an inclusive, safe environment. He can meet amazing people, feel welcomed, laugh and receive the support he needs to thrive. On ski days, he can travel with his family and be part of the family mountain weekend routine and adventure… The scholarships make these enriching opportunities affordable. I think ASA is the only organization in town that provides supported activities with trained adults outside of school. It’s wonderful for the parent to have this support for their child and a place where the parent feels supported as well!” – Rosemarie, mother to Oliver, 13
Last names have been withheld to protect sensitive information about ASA participants.
When I learned to ski as an adult, the generosity and encouragement of my friends, as well as gifts of hand-me-down skis and ski boots helped me overcome some of the financial and educational barriers I faced when learning a new sport. As a person without disabilities, I didn’t have to buy prohibitively expensive adaptive equipment or learn a different way to ski than my friends. Yet with all these privileges, it still took me years to become comfortable with the sport. It’s reassuring to know that organizations like ASA are ensuring that every person, regardless of ability, gets to experience this sport that I love so much. I am grateful I was able to tour their space and experience their programs for myself, and to learn more about what it’s like for people with differing abilities to experience the outdoors.
Written by Andrea Kurth. Andrea is the Outdoor Equity Grant Program Manager. Photos by Ryan Jones.