School-age boys are a common sight tucking down ski runs and blazing paths through the trees at Alberta resorts. But the fact my son Bennett, 8, can do these things is in many ways extraordinary. Bennett has autism, and it’s been a long and slippery trail getting him on skis. He’s now on his way to sliding on snow with the family, thanks to adaptive ski programs.
We began the downhill journey when he was four, by making him wear ski boots and simply riding the magic carpet at various Alberta resorts. We knew then that we couldn’t rush him into the sport; that he had neither the strength nor the co-ordination to master his wedge, turn or stop, so my husband and I slowly eased him onto the hill.
When he was five we enrolled him in private lessons for a learn-to-ski series I was writing for Snowseekers.ca. Bennett made progress with his beginner’s “pizza,” but he still lacked focus. It sometimes felt like I was feeding my dream instead of attending to Bennett’s wishes (namely, to eat potato chips in the lodge).
When your child has a physical or cognitive impairment it can take longer for him or her to learn a skill that other children master in a day or a week or — as is the case with skiing — a season. We knew it could take a while, but we were dedicated to the goal of skiing as a family. What’s more, we hoped Bennett would grow to love the freedom of skiing as much as we do; that it would become his dream. So we stayed on task.
Everything changed when Bennett was six, and old enough to participate in a CADS Alberta adaptive ski program. Every Friday for eight weeks Bennett hit the slopes with an instructor who patiently worked with him. The weekly two-hour lesson wasn’t long, but it was enough time and repetition for him to get the hang of turning, slowing down and stopping. His teacher and her aide also kept him focused, and Bennett was able to pay attention—I no longer feared he would crash into another skier while gazing off into the distance.
We were on our way!
Several ski areas in Alberta run adaptive ski programs at an affordable cost for children and adults with physical or cognitive challenges — ranging from visual or hearing impairments to autism or Down Syndrome, and everything in between —including Canada Olympic Park, Marmot Basin and Sunshine Village.
“Our programs promote confidence and help participants feel their challenges can be overcome — that nothing is impossible,” says Jamie McCulloch, executive director of Rocky Mountain Adaptive, a registered charity whose mandate is to provide adults and children with access to sports activities in the Canadian Rockies, including downhill skiing multi-week programs and individual lessons at Sunshine.
“Anyone with a physical, cognitive or emotional challenge can participate. We create an environment where participants are given as much independence as possible,” says McCulloch, adding that the instructors are all CSIA certified and receive additional training to work with people with a range of needs and abilities.
An adaptive ski lesson or program also provides the opportunity to be outside and learn something new, says McCulloch. It can also open a doorway to being able to do something together as a family.
I no longer wonder if Bennett will make it off the bunny hill — last season he skied on more green runs and this year we’re eyeballing runs higher up on the mountain. He’s also registered for five adaptive ski lessons, and we’re hopeful that our family’s youngest member will soon share our winter passion.
Featured Photo: Lisa and her family enjoying a day on slopes, photo courtesy of Lisa Kadane.
About the Author
Lisa Kadane is a Calgary-based Snowseekers correspondent and freelance features writer. Read more of her ski, travel and parenting adventures at www.lisakadane.com.