It's not too late to experience adaptive downhill skiiing this year in Massachusetts. Mt. Wachusett is centrally located in Princeton and has had a well-established adaptive program since 1984. Skiing will continue through March seven days a week, weather and conditions permitting.
I recently stopped by on a busy Sunday. The place was a rainbow of color and movement with some 3000 people filling the resort, the grounds and slopes on a bright sunny afternoon before the Super Bowl. Seven hundred people had just finished a race. I felt like I had just discovered where everybody goes in the winter.
I found my way to The Learning Center, where Mt. Wachusett Adaptive is based. There I met "Adapt Dave", the first person I've ever met who has built a new name for himself out of such flexible terminology. Though Dave Domke is retired, he now works full time at the ski resort serving skiers with disabilities along with a crew of about a dozen specially trained instructors.
The program is affiliated with AbilityPLUS, an adaptive recreation organization based in New Hampshire that provides expertise and fundraising opportunities to ski resorts serving people with disabilities . Their home base is Waterville Valley, NH and they both operate and support adaptive programs at several other ski resorts in New England. Mt. Wachusett Adaptive serves about 250 individuals in a season and provided 300 lessons last year. The benefit of putting up with crowds at Mt. Wachusett is that their rates are lower than many places further north. The Learning Center also offers some additional discounts. Go during the week and take full advantage of fewer crowds in a convenient location for southern New England.
"About 70-80% of our skiers are in the autism spectrum", Dave told me, "Many of these are kids with Asperger's Syndrome, since this environment is too stimulating for most of those with severe autism." Indeed, while I talked with Dave for an hour, two kids finished separate ski lessons with the program. They blended in perfectly with the hundreds of other colorful kids milling around outside. Dave showed me an orange and black pole, about seven feet long, used by ski instructors to teach stand-skiers side-by-side how to turn without using ski poles by shifting weight and direction.
For that other 20-30%, some interesting equipment is on display and ready for use in The Learning Center. Monoskis and bi-skis are seated skis with, as the name implies, one or two wider skis mounted below a technical looking, solid seat and frame with various suspension and shock absorbing components.
The lesson book was full on signups, including the Massachusetts Hospital School which brings students on a weekly basis and leaves their own bi-skis on site. Dick Crisafulli, their recreation director, was kind enough to send me some photos of MHS students in action on the slopes. Here you can see the difference between the monoski featured on top and the bi-ski shown below, along with a support skier tethered in who physically controls the ride. Independent skiers who are seated or standing may use the outrigger poles shown in the top photo for steering, balance and braking.
"It only takes four pounds of pressure to turn a monoski," Adapt Dave told me, "so if you can only move your head a few inches, you can turn!" To schedule a session, call Adapt Dave at 978-464-2300 extension 3307.
If you've been skiing with Mt. Wachusett Adaptive or any other adaptive downhill program, let us know about your experience!