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For the love of winter: teaching adaptive skiing

October 25, 2017

Found in Activities, Community news, Stories

When we’re talking about the activities we love, it’s easy to have a default picture in our head of everyone having full mobility or cognitive capability, but in reality, there are a ton of MEC members who take on climbing, paddling, skiing and more in an adapted way. Vancouver Adaptive Snow Sports (VASS) instructor Theresa Weltzin gives us an inside look at the joys of skiing differently.

Why did you get involved with VASS?

Three things: a love for skiing, a desire to ski with the family, and Jewel, our youngest, being born without enough oxygen and developing significant developmental delays. I grew up in Surrey, BC, and skied on the weekends at Mount Seymour with my parents and siblings; we enjoyed spring break ski trips to BC resorts. When Jewel was born, the vision I had of us doing the same was momentarily shattered, until a physiotherapist suggested VASS.

How are you connected to the program? Who participates?

I found out about the instructor-training program a year after Jewel participated in her first year at Mount Seymour in a sit-ski. The Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing (CADS) Level 1 training program was fantastic. Since then, I’ve volunteered as an instructor primarily for VASS’s sit-ski programs at Mount Seymour. I have also been part of the instructor groups in other VASS programs for people who (for the most part) have an intellectual-cognitive disability. Through the program I get to meet people who have disabilities stemming from accidents, birth events and so on. Some have physical impairments, some have cognitive and some have both.

VASS tends to have two program coordinators for each program day and lots of instructors (1–3 instructors per student). Students range from very young (4 or 5 years old) to adults in their 40s and 50s. We have over 300 students per year. Money donated by sponsors like MEC helped us purchase a new mono-ski for our students. We had a young boy last winter who’s going to be able to use this equipment independently very soon.

Tell us about being an instructor. What does it mean to you?

Volunteering enriches me and gives other families the joy of the mountain ski experience that I love. It’s a challenge to meet individuals where they’re at and get them on the slopes. I like having a run with the person in the sit-ski and feel how they’re doing as they work on balancing, turning and sliding. Sometimes a student may not have a lot of words to give me feedback, but a smile or gesture of happiness reinforces why I do it. I also support VASS via the CADS instructor-training program as a course leader (6 years and counting).

What are the main differences between adaptive and non-adaptive skiing?

It comes down to equipment and mindset. The equipment used to help someone get down the slopes is what gives an indication of adaptive skiing. There are also many folks whose equipment looks the same as everyone else’s but the lessons, teaching and learnings are different because of a cognitive impairment, for example. I know for individuals who would otherwise never get to ski, VASS has become the means to expand their experience, support their families and expose them to a world of mountains and snow.

What does it mean for you to be able to ski with Jewel?

It means the world to me – we can go on ski holidays or day trips whenever we like. My husband and other daughter both took the CADS Level 1 instructor training course too, so we take turns with Jewel. She really looks forward to going skiing and talks about it from about November onward. Sometimes we get in a whole day and other times it’s just two hours. She likes going fast down the mountain and has enjoyed going to Whistler, Sun Peaks, Big White and SilverStar, where we’ve connected with fantastic adaptive snow program people. My husband is keen to become a better skier – he didn’t grow up with it – and that is awesome.

What do you wish people knew about adaptive skiing?

People all over the world like to be active like everyone else. Every time we break down barriers and remove obstacles (physical, social and psychological) we all grow as a community. Families are well-supported by organizations like VASS.

How does your family like to get active?

Weekends are spent skiing at local hills and going on a ski holiday with my siblings’ families and their kids. If we have a lot of snow, we sled too. During the summer we go to the beach, go kayaking and go for walks in the park. Jewel likes to go on the swings at playgrounds and ride her bike around the block.

On that note, what are your favourite MEC products?

I usually grab clothes or shoes (I have a raincoat that is particularly well-used and in great shape). I got my latest ski helmet at MEC. I love that MEC offers running and cycling clinics as well as bike maintenance workshops for the community.

Photos courtesy of Theresa Weltzin.

Tuning and waxes for adaptive skis are available through MEC ski shops.

MEC is proud to support Theresa and other VASS instructors efforts in adaptive skiing through the Community Contributions program via a grant to Vancouver Adaptive Snow Sports.

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