Published DateGILFORD — Gunstock Mountain Resort has had an adaptive sports program for a decade, yet it's not a well-known part of the mountain community. Mary MacDonald first learned of the program about five years ago, when she was riding a chairlift and observed a ski instructor she knew, Charlie Bedirian, using a couple of tethers to help a girl make her way down the slope.
Even from the chairlift, MacDonald could hear the laughter and shrieks of joy coming from the girl. The young skier was blind, MacDonald later learned, and thanks to the adaptive snow sports program, Bedirian was helping her to experience downhill skiing for her first time.
"My hear just swelled at the thought of it," said MacDonald. "I was completely overwhelmed. It's just an amazing thing to see." MacDonald is the operations manager for Centerplate, the company that operates the Powder Keg restaurant and Pistol Pub at Gunstock. So, when she heard that the adaptive sports program was breaking out from Gunstock's umbrella and re-organizing itself as the non-profit Lakes Region Disabled Sports, she brought the idea of helping fund raise to her staff. Not only did they accept the idea, MacDonald said, the food service employees at Gunstock took ownership of concept, coming up with new and better ways of collecting funds for the program.
MacDonald's initial goal of $2,000 was quickly passed. Just as quick was $3,000, then $4,000. Over the course of the winter, her staff and patrons chipped in $5,800, which was recently presented to the organization.
Paige Davis, program manager for Lakes Region Disabled Sports, said the money "helps us tremendously," and will likely be used to help upgrade equipment, especially those used to assist her students who use a wheelchair when they're not skiing. What's even more significant to the program is the food service staff's intention to form a long-term fundraising relationship with Lakes Region Disabled Sports, a partnership which will help raise the organization's profile in the community as well as directly fund its operation.
Centerplate raised the funds by inviting diners to contribute $2 to the program. Many chose to go well beyond that figure, giving as much as $100 in several instances. Similarly generous were the winners of all four of the 50-50 raffles held at the Powder Keg on Saturday nights in February, a month the resort dedicated to "Adaptive Awareness": each of the four raffle winners elected to donate the winnings back to the program.
Davis, and the roughly 45 volunteer instructors that participate in the program, teach students with a wide range of disabilities how to ski. Some have learning disabilities, others have physical challenges. All of them, though, are treated to a two-hour lesson on Gunstock's slopes. For many, the lesson is a gateway into a new sport, and they'll move on to racing through the Special Olympics. The program has been steadily growing since it was started ten years ago, this year adaptive instructors have taught 300 lessons.
Even if they'll never medal, Davis said the program provides a thrill for her students. Often, the student is a member of a skiing family, and might otherwise be left in the lodge while the rest of the family hits the slopes. Thanks to the adaptive program, every member of the family gets to share in the experience.
The cost for students to participate in the program is $66, an inclusive price which includes two hours of instruction, lift ticket and equipment rental. It's a bargain, to be sure, but Davis would like to partner with a corporate sponsor to allow free adaptive lessons to disabled military veterans. "I really want to open up our lessons to that group of people. It really needs to be provided to the veterans at no cost," said Davis. "In all honesty, I think they're entitled to that because of their service."
Now a president of the board of directors for Lakes Region Disabled Sports, Chuck Hildreth said adaptive skiing changed his life. An avid skier in his younger days, he lost both arms in an accident and was intimidated by skiing afterward. However, due in part to the cajoling of his ski buddies, he participated in a disabled racing event in 1986. His success eventually led to being part of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team, which required Hildreth to go back to school.
Hildreth is now a husband and father of two, business owner and one of the Powder Keg's more popular patrons. He said he wouldn't be where he is now if not for his wife, and adaptive skiing.
"One of the most important things it does is teach goal-setting," Hildreth said. After his accident, he said he "was scared to death" to point his skis down hill. Yet, he learned how much he could accomplish, even without arms.
"It literally turned my life around," Hildreth said. "The disabled ski program turns people lives around."