When their autistic son Ryan was about 7, Alaine Breen and Paul McClintock of Melrose, Mass., ﬁ rst heard about adaptive sports. Both recreational skiers when they were younger, they were frequent visitors to the valley. They soon discovered AbilityPlus, a valley adaptive sports program for people of all ages and disabilities based at Attitash. So that winter they came up for a long weekend to give it a try. Ryan, a skier, did amazingly well, according to his mother. They came up a couple more weekends that season. They tried it again the next winter, a few more times. Then they increased the time up here the following winter. Soon, they had a place up here. Ryan became such a good skier, he was skiing better than many of the volunteers essential to the program. So when he became a teen, his parents put him in the Attitash Mountain
Teen program for both the social and athletic opportunities. Ryan skis steeps, bumps, trees and whalebacks. The program’s goal is to groom future ski and snowboard coaches. “This has helped him with his decision-making,” said Breen. “Having these experiences has been huge.” Last spring, Breen became a board member of AbilityPlus. Founded 20 years ago in 1997, the program is open to people with physical and developmental disabilities. The ofﬁ ces are located in the Adventure Center. Primarily focused at Attitash and Wildcat, valley program director Liz Wehmeyer of Intervale says the winter program is for skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and cross-country skiers. At times, they go to other valley ski areas. Last weekend, the organization held a pilot project at Jackson Ski Touring Foundation. “Our goal is for skiers to get a feel
ing of normalcy, independence and accomplishment,” Wehmeyer said. Many skiers with disabilities return to the slopes with their families after a malady. Also, there are families new to skiing having discovered it for their loved ones to achieve that independence. Some 120 people participated last winter. Wehmeyer ﬁ gures they give 600 lessons each winter, with each participant working with two volunteer instructors per lesson. Participants use a myriad of equipment like outriggers, which are ski poles with skis underneath. Athletic skiers might use a single monoski with outriggers as seen in the Paralympics. Those with serious mobility issues use a bi-ski where they sit in a molded chair with two skis underneath. There are also sliders, akin to walkers. Instructors may also use tethers to help skiers make turns. The program relies heavily on volunteers, trained to be instructors.
They have varied ski abilities. Fulltime volunteers commit to 21 days a season, but Wehmeyer happily considers all availabilities and encourages people to contact her at lwehmeyer@ abilityplus.org if they’re interested in seeing if they’re a ﬁt. Some volunteers get hooked. There’s one who has been there for 17 years, and several have served a good decade. Volunteers tend to become better skiers as they’re taught how to instruct. Sometimes volunteers feel like they’re the ones beneﬁ ting from the program. “It is such a rewarding thing to give back and be a part of this gift to somebody,” Wehmeyer said. “Often we feel we get more out of it than the participants. We enjoy it so much.” The families grow closer. They socialize. They see their loved ones happy. Friendships and marriages have sprouted from the program. Volunteers also need open minds.
“We all need to be ﬂexible and creative,” Wehmeyer said.
One (of our young students) had a hard time on skis. Then instructors suggested he give snowboarding a try. (He) loved it. “Instructors can change things up,” Breen said. “It’s about being safe, having fun.”
The program is funded through donations. Participants pay for lessons and lift tickets, but there is ﬁnancial aid available to those who need it.