“I was a bit doubtful” admits Ritchie Leslie, one of Silver Star Adaptive Snow Sports’ (SSASS) volunteer instructors. “But when I overheard one of our students say to another, ‘let’s be friends,’ I knew we had accomplished far more than just improving some ski skills.”
Leslie was one of two instructors assigned to a pod of four ski students, all with ASD (Autism spectrum disorder) during last ski season. Typically one or often two instructors are assigned to each SSASS student, depending on their abilities and to ensure safety. But last year SSASS decided to try something different, combining a small number of students with two instructors.
“If a student has cognitive or behavioral challenges that impact communication and socialization, it’s important to create a supportive environment for social skills as well as for learning,” explains Leslie.
These four students were carefully chosen based on age, similar skiing ability, and whether parents and instructors thought they could benefit from the small group experience.
SSASS first began offering ski experiences and lessons to persons with disabilities at Silver Star in 1992. Much of the skiing public is aware of SSASS’s role with persons who have physical disabilities and require adaptive equipment.
Ten years later SSASS welcomed its first student with ASD. By last season about 60 per cent of SSASS enrollment was persons with ASD. Because of the continuing need to provide instruction to these students, all SSASS instructors now receive training on snow sport instruction to persons with behavioral and cognitive disabilities.
Shannon, a friendly 16-year-old from Kelowna, has been a SSASS student for several years and was one of Leslie’s students last year.
“You get to ski and make friends,” Shannon says, referring to last season. “I learned to turn properly — I am a good skier.”
“One of the best things about SSASS is that they don’t give up on a student,” said Romy Hiemstra, mom of 13-year-old SSASS student Alex, who will ski with SSASS again this year. “He has gained confidence and his skiing has improved. Making friends in the pod last year made him look forward to each lesson and helped him do more.”
Leslie explains that the three goals of SSASS are to be safe, have fun, and hopefully learn to ski better.
“The kids in the pod respected the rules and helped enforce them. Their skiing improved more than anyone expected and it was a lot of fun for all of us!”
SSASS’s New Machine for the Mountain
Because of its successful Carter Classic Dual Slalom annual fundraiser in mid-February and the generous donations from sponsors and the public, SSASS has purchased a special new sit-ski.
A conventional sit-ski is designed so a person with limited lower body control can enjoy the thrill of skiing. With sufficient upper body strength and training a sit-skier can ski independently.
SSASS’s new sit-ski is no ordinary sit-ski. It was purchased from Tessier, one of the world’s most innovative manufacturers of adaptive ski equipment. It is the Snow-Kart designed for people who have a lack of strength in the upper body and/or don’t have enough balance to ski with a more conventional sit-ski. The company’s promotional information boasts it could be manoeuvered with one hand.
“Persons who may benefit from our new machine are those with disabilities such as Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis , Muscular Dystrophy, stoke, paralysis or certain brain injuries,” says Dan Cook, president of SSASS.
The Snow-Kart arrived late last ski season and SSASS instructors began training with it. This season they are ready and keen to assist any students that could benefit from this new adaptive equipment.
SSASS has an eight-week series of lessons for local students with disabilities which starts in early January. There is also the Discovery Program, which provides an introduction to adaptive skiing for those who want to try it out. In addition SSASS offers instruction to visitors to Silver Star who have disabilities and assists with students in the school ski programs.
SSASS welcomes new students and prospective volunteer instructors. For more information, check out www.ssass.bc.ca