The inspiration for Silver Star Adaptive Snow Sports (SSASS) was conceived after the Canadian Association for Disabled Skiers (CADS) held its National Festival at Silver Star Mountain Resort in April 1992. Silver Star did not have a ski program for persons with disabilities at that time, but the event generated the interest needed to create one.
Later that year, Donna Carter and some of her friends took the first steps to create a local program. Donna’s love for her daughter Danielle motivated her to raise funds for some adaptive equipment and CADS training of 10 volunteers. This was the beginning of NODSA, The North Okanagan Disabled Skiers Association, which is now known as SSASS. That first year there was Danielle and two other students.
Twenty-five years later, one of the ten original trainees, Andy Mather, continues to volunteer every season with SSASS.
“Able-bodied people take skiing for granted,” said Mather. “A person with a disability may have never thought they could ski, but if they are interested we can get them skiing or snow-boarding.”
And he should know, after helping hundreds of persons with disabilities do just that.
SSASS has helped students with all sorts of disabilities, including physical challenges such as the effects of injuries, amputations or conditions like multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy, and mental challenges including congenital disorders, autism spectrum disorder, and brain injuries. Both visually and hearing-impaired individuals have also participated in programs.
Over the years Mather has seen a lot of changes particularly in equipment which has become more effective and easier to use but also more expensive, and improved instructor training. As well, programs have expanded to include snowboarding.
“If you want to ski, what can get in the way are the ‘how-tos,’ such as the need for adaptive equipment, transportation to the mountain, instruction or the expense. And these things can be overcome,” said Mather.
He is very excited about the newest program that SSASS offers, its Discovery Program, which is geared to persons who are wanting to try out skiing or snowboarding for the first time. These lessons are usually held during night ski season on Friday and Saturday evenings. SSASS can help subsidize the cost of the ski ticket and equipment rental for these one-time lessons.
This ski season SSASS has 51 CADS-trained volunteer instructors and more than 60 students. Generally, students will be taught and escorted by two instructors during a lesson, using adaptive techniques or equipment while building on the abilities of the student.
SSASS’s other programs include a regular series of weekly lessons scheduled with the same instructor(s), the Visitor Program which provides visiting skiers or snowboarders with adaptive instruction, and the School Program where lessons are offered on school ski days to students with disabilities.
For individuals with intermediate skiing, sit skiing or boarding skills who are looking for coaching and challenge, the SSASS Race Program offers weekly Sunday training and the opportunity to attend local racing events.
Every year since 1996 Mather has been involved in SSASS’s only annual “FUNdrai$er,” the Carter Classic Dual Slalom, named to honour its founding family.
“The Carter Classic is a great event,” said Mather. “It’s an opportunity for interested skiers or boarders to grab a couple friends and come join SSASS for some fun and friendly competition.”
Many things have changed but what has remained a constant for Mather is “the realization that a person with a disability can learn to ski or snowboard just like anyone else,” and this belief remains a strong motivation for Mather and his fellow instructors.
For more information about SSASS programs or in participating in the Carter Classic check out www.ssass.bc.ca
Moira McColl is a freelance writer in the North Okanagan.