Editor’s note: SSASS (Silver Star Adaptive Snowsports) will host the 21st annual Carter Classic Dual Slalom FUNdrai$er Feb. 25 at Silver Star Mountain Resort. This event, which has a reputation for being one of the most fun days on the mountain, is open to the public. Teams made up of four to five members, including one with a special adaptive need, race the slalom course twice and the winners are those who most accurately guess the time of their second run. Last year Niall Howard, a visitor from Ireland, participated for the first time in the Carter Classic and his father, William, has shared his story.
After years of arduous training, Niall fronted “The Frequent Niallers,” with guest appearances from Pete and Leigh Geddes (Aussie pilots in real life but “Minions” for this race day), and team captain, Irish doctor Janine O’Kane. This was meant to be a fun event, but with reputations on the line, the stress was visible as our team stood on the starting line and wondered, how did we get here?
It all began in 2000 when our family of four children and two adults visited Silver Star for the first time. We had travelled all the way from Ireland on the recommendation of our Canadian colleagues: “Go to Silver Star if you want some great skiing” was their unanimous choice of all the skiing resorts in North America. How could we ignore such a positive recommendation?
That first year, our three older kids settled into their ski school groups and were soon at home skiing on the hill. It was a different story for our youngest. Niall, aged six, is autistic and after a week in the regular ski school he was still skiing down to the bottom of the wee slope, falling over, and lying there eating snow until someone picked him up again. The instructors just didn’t know how to relate to his special needs. We were despondent until we heard about SSASS and met Andy Mather, one of the founding members.
Niall was the first student with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to join the program. Andy and his team had to figure out how to get him skiing with his limited ability to communicate and comprehend. Within days he was skiing down the slopes on a harness following an instructor, with a second instructor controlling his speed and direction. It was a spectacular transformation! Niall has continued to ski with SSASS every year and SSASS is one of the reasons why we have been coming to Silver Star every winter for the last 15 years!
Carter Classic Race day dawned with fresh now and blue skies, promising excellent conditions for the day’s big race. Everything was set for an exciting morning, with 18 teams gathered: the Mountain Magic Show, The Bear Necessities, Energizer Bunny, Pinky and Brains, Edison’s Swashbucklers, Spider Man and others. The race officials were all in place, along with flags, banners, costumed teams, racers, sit-skiers, spectators and photographers. The slalom course had two lanes, side by side, with blue and red gates for the teams to race through. Competitors lined up and were called forward to the starting gate. Three, two, one and then they were off down the course!
The freestylers went down backwards, the racers knocked the flags off the gate-poles and the sit-skiers spiralled through the course. The Necessities skied the course like downhill racers with a Bear in pursuit, and Christine from the Mountain Magic Show pulled white rabbits from her top hat as she skied through the gates.
At last it was “The Frequent Niallers” turn. Pete was first out of the gate like an F-16, followed by Leigh taking off like a Dreamliner! Then it was Niall’s turn. He was in the Red lane and pushed out of the starting gate to cheers of “Go Niall, Go,” but after the first gate he crossed over to follow a bear on skis, yes a bear on skis, down through the Blue gates, but finished safely with a time of 42 seconds. Team captain Janine followed and completed the team’s first run. The team’s second run was near flawless. This time Niall followed Al down the course, just in case that pesky bear appeared again, and finished in the correct lane.
Then back at the National Altitude Training Centre, SSASS hosted lunch followed by awards. Congratulations to all of the winning individuals and teams, especially the winners in the fundraising categories, who helped raise more than $17,000 at this event.
Niall and his parents, Janine and William, are returning from Ireland again this season to ski at Silver Star and are hoping to participate in their second Carter Classic.
For more information about participating in the Carter Classic or the programs at SSASS, check out ssass.bc.ca