While many people are watching Silver Star Mountain for snow and looking forward to winter sports, there are others who wish they could ski but don’t think it would ever be possible.
The Silver Star Adaptive Snow Sports program is there to help people of all ages who have disabilities to learn to ski or snowboard to the best of their abilities with equipment suited to each individual.
The volunteer instructors are a key part of the program and new instructors are needed each season.
“The best part is working with the students,” said volunteer instructor Rob Vat. “Some can walk and talk while others have almost no physical control and cannot communicate. They lift us up with their attitude. Their patience, understanding and forgiveness are uplifting and we are blessed to be around them.”
Vat also appreciates the chance to meet the other volunteer instructors and the caregivers.
“As a group, the volunteers are caring, fun and free of ego or attitude. They all share a love of skiing and the outdoors. Some of them are retired, some work full or part time. There is a room at the hill where the instructors and students can meet and eat lunch and hang out. There’s lots of banter and laughter,” he said.
He feels that being a volunteer instructor has improved his own skiing since he has worked with top-level ski instructors during his training to become a CADS (Canadian Association of Disabled Skiers) certified instructor and a number of the other instructors are longtime professional ski instructors and race coaches.
“We often find an hour or two to free-ski together, and skiing with high level pros will improve your own skiing automatically.”
The volunteers do not have to be top skiers or have coaching experience. Volunteers who are strong blue-run skiers or snowboarders and want to share their love of the sport are welcome to take the training. Volunteers who are not skiers are also needed to be SSASS board or committee members and coordinate or assist with programs and on-hill or fundraising events.
The families of SSASS programs are grateful for the opportunity.
“We moved from New Brunswick almost three years ago and had no idea what type of activities our son, Joshua, 12, who has Prader Willi Syndrome, would or could be involved in,” said Lesley Dugas.
“Joshua has always been rather sedentary and did not enjoy outdoor activities especially in the winter. It has often been easier to go to the dentist than to take Joshua out in the snow.”
When the family arrived in Vernon, Dugas was directed to the SSASS website.
“It seemed too good to be true — volunteers taking the time and accepting the responsibility of dealing with Josh on a ski hill seemed far fetched. We are now in our fourth year with SSASS and what a difference it has made. Joshua started off very timid and now he cannot wait to start each ski season with his SSASS instructors. They have made such a huge impact on Joshua’s mobility, strength and balance,” she said.
Dugas explained that one of the biggest challenges with Prader Willi Syndrome children is that their metabolism is extremely slow and they have weight gain and food issues.
“Joshua now tends to slim down in the winter because he is involved in skiing and this impacts upon him all year round,” she said. “As a parent, it is sometimes difficult to involve Joshua in activities because he doesn’t really enjoy them. Skiing for him is one of the activities that he truly enjoys and he believes that in the near future he will be able to ski with his family. We look forward to that day each year. We cannot wait to hit the fresh powder with Joshua as a family. Every time we pick him up from his lesson he has learned something new and he improves, whether it is better confidence or a physical skill.
“The volunteers of SSASS have made life in the Okanagan special for a special-needs child and his family. We appreciate all volunteers helping with this organization.”
SSASS is a non-profit society supported by fundraisers and donations.
The Annual Skiers Ball, an evening featuring dinner, auction and entertainment, will be held Nov. 26. The Carter Classic, to be held Feb. 4, is a day of racing fun which helps support the overall program.
The training will be held in December as snow permits. For more information on volunteering or to become a student in the program, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 250-260-3737.