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Adaptive ski association in desperate need of volunteers

Loss of volunteers imperils No Limits Adaptive Ski Association programming

As we move through fall and begin to make preparations for the winter season so does the No Limits Adaptive Ski Association.

The end result for this not-for-profit charity service at the hands of COVID lockdowns is the near-total loss of their volunteer base.

This volunteer intensive charity known as No Limits Adaptive Ski Association provides a downhill skiing program for people with disabilities.

The only one of its kind in northern Ontario this unique program operates out of Searchmont. 

The program was founded in 2007 by Jim Anderson, who at the time was heading up the Snow School at the hill. He drew from his experience with downhill ski resorts in southern Ontario and additionally his familiarity with ski programs that were being offered to disabled people through Canadian Adaptive Snowsports (CADS), which is the umbrella organization.

A gap in programming offered at Searchmont Ski Resort was identified by Anderson, where individuals facing daily challenges because of either physical or developmental constraints were being left out and led him to the start of a CADS program for the sight.

The initial pilot program began once Anderson secured a few interested instructors and a  donated Sit Ski. It started with one client in 2007.

In 2008 the Rotary Club of Sault Ste. Marie provided funds to purchase a second Sit Ski and the program was expanded to a few physically challenged clients.

The program grew annually moving forward. They have amassed an inventory of snow sports equipment worth approximately $80,000 which provides opportunities for individuals with a wide range of ages and abilities to experience those snow sports.

“Searchmont Ski Resort graciously hosts our program. The resort has allocated us a spot to build the Jim Anderson Adaptive Snowsports Centre, where we store all our gear and equipment," Current president Kees van Frankenhuyzen said. "The program is staged every Sunday from the main entrance exiting onto the ski slopes. We have a special arrangement with the resort to cover costs of ski lift passes for our clients and volunteers. And we have agreed to provide instructors and equipment for special needs students that come to the resort during the week as part of the local school boards programming.” 

The program is volunteer intensive with each skier needing typically one instructor and one or two assistants. 

Up to four clients can be on the hill at the same time for an hour and a half lesson. There generally is one session booking in the morning and two in the afternoon each of the 10 Sundays being offered in addition to special needs individuals from visiting school groups during the week which allows those children to participate as opposed to staying home while their classmates are on the hill. 

Volunteers are also utilized inside the lodge to help skiers get ready – providing assistance with jackets, helmets, goggles, etc. and getting into the appropriate adaptive gear. Each Sunday requires approximately 12 – 15 volunteers on the hill to make this all possible.

The adaptive ski program is geared to individuals who are marginalized due to disability. Typically they live on a budget below the poverty line, have limited means and opportunities to access and experience the winter outdoors or to have an active lifestyle.

“Our program is the only program in Canada that provides free transportation from the client’s home to the hill and back, through an annual contract with AJ Bus lines. We are also the only program that provides free on-hill personal support services to help clients with personal needs, like getting dressed, eating lunch, or using the facilities.”

“Ski Sunday is the highlight of the winter months for many of our participants, a chance to get outside, to socialize, and to challenge themselves with a physically demanding but thrilling activity. Besides the obvious physical benefits of getting outdoor exercise, our program conveys untold mental health benefits to many of our participants.” said van Frankenhuyzen.

Eligible participants can register for up to four sessions each winter from the Sunday sessions by indicating their preferred dates. 

A coordinator then schedules each client with volunteers and instructors that have indicated their availability. A tailored lesson consisting of one-and-a-half hours of instruction on the hill taking into account the age, ability, interest and comfort level of each client is provided.

Each season some 20 individuals are able to access the program. Anyone with special needs – either physical, developmental or emotional qualifies for participation.

“Our program is amongst others used by folks with amputations, spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, autism, post-traumatic stress disorders, hearing and vision impairments, and various congenital disorders like Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, Muscular Dystrophy, Down’s Syndrome.”

Any participant accessing the program is asked to pay a small fee for each lesson and must purchase insurance through a CADS membership. Clients with complex medical conditions are required to be cleared for participation by their physician.

“Our program is currently well-funded but badly in need of more hands-on deck. We would love to welcome community members to our board to help us guide this program into the future and towards long-term sustainability. “

No Limits Adaptive Ski Association is in desperate need of folks who love to ski and are ready to enhance their own skiing experience by helping others less fortunate to enjoy the thrills of the sport and or, may be interested in becoming adaptive ski instructors. All training and certification are paid for.

Due to last year’s COVID hiatus, many volunteers have been lost and program officials are not sure they have enough instructors and assistants to offer the program this coming winter.

There is a planned introductory social on Thursday, Nov. 4.  Anyone interested can visit the website for more information.

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About the Author: Violet Aubertin

Violet Aubertin is a photograher and writer with an interest in Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma's great outdoors
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