In typical Aspen Way fashion, Aspen Snowmass is committed to making the mountains accessible to all, including those with physical disabilities and cognitive challenges. The steadfast support of Aspen Snowmass combined with the resources of two area nonprofit organizations, Ascendigo Autism Services and Challenge Aspen, create an outstanding adaptive skiing program that opens up opportunities for many. Ascendigo Autism Services offers autism-specific support for those on the spectrum. Challenge Aspen’s programs support individuals with physical disabilities and cognitive challenges, including a program specifically for injured veterans.
Ascendigo Autism Services
Ascendigo Autism Services
Ascendigo Autism Services (formerly Extreme Sports Camp) offers half day, full day, and week-long ski and snowboarding lessons for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Ascendigo’s instructors are Aspen Snowmass Ski Professionals that are extensively trained in autism support strategies using evidence-based methods from the Applied Behavioral Analysis, developmental, and coaching worlds.
“Children and adults anywhere on the spectrum and of any athletic ability can learn to ski or snowboard here,” said Joseph Breiling, Adventures Co-Director at Ascendigo.
Due to the support of Aspen Snowmass, a private lesson with an Ascendigo trained Ski Pro includes a lift ticket and rentals -- all at a significantly reduced cost. Ascendigo provided 304 private ski lessons to individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder during the 2016-2017 ski season. Advance reservations are required.
In addition to private lessons with an instructor, Ascendigo provides buddy support in group lessons and for proficient skiers. The Buddies are trained in autism-specific support strategies to assist with challenging behaviors and help with peer integration.
“We use autism specific methods to develop independence,” said Joseph. “We always get to the ‘fun’ quickly.”
Ascendigo works with the local Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club to provide trained Ski Buddies to facilitate social integration in group lessons. Ascendigo covers the cost of the Buddies. “The Ski Buddy prompts the child or teen to work toward independence,” explained Joe. “Of the 11 AVSC kids who had Buddies last ski season, three ‘graduated’ and no longer need a buddy.”
A 10-year-old girl on the autism spectrum who started skiing with Ascendigo six seasons ago, has a similar success story. Averaging 20 private ski lessons per season with Ascendigo’s Mathew McCabe, she is now able to participate in Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club. In the adaptive world, this is considered mainstream integration in a peer group lesson, an exceptional accomplishment.
The girl’s father, Lawrence Butler, couldn’t agree more. “Skiing allows my daughter (and all of us really) the chance to feel free and enjoy. She is now a confirmed powder hound and loves being in the mountains. We owe much of this to Mathew and Ascendigo.”
Challenge Aspen’s year-round REC (Recreation, Education & Cultural) Program includes private ski lesson services for individuals from “5 years old to 95 years old” according to Anne Adams, the organization’s chief operating officer. In partnership with Aspen Snowmass, Challenge Aspen is able to provide individuals with physical or cognitive disabilities private lessons at a significantly discounted rate. Full and half day lessons include a PSIA Adaptive Certified Instructor, all rental equipment and a lift ticket. In some cases, an adaptive assistant is also included. Trained adaptive assistants are also available to provide buddy support for those who just need a little more help. During the 2016-2017 season, the REC program served 350 participants.
“Our program is greatly subsidized by Aspen Snowmass,” explained Anne. “Scholarships are available for further assistance. We encourage everyone to make their reservations and apply for scholarships in advance.”
Locals with disabilities from Aspen to Silt can participate in a 1-day a week ski program and Special Olympics for a minimal fee. Participants’ disabilities include Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, amputations, autism, developmental delays and more.
CAMO (Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities) is designed specifically for injured Veterans utilizing the latest in adaptive equipment and techniques for those with cognitive challenges such as PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injuries. The program enables injured veterans to participate in 5-day retreats and receive 100% scholarships. The multi-faceted retreats include breath, nutrition and sleep therapy, in addition to recreational activities. During the 2016-2017 season, 150 injured Veterans participated in the winter program.
Adedayo ‘Mo’ Edu, a disabled Army Veteran has been participating in CAMO since 2014. She credits the program, the encouragement of the entire Challenge Aspen crew, and her “great instructor, John” for her significant progress in getting her life on track.
“When I first came here, I was homeless and could barely walk or ski. I never made it to Fanny Hill. I was very shut in, non-social, didn’t have too many friends and didn’t want to be in a relationship,” said Mo. “Now I’m married, have friends, and can walk. I skied Midway and skied Fanny Hill in 45 seconds on a ski bike. I never would have been able to do any of that years ago. Challenge Aspen changed my life.”
In addition to having a stable residency and being in a relationship, Mo announced that she just graduated from Georgetown University and won a contract for a disabled veteran owned business.
It’s not surprising that Anne Adams finds her job at Challenge Aspen fulfilling. “It’s wonderful to see how lives are affected,” explains Anne. “I love seeing the smiles on participants’ faces when they realize that they can actually do what they are trying to do.”
If you or someone in your family has a physical disability or cognitive challenges, there are excellent resources available to enable the thrill of skiing or riding in Aspen Snowmass. Ascendigo Autism Services can be reached at 970-927-3143 or ascendigo.org
. To reach Challenge Aspen, call 970-923-0578 or visit challengeaspen.org
SUSAN LINDEN Susan Linden has been wordsmithing as an advertising copywriter, feature writer, and storyteller since her college days. She left the whirlwind corporate world to live in the mountains and spends as much time as she can hiking, biking, and skiing in them. Working, playing, and raising a family in the Roaring Fork Valley for the last 29 years gives Susan a unique insider’s perspective to share.