Ski buddies help
friends stay mobile
Volunteers learn to
assist disabled skiers
Express Staff Writer
residents stepped up Saturday to become volunteer ski buddies this winter for
Since 1992, the
Sun Valley Ski and Snowboard School has taught about 500 impaired skiers. Others
arrive at Baldy as graduates from similar programs at resorts across the
country. Many can negotiate the mountain on their own, but others need help,
either because theyíre still novice skiers or because their impairments so
limit their mobility.
right, helps Spencer Harris, who was sitting in for a disabled skier, get up
after a fall on Lower River Run. Express photo by Greg Moore
On a sunny
morning at the base of River Run, Marc Mast, director of the ski schoolís
disabled program, explains to volunteers what will be expected of them. They wonít
need to know how to teach, he says, but only how to help skiers load and unload
from the lift, negotiate the flats and get up when they fall.
people are like anyone else," he points out. "Youíre going to like
some of them, youíre not going to like some of them."
demonstrates a mono sit ski, used by paraplegic skiers. Itís a high-tech item,
with a contoured fiberglass seat and a motorcycle-type shock absorber. The
tubular frame clamps into a regular ski binding, modified to be nonreleasable.
The demonstration monoski has been used by Sun Valley racer Muffy Davis, 2001
disabled World Cup winner, to reach speeds of 70 miles per hour.
A group of boys,
all about 8-years-old, skates by, admiring the apparatus.
ski," one of them remarks. "Iíve seen a guy get so much air
on one of those."
that the degree of disability caused by a spinal injury is proportional to how
high on the spine the injury occurred. A broken neck can cause paralysis of
almost the entire body. Different strap options on the monoski are used
depending on how much use the skier has of his or her midsection.
release mechanism allows the skiís frame to rise for riding the lift. Many
experienced skiers can load themselves, but for those who canít, the lift
operator grabs one side of the sit ski, and the volunteer buddy grabs the other
to lift it up.
the sit ski drops down to skiing position.
divide into groups of four to try loading empty sit skis. One of the skis has
recently been modified with the addition of a skid plate to protect the seat,
and it catches under the chair lift seat when the trainees attempt to lift it
up. When one of the volunteers tries to sit in it, Mast discovers that another
modification, a plate in front of the skierís feet, is too short. So, the
training period functions as an equipment test as well.
range in age from two students from The Community School, age 13, to Ketchum
resident Perry Solberg, age 60. Solberg has volunteered for the past two years
at the Sagebrush Arena teaching disabled people how to ride horses. His biggest
reward, he says, is all the "return love" he gets.
that volunteering here sounded like a nice little project for the winter,"
A total of three
Community School students are among the groupóSpencer Harris, 13; Kingsley
Murphy, 13; and Reed Boeger, 15. The three are volunteering as part of their
schoolís community service program.
In a later phone
interview, program director Bob Doyle said the programís been ongoing since
the things the community does for us, we decided we should do something for
it," he said. "It didnít take long for the kids to catch on."
Almost 80 percent
of the schoolís 200 students in sixth through 12th grades
participate. However, Doyle said, itís entirely on a volunteer basis. Projects
have included working at fundraisers such as the wild game dinner and ski swaps,
volunteering at the animal shelter, planting trees at Silver Creek Preserve and
picking up trash along two sections of Highway 75 sponsored by The Community
School. An annual project over spring break takes students south of Tijuana,
Mexico, where they help to build houses.
the kind of thing where they can see what they did," Doyle said.
service efforts are not entirely altruistic. Doyle pointed out that work of that
sort is becoming increasingly important in college admissions, and he makes it a
point to mention community service in his student recommendations.
At the end of
each school year, students are given gold, silver or bronze awards for putting
in 50, 35 or 25 hours.
Over lunch at
River Run, Harris says he volunteered for 55 hours last year, and has put in 35
so far this year. Boeger, a member of the Sun Valley Ski Team, says he was
looking for a project that he could do on skis. He also expects the volunteer
work to be a nice break from race training.
On the slope,
Harris is chosen as a guinea pig. Heís strapped into the sit ski and heads
down Lower River Run, at first with Mast holding on and guiding him. Two
hand-held outriggers help Harris to keep his balance and initiate turns.
Then the trainees
take over from Mast. It turns out to be easier than expected, though Harris
occasionally tips too far and skids into the snow. Picking him up turns out to
be not so difficult, either.
tiring on your legs," Harris says when heís finally released from the
ski. "But itís kind of fun."
volunteers learn how they can help three-trackers and four-trackersópeople who
can stand on one or two legs, but need outriggers.
Hailey resident Karen Bossick, 45, helped for several seasons at Bogus Basin
with skiers such as those, as well as with blind people. For blind kids, she
says, "it was the one opportunity they had to spend time with their friends
outdoors when they were basically the same. The limitations were taken away, the
boundaries were taken away."
For the rest of
this winter, Sun Valleyís volunteer ski buddies will be doing what they can to
whittle away at those limitations in whatever form they find them.