Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Skiing lessons build confidence

Students make turns with adaptive sports program

Express Staff Writer

Six-year-old José Laurel beamed with confidence as he linked turns down Dollar Mountain last week.

"I like skiing! It's fun. It's really fun!" he shouted.

José, a Bellevue Elementary School student, enjoyed an afternoon ski lesson Friday, Jan. 13, through the Sun Valley Adaptive Sports Fresh Tracks program. During January, the Fresh Tracks program is inviting all Blaine County special education students with physical, emotional, developmental and learning disabilities to Dollar and Bald mountains.

"Having one-on-one private instruction helps them improve their physical skills and gives them the self-confidence they need to interact with their peers," said Cara Barrett, Sun Valley Adaptive Sports program director. "The goal is for them to be able to ski or ride around the mountain with their friends, without the help from an adult."

Demonstrating the program's goals, José exuded self-assurance as he followed Barrett down the gentle slopes.

"This is really easy," he said.

The program enables special-needs children to enjoy time on the mountain just as their able-bodied classmates partake in ski and snowboard programs throughout the winter.

"Getting these individuals involved in skiing and snowboarding greatly impacts their day-to-day functioning—physical skills, self-confidence and social interaction," Barrett said.

Educators agree.

"It helps a lot. Their self-esteem grows a lot," said Tracy Dawson, a Bellevue Developmental Preschool paraprofessional. Dawson sees improvement in students' coordination, strength and concentration.

"It really helps kids that have problems focusing. They are able to concentrate on something. They are able to see the results very fast," Dawson said.

For the first time this year, all Blaine County special education students, including Carey students, will participate in the program. According to the organization, there are 382 children in Blaine County diagnosed with some type of disability.

The program invites preschool to high school students once a week for four weeks. This winter about 10 special education classes will be included in the program. The organization has also invited students from Gooding's Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind for lessons.

Sun Valley Adaptive Sports pays for one-hour lessons with a Sun Valley adaptive instructor. Sun Valley Co. partners with the program to provide lift tickets. This winter, the resort agreed to expand the partnership and offer students a subsidized season pass on Dollar Mountain. This season, a child with a disability can pay $29 for a Dollar Mountain season pass.

"I would really like to see these kids with disabilities be out on the hill skiing and snowboarding as much as possible," Barrett said.

Sturtevants Mountain Sports outfits each student with skis, boots, poles and a helmet. The students keep the equipment throughout the Fresh Tracks season.

Throughout the season instructors teach students ranging from 4 to18 years old. The age range compares to the scope of students' ski and snowboard abilities. Instructors see a handful of returning students and others who are on snow for the first time.

Regardless of ability, the program awards students for their accomplishments. On Friday instructors gave Bellevue Development Preschool students certificates and prizes for their on-hill achievements.

All students earn encouragement that is engrained in the teaching techniques. The instructors work to make learning fun. Skiers play games like "Red Light, Green Light" and pretend to drive a car as they make their way down the hill.

Smiles like José's reveal the benefits of the program.

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