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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of December 11 - 17, 2002


Ski buddies help 
friends stay mobile

Volunteers learn to assist disabled skiers

Express Staff Writer

Fifteen valley residents stepped up Saturday to become volunteer ski buddies this winter for disabled people.

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.

Reed Boeger, 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.

"Disabled people are like anyone else," he points out. "Youíre going to like some of them, youíre not going to like some of them."

Mast first 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.

"Cool ski," one of them remarks. "Iíve seen a guy get so much air on one of those."

Mast explains 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.

A spring-loaded 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.

Upon unloading, the sit ski drops down to skiing position.

The volunteers 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.

The volunteers 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.

"I decided that volunteering here sounded like a nice little project for the winter," he says.

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 1990.

"With all 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.

"They like the kind of thing where they can see what they did," Doyle said.

The community 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.

"It gets tiring on your legs," Harris says when heís finally released from the ski. "But itís kind of fun."

Later the volunteers learn how they can help three-trackers and four-trackersópeople who can stand on one or two legs, but need outriggers.

One trainee, 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.


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