Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Adaptive skiing at the National Ability Center: score!

The main event of our Park City, Utah visit: Max got to do adaptive skiing via The National Ability Center. I only found out about the NAC a few months ago, and as I read through the website and its many offerings, I was floored... and wishing we had a center like that near us.

The NAC offers sports programs and outdoor activities for people of all ages and all abilities, 17 different programs in all. It's based at the Bronfman Family Recreation Center & Ranch on 26 acres of donated land. Gotta love the address: 1000 Ability Way. The activities are year round: adaptive alpine and cross-counry skiing, snowboarding, aquatics, archery, cycling, equestrian programs, sled hockey and water skiing. There's also an Alpine Ski Team—which snagged 11 medals at this year's U.S. Disabled Nationals in Idaho—and a hockey team. And rafting and camping trips. And summer camps.

Suddenly, New York seemed like such a boring place to live.

On this trip, we were all about adaptive skiing. Max has tried it several times; the last time he liked it but bailed the minute he saw Dave, and didn't want to go back. I didn't know what to expect, and I had extreme meltdown dread, but I wanted Max to give it a go again. Sports help build confidence in any kids, but for kids with physical challenges, I think they can be extra ego-boosting. Also, I figured that if anyplace could coax Max into skiing, a place called the National Ability Center could.

Before our trip, I sent in a participant packet. It included questions about physical and sensory concerns, behavioral tendencies, level of cognition and processing, medical info, favorite activities, fears/dislikes and Family Dos and Dont's. I will not bore you with the details except to say that I repeatedly mentioned Lightning McQueen, Cars 2 and purple. I requested a guy for an instructor; I thought a dude would inspire him. Though I did not write "dude."

There are a variety of lesson options; we booked three afternoon lessons for Max, from 1 to 4, at $100 each (if you know the cost of ski lessons, you know that is a real bargain). The first one was at Park City Mountain Resort and the other two, at Deer Valley Resort's Snow Lodge

Let's start with the happy fact that Max did not wig out when we walked into the NAC's ski center at Park City Mountain Resort. We'd already gotten ski and boot rentals at Deer Valley Resort. The instructor, Kevin, met us in the ski shop, and Max gave him a big smile hello. In his second season with the NAC, Kevin was like the Pied Piper on skis. He helped put on Max's boots, and charmed him by showing him a purple rope thingie he'd use to guide him (note, not its official name).

After we headed outside, Kevin explained about putting on skis and helped Max into them. Kevin was a middle school science teacher for three years, and he has a highly evolved level of patience. Next he gave Max a big rubber wheel and told him to steer it right for going right, and left for going left—which would help him automatically move his skis in those directions. And then? He told Max that he was Lightning McQueen in a race.

Look! A blissed-out, skiing Lightning McQueen!

Kevin put clips on the front of Max's skis to help keep them parallel.

A little pep talk

Riding the magic carpet. This part was a bit tricky for Max; he fell a couple of times and once, he dropped straight backward—you know, like people do in trust falls. Kevin was right behind him, of course. Max thought this was really funny, even though I almost had a heart attack.

Kevin guided Max downhill with the purple rope thingie.

Soon enough, Max was pointing to the lift and telling us he wanted to go on it. "Not yet," said Kevin. The two of them hung out alone for Max's second and third lessons and Max did get to go on a lift, daredevil that he is.

Skiing is generally an exhilarating sport: there's that feeling of lightness and freedom you experience when you zoom downhill, that head rush of speed. But let me tell you, nothing compares to the exhilaration of seeing your child with cerebral palsy skiing. "MAX!!! YOU'RE SKIING!!!" I must have shouted a dozen times. Gleeful, I was.

A couple days later, I headed to the NAC campus with my pal Bari Nan—my pilgrimage to a special needs mecca. (OK, really, it was about 10 minutes away from where we were staying.)

Our tour guide: Allie, a super-friendly staffer who's worked there for five years.

The tree in the lobby

The indoor climbing wall, a popular activity for birthday parties.

The accessible playground (not so popular in winter)

The commons area in the Lodge at the Ranch, on the NAC grounds. It's a glorious 20,000 square feet, with 26 fully-accessible guest rooms open to NAC participants and their families. There's a big kitchen/dining room area, too.

Back view of the lodge

The heated, 17,000-square-foot equestrian arena and barn. The NAC offers three forms of equine-assisted therapies and activities: therapeutic riding, hippoterhapy, and equine- facilitated learning. Lessons take place six days a week, year round, and are typically lead by occupational therapists.

My new friend Sarah, who has a two-year-old with cerebral palsy, recently started bringing him here for hippotherapy. At first, Charlie was scared. Max also used to do therapeutic riding at his age, and we'd been through the same thing. But like Max, the horse soon won Charlie over, as you can see. Go, Charlie!

"I feel so fortunate to have the National Ability Center in our 'backyard,'" says Sarah. "From the moment I met the therapists, handlers and staff, I knew I could trust them implicitly with Charlie's care. I look forward to sharing my passion for the outdoors with Charlie with the continued assistance and resources of this renowned facility."

Last year, the National Ability Center gave some 20,000 lessons.

Rock on, NAC.

Rock on, Max, and all kids with special powers who show the world that, yes, they can participate in sports—and enjoy them just as much as any kids out there.

Max came home with a new word: "iiing!" ["skiing!"]. And he'd really like to go again.

Any of you live near centers like this? Have your kids tried adaptive sports?


  1. Ellen, that looks fantastic! Also did you know that Butternut in Great Barrington, Mass. (lower Berkshires, 2 & 1/2 hr drive from NYC) has an adaptive skiing program?

    We didn't do it for Jake this year because he seemed completely disinterested in skiing and Ethan was just learning, too. But I figure either later this year or next we'll talk him into it. It's not Western skiing, but a sweet, kid & beginners oriented program and the staff have been friendly and kind in general. (My in-laws have a house in GB so we go there regularly.)

    If you're interested email or DM me & I'll give you the SN / adaptive skiing contact info.

  2. NAC seems like a great place for Max unlike the Mysore Palace in india which I went to visit this summer - there were stairs everywhere.

  3. Glad Max had such a great time!

    I have no personal experience with it, but a friend of mine raves about the Adaptive Sports Foundation's programs at Windham in NY:

  4. Go Max! I've gotten the opportunity to do adaptive skiing a few times love it too.

  5. This is great Ellen. I'm so glad you got to enjoy this wonderful town. Sarah was really excited to meet you and she came home beaming with pride that you were having such a good time. Charlie truly benefits from being in such a progressive community. We're so lucky.

    You're an inspiration. Max had a great time because you made the effort to do your homework and find opportunities for him to succeed. You set him up to ROCK and by the looks of it, he really did! Congratulations. Keep up the great work.

  6. I am going to sound like a teenager now.......
    wait for it.......

    OMG! I am totally finding the airfare to come to Utah from the UK with The Elf! A family activity holiday that caters for special needs and all the acceptance that comes with it. Is Utah big on couchsurfing?

  7. Wow! This sounds amazing! I am so glad Max had such a great time. Thank you for sharing the information. I had no idea that there were places like this out there.

  8. MAX DOES ROCK! WOW, that looked like so much fun. What a wonderful ski instructor. Thanks for sharing. Now, I wanna go.

  9. My friend is training for the 2014 Winter Paralympics.

  10. Incredible and amazing and GO MAX GO!!! I can only imagine what you must've felt like seeing him ski. Congratulations!

    I don't know if there's a place like NAC near NYC, but we just went to Rocking Horse Ranch in upstate NYC and it is a very special needs-friendly family dude ranch. My 8yo went skiing for the 1st time too...and it made my heart skip a beat.

    For moms like us the lows can be quite low, but the, there's nothing like it, right?

  11. I think I got to meet Max at Deer Valley. He was doing so great!

  12. I am in a wheelchair, and when I was a kid (in school), I skiied using a toboggan with skiis on it, and I also did badminton - hitting a birdie hanging/hooked to the ceiling.

  13. I am in a wheelchair, and when I was a kid (in school), I skiied using a toboggan with skiis on it, and I also did badminton - hitting a birdie hanging/hooked to the ceiling.

  14. Love NAC! I did my internship there and now take my son with a disability to be taught by others! Thank you for a wonderful blog-so what I needed right now!


Thanks for sharing!

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