Skiing/Boarding Best Therapy for Those with Disabilities

By Mountain Mama Mar 22, 2017
Utah is well known for its National Ability Center located in Park City—which empowers people of all abilities through sport. I had a chance to go out with Savannah, who has a seizure disorder, and watch how the joy of skiing reaches all people.
Skiing/Boarding Best Therapy for Those with Disabilities

Savannah squeals with excitement as she comes down the mountain at Brighton. "Follow me Alan" she says as she giggles and heads to the base.  


Savannah has a seizure disorder which has delayed her development. There are basic, every-day functions she can't perform, but she loves to ski! 

Savannah started taking ski lessons a few years ago. She got involved in the weekly program which meets with the same group of similar ability. Her Mom called to schedule the lessons and informed the ski school of Savannah's developmental delay. 

She wasn't turned away because of it (her developmental delay), but was embraced by a caring instructor named Alan. This is what it's all about, the mountains opening up to kids of all abilities. 


Alan has been working with people of all abilities for years, working one season at the National Ability Center located in Park City and now, a full-time instructor at Brighton's Snow Sports School.


The program deals with all people of all ages with a barrier to recreation, from most physical disabilities to those with autism. Wasatch Adaptive Sports is also a program working with people of all ages and abilities. They believe by increasing the physical activity, you can help with muscle strength and the overall well-being of an individual.

It is a beautiful day mid-week as we load the lift at Brighton. As with my kids when they were little or if you're just learning to ski, these types are days are the best to choose. The sun is out, it is a bit warmer and being during the week, the crowds are less. Savannah knows Alan and is very comfortable as he gives her instructions on how to get on the lift safely. As we head up, Alan goes over once again things she has learned in the past. Safety is number one. 

"We don't want to go too fast and we want to stay in control." 

Savannah remembers many of these things from her previous lessons. 

Alan talks about the challenges in teaching those that are developmentally delayed, whether it is autism, downs syndrome or delays such as Savannah has. He mentions the learning curve is steeper for these children, but most all can be taught. I am in awe as I watch him interact with Savannah, talk her through some frustrations; her skis cross, she falls and can't get her skis on or she is tired. The patience is amazing and that is what it takes. He waits as she tries to work through things herself before he steps in to offer help. Once we move along and the smiles begin again, he said it's why he continues to teach these kids.

If you have a child that has special needs and wonder if you should get them involved in snow sports, the answer is yes. Alan mentions a few things that can help an instructor have a successful day with your child:

1. When you call to schedule a lesson, make sure the ski school knows your child has a physical or learning disability. That way they can make sure a specialized instructor, like Alan, is available to work with your child. Your child may have the opportunity to work one-on-one with an instructor or join a class. 

2. Talk with the instructor when dropping off. Give them some tips on how best to communicate with your child. Oftentimes the communication barrier can be the hardest part of teaching.

3. If your child has a special interest, let the instructor know—as it provides a talking point that may help the student and instructor bond. Alan mentioned that sometimes the communication is difficult but if he knows something the child is interested in, he can use that in his teaching techniques. If they like Star Wars or they are fascinated with things that sparkle...anything that the instructor can use when instructing the child with make the day a success.

4. Don't set expectations. Your child may stay on the beginner hill all day and that is OK, or they may move quickly to the higher lifts. Sometimes the learning curve is slower and as a parent, you don't want to push your child, but sometimes the kids can excel quickly. Teaching one concept such as learning to stop may take a lot longer than other kids his/her age but then they may take off!


Back to the day with Savannah. We ski for a couple hours and Savannah mentions her legs are sore. Alan asks her if she wants to go again and she says no. We head to the bottom and Mom is waiting. She thanks Alan and smiles. I can certainly understand why his job is rewarding every day. When I ask him "has there ever been a child you haven't been able to teach?" He pauses and says...."no".