Hartford Ski Spectacular takes to Breckenridge for 27th year of adaptive skiing and snowboarding
The Hartford Ski Spectacular
Dates: Dec. 1-7
Location: Beaver Run Resort, Breckenridge
For more information, visit www.skispec.org
Jeff Inouye has been involved in 17 of the last 26 years of The Hartford Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge. As the adaptive ski program assistant director for the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center — a nonprofit organization that serves individuals with disabilities and special needs — Inouye matches participants with event instructors.
Now in its 27th year, the five-day-long ski spectacular event, held at Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge, celebrates adaptive snowsports. People with disabilities, including military personnel, are offered lessons in adaptive skiing and snowboarding, as well as the opportunity to try out activities like curling and sled hockey. The event also features lessons on racing for the more experienced and competitive participants. Ski and snowboard instructors from all over the country come to attend classes on teaching adaptive lessons. The Hartford Ski Spectacular is one of the nation’s premier training camps for emerging adaptive ski and snowboard racers, with some of the nation’s top adaptive instructors.
In the midst of it all, Inouye is the guy that knows everyone. He looks over the applications of every participant ahead of time, and knows nearly all of the instructors, even many of those that are coming from out of state. When the participants arrive, Inouye is often the one to introduce them to their instructors.
“I get to know the participants pretty well, as well as all of the instructors,” Inouye said.
LEARNING NEW SKILLS
More than 800 participants will make their way to Summit County to take to the slopes, many for the first time. People with disabilities such as amputated limbs will try out all kinds of adaptive equipment that will allow them to experience the thrill of winter sports. Ages range from youth to adult, with groups of disabled veterans also participating.
“It’s the one time of the year that the adaptive community gets to meet and share ideas and share new products and basically get together and just talk to each other,” Inouye said.
Adaptive equipment is everywhere during the five-day event. The companies that make things like the monoski — also known as a sit-ski, which consists of a seat mounted to a metal frame with ski-like appendages — attend to offer demos and present new products.
“This industry is always changing and new equipment is always being built and created,” Inouye said. “So this is where all the manufacturers will come and show off their new equipment.
There are three components to The Hartford Ski Spectacular — learn to ski, learn to race and continuing education for adaptive instructors. Most of the participants who are attending have never skied or snowboarded before.
“I think especially with winter sports, there’s a huge stigma with people who didn’t grow up on skis or near the snow that it’s really hard to get into,” said Daniel Hathorn, sports manager for Team Semper Fi, part of the Semper Fi Fund, a nonprofit organization that supports veterans. “I tell everybody that this event is priceless. If you come with an open mind, … you will realize it’s not as hard as you think it is.”
Hathorn has been part of the event for five years, and was also a wounded warrior participant. It was through the ski spectacular that he became involved in the world championships of adaptive snowsports, so he has a particular soft spot for the event.
“Essentially, it’s don’t knock it before you try it,” he said of his sales pitch to others.
The event is meant to be a jumping off point for the participants’ continued experience with snowsports.
“From there hopefully the idea is that when they go back home to wherever they are, that they can look up their local program or local chapter of disabled sports and get involved in doing the same type of thing,” Inouye said. “That’s the idea, that we get them introduced to everything here and give them the resources that when they get home, to hopefully continue the rehab process.”
KEEPING THAT COMPETITIVE EDGE
Those who have attended the ski spectacular for several years, or who have more experience, may take advantage of the learn-to-race portion of the event. Those instructors include several Paralympic team coaches, who are always keeping an eye out for athletes with potential.
This is the aspect that Hathorn recommends for many veterans.
“Most of these guys are injured service members and they all want to compete,” he said, “and the best way (is) to get out and test their skills and potentially get noticed.”
Whether they’re there as a first-time skier or snowboarder, a newly disabled individual or a competitive athlete ready to learn the techniques of adaptive racing, attending the event has an impact on all the participants.
Hathorn has seen other veterans who, at the beginning of the week, keep to themselves and aren’t very talkative. “But at the end of the week, they’ve learned new things, they’re talking to people, they’re laughing with instructors, they’re walking up to people they’ve never met before.”
Terrin Frey has been a ski instructor for with the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC) for four years, and loves participating in The Hartford Ski Spectacular event. Her favorite part is giving her students the opportunity to try something new, something they might not even think they can do.
“Some people, if they have a new prosthetic or something like that, if their life has been completely changed by the war or an injury, it’s a struggle for sure,” she said of the first lesson. “But a lot of these people that are in the military, that’s what they like, you know. But a lot of it too is just an eye-opening experience of ‘Life is not going to be the same,’ but then there are moments where yeah, it just clicks and they’re smiling and they are like ‘Wow, I never thought I would be able to do this,’ all the light bulbs go on and they’re having fun. … There’s definitely the struggle, but then there’s the overcoming of the struggle.”
She’s had a number of memorable moments connected with the event, many having to do with meeting the participants and hearing their stories. One veteran she remembered from two years ago, who had lost both of his legs to an IED explosion that June.
“He was just super ecstatic about skiing and he decided to monoski because he was pretty new to his prosthetics, and yeah, that was the ah-ha moment of him going down the run,” she said. “It’s totally that double fist pump moment of ‘I can do this’ and ‘I can ski,’ and the smile on your face and the freedom that it gives you. It was pretty awesome.”
For more information, visit http://www.skispec.org
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