Madison House's Adaptive Ski program makes skiing accessible to everyone.

Laura Good
Cavalier Daily Senior Writer


[ click for fullsize ]
Photos Courtesy Of Laura Good
Volunteers at Adaptive Ski help people with a range of disabilities enjoy a day on the slopes. Some participants are tethered to a volunteer, while others only require a buddy nearby.


[ click for fullsize ]
Photos Courtesy Of Laura Good
Volunteers at Adaptive Ski help people with a range of disabilities enjoy a day on the slopes. Some participants are tethered to a volunteer, while others only require a buddy nearby.


[ click for fullsize ]
Photos Courtesy Of Laura Good
Volunteers at Adaptive Ski help people with a range of disabilities enjoy a day on the slopes. Some participants are tethered to a volunteer, while others only require a buddy nearby.


[ click for fullsize ]
Photos Courtesy Of Laura Good
Volunteers at Adaptive Ski help people with a range of disabilities enjoy a day on the slopes. Some participants are tethered to a volunteer, while others only require a buddy nearby.
Before the sun had even peaked over the mountains on the morning of Feb. 23, Madison House volunteers were congregating in the Architecture school parking lot for the one-hour caravan ride to Massanutten Ski Resort. Meanwhile, Adaptive Ski participants -- disabled children and adults from Virginia and nearby states -- also had begun their trek to the slopes at Massanutten for a day of outdoor athleticism.

The heavy layer of white snow that blanketed the mountains the preceding week had begun to melt, but that didn't stop the participants from capping off the ski season with a final day on the slopes.

The Adaptive Ski program was founded over 20 years ago, and it since has provided hundreds of handicapped children and adults with the opportunity to participate in an athletic arena that most of them had never experienced.

"We work with any type of special need that would require adaptations for either skiing or snowboarding," said Mark Andrews, founder of the program, director of Massanutten Adaptive Snow Sports and associate director of Madison House. "We work with all ages. We've had kids as young as four and as old as 76."

Since the program was founded, it has catered to individuals with disabilities ranging from cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy to spinal cord injury and post polio syndrome. The program also works with individuals who are mentally disabled, blind and hearing impaired.

Despite the wide range of disabilities and ages, the program is able to match each disabled skier with one or more student volunteers that will safely help that individual down the mountain.

"Safety is our top priority," Andrews said. "We would not provide the program if we couldn't do it safely."

Depending upon the disability, handicapped participants either stand on one or two skis or zigzag their way down the mountain in a sit-ski. While some of the disabled skiers only require a volunteer to ski alongside them, others are tethered to a volunteer at all times.

"Skiing and snowboarding are risky activities, but just because you have a disability doesn't mean you don't want to go out and challenge yourself and participate in those activities," Andrews said.

In over 20 years, the program has only seen one accident, a safety record far better than that in the general skiing public.

Crozet resident Don Rich, whose 11-year-old son Tyler participates in Adaptive Ski, initially had safety concerns about the program.

"When you see Tyler go through his daily routine, where he uses a walker or forearm crutches, the thought of him coming hurtling down a mountain on a bunch of snow and ice is a little nerve-wracking," Rich said. "But when we came out and met with Mark and met with the volunteers, and saw them interacting and working with Tyler, all our fears were allayed."

Although Tyler was born with cerebral palsy and has mobility problems with his legs, he has shown tremendous improvement after only one season in Adaptive Ski.

"After the first time that we came out several weeks ago, we were on the way back home and Tyler was just exhausted," his father said. "But he was so excited."

Tyler advanced from the beginner hill to the intermediate hill on the first day.

"They had never done that with a student before, so Tyler was proud of himself," Rich said. "He looks at me from the backseat of the car and says, 'You know, Dad, you can walk, and I can't. But I can ski, and you can't.' He said that with a big grin on his face and a big yawn. He had a full day."

This winter, Tyler's skis were tethered together in the front. He used two crutches with skis on the tips, and he also was tethered to a volunteer. But by next season, Tyler should be able to ski untethered, his father said.

"What would really be amazing is if he ended up doing this now and then got involved in the volunteer program when he's a little older," Rich said. "He absolutely wants to go to U.Va. That's all he talks about."

Rich couldn't say enough about the student volunteers who have helped Tyler.

"I think the volunteers that come out here are absolutely fantastic," he said. "It blows me away to see people, especially young people, that want to get up so early in the morning, come out here for no pay and just work with these kids."

Second-year College student Stew Grace has volunteered with Adaptive Ski for the past two winters. He admitted that he initially was attracted to the program not because of the rewarding payback he would receive from working with handicapped individuals, but because of the skiing perks.

"You get a ride to the mountain and rentals free," Grace said. "What more could you want?"

While the freebies were what first attracted him to the program, he said he quickly realized that there was much more to it.

"You get to meet these amazing people," Grace said. "It takes away any apprehension you may have toward people with disabilities. You look at people differently, at a more personable level."

Chris Wharam, a 39-year-old Adaptive Ski participant, is among that group of individuals whom Grace has gotten to know as a result of the program.

In 1982, during Chris's senior year in high school, he was in a car accident and suffered a stroke.

"He was very active and had a lot of plans for his life," his mother Peggy Wharam said. "He worked at the hospital on weekends and wanted to be a doctor. He was almost through high school. Feb. 13, he was getting close to graduating."

Chris always enjoyed athletic activities, his mother added. "He had a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He liked to hike. He was into church camps. He was an outdoor type person."

After the accident, Andrews was one of Chris's physical therapists at the University hospital. Years later, Andrews introduced Chris to the Adaptive Ski program, and Chris now has participated in the program for the past four years.

Andrews, who has dedicated the past 20 years of his life to Adaptive Ski, has introduced many handicapped individuals to the program. He believes every minute is time well spent.

"This is my passion," Andrews said. "I look forward to coming up here every weekend. It's fun to be out there and see somebody find a new level of independence. That's what we're trying to do, open them up to opportunities that they may not have had before."

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