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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Volunteers Help Disabled Individuals Enjoy the Outdoors

An interesting scene greets the eye during the winter outside Cunningham's Ski Barn at Ascutney Mountain Resort. There at the edge of the slopes sit abandoned wheelchairs and braces, glistening in noonday sun. Where are their owners? Gone skiing, of course! Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports has made it possible.

Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, formerly the Vermont Handicapped Ski and Sports Association, is a year-round nonprofit organization dedicated to providing sports and recreation to individuals with disabilities. I got involved with VASS my freshman year when I found out about the adaptive skiing program. I taught handicapped horseback riding through high school and I ski, so VASS sounded like a perfect blend of what I knew and what I loved. Little did I know how true that would turn out to be.

Once a week during winter term I can escape the frenzy of Dartmouth life and focus on someone other than myself. I look forward to my ski lessons more than almost anything else -- sometimes I think I enjoy the lessons even more than the kids I teach do! But I know that what I get out of volunteering is nothing compared with what I am able to give just by being there. For just a speck of effort on my part, I am repaid with much more than a verbal thanks or even just a grin. I have not only improved my own skiing, but also learned how to connect with my students in the different way that is best for each one. What keeps me coming back is knowing that for a few hours a week, I can help share the natural beauty of the mountains, the snow, and the winter sunshine from the best vantage point ever -- a pair of skis!

Ski lessons will kick off this year as soon as the snows begin, and will be held seven days a week at both Ascutney and Sugarbush resorts. Individual lessons are conducted every day, and on the weekends larger groups come up to Vermont from as far away as Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York.

The instructors, who are all volunteers, work out their own lesson plans after they are assigned students and decide what kind of equipment they will need. VASS provides mono skis, sit skis, and outriggers, as well as standard alpine equipment, to make it possible for individuals with a wide variety of disabilities to enjoy the excitement of skiing.

When the VASS participants arrive for their ski lessons, the instructors greet them and, if needed, assist with their equipment. Wheelchairs and braces are discarded in the snow. Then it's off to the slopes, where the fun and learning begin with the VASS motto: "If I can do this, I can do anything!"

In addition to skiing lessons, VASS provides opportunities for adaptive horseback riding, canoeing, camping, tennis, water-skiing, dog carting and dog sledding, cross-country skiing, and a summer aquatics camp. They also offer competitive programs, riding camps, and canoeing and camping trips.

VASS has also made Ascutney and Sugarbush the venues for special events like the United States Association of Blind Athletes Race Camp, the Level I and II Giant Slalom and Super Giant Slalom, National Handicapped Sports' "Learn to Ski" Weekend, Kids "Go-For-It" Ski Camp, and the annual fundraising Ski Challenge.

New volunteers are always needed and are made to feel at home immediately. Volunteer liaison Dave Clift says with a big smile, "We'll put you right to work!" Interested in volunteering? Contact VASS at (802) 484-3525.