Rocky Mountain Adaptive

First tracks. Powder days. Alpine air. For Jamie McCulloch, the mountains are magical. As executive director and general manager of Rocky Mountain Adaptive, McCulloch wants to get as many Canadians as possible out on the mountains – and he won’t let someone’s disability stop them.

“One of the great things about skiing is that gravity doesn’t discriminate,” he said.

Each year, Canmore, Alberta-based Rocky Mountain Adaptive provides around 2,000 adaptive experiences in more than 20 different sport and recreational activities. In 2018, they looked to expand even further and get more Canadians with a disability on the slopes.

Funding allowed the organization to purchase a new sit ski and create three new sit ski-specific training camps: one meant for beginners to learn how to sit ski, as well as both an intermediate and advanced class. The response was overwhelmingly positive – for the participants and for McCulloch.

 ‘’You can’t put a monetary value on the experience and how it is going to positively affect their lives,’’ said McCulloch.

‘’A sport like skiing can be quite expensive so we offer a beginner’s camp completely free and that gives people with a disability an opportunity to try a new sport, maybe be on the mountains for the first time, or get back into sports after an accident.’’

The beginners’ camp was especially impactful for participants. McCulloch pointed to one skier, a man who broke his back while skiing last year. The camp was the first time he’d been on snow since his accident. Another participant was a New Canadian who had broken his back in an airplane accident. “He’d never seen the mountains before,” McCulloch recalled.

By the end of the two-day camp, all of the participants were skiing independently. “No one was holding on to the rigs,” said McCulloch. “No one needed any help.” Several had mastered chairlift loading themselves – a feat McCulloch calls “incredible.” Soon, the sit skiers and their able-bodied counterparts were skiing together on the intermediate blue runs at Sunshine Village.

“Everyone’s expectations were completely exceeded,” he added. Most of the beginners’ class immediately signed up for Rocky Mountain Adaptive’s programs to continue to sit ski for the rest of the season.

While the camps may be done for the season, the sit ski Rocky Mountain Adaptive purchased with its $10,000 grant from the Paralympic Sport Development Fund will last for years.

McCulloch estimates the new sit ski has at least a 10-year usage life and will be a high-tech device used by hundreds of people with a disability in their quest to master the slopes.

‘’It’s an awesome sit ski for our program,’’ said McCulloch. ‘’It has the necessary adjustment that allows a great range of participants to learn on it. It helps us take away another barrier to learn how to ski. Along with the seat size adjustors we purchased with the grant as well, it can accommodate individuals regardless of size, injuries, strengths, or abilities.’’

“From a programming and organizational point of view, it’s giving us the ability to be able to increase our outreach and give people that exposure to awesome things that they can do,” he added.

“People who can find recreational activities can have phenomenal lives with whatever personal challenge they might be living with, whether that’s something they’ve been born with or a disability they acquired,” he said. “We just want to make sure that they have an awesome and really safe experience.”

Sit skiers on top of a hill