Doing Everything, Just a Bit Differently

December 1, 2023

Growing from a small group of ski instructors to a 200-stong volunteer organization, Adaptive Sports Association has expanded over the past 40 years. Founded on the principles that sport and outdoor recreation are tools that can be used to better people’s lives, Adaptive Sports offers programs ranging from skiing lessons in the winter to whitewater rafting and mountain biking in the summer. The programs are made possible with the dedicated efforts of volunteers as well as enthusiastic participants, and with 40 years of programing, Adaptive certainly has a lot to celebrate. By Hannah Robertson. This story is sponsored by Alpine Bank

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Hi, I'm Eric Eicher, president and employee-owner of Alpine Bank Durango. Alpine Bank is only as strong as its community. And giving back to the community is one of our core values. I'm proud to present Alpine Bank's Community Matters program, highlighting local non-profit organizations.

We are dedicated to providing high impact, transformative experiences for individuals with disabilities in the outdoors. So the way that we do that is we operate as a ski and snowboard school up at Purgatory Resort from, you know, the winter season. And then in the summertime we do whitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, cycling, both road and mountain biking. We do some camping, some multi-day river trips. And the goal is to use all of those programs as opportunities to help people build independence and self-confidence and community.

Adaptive Sports Association was founded in 1983 by a group of ski instructors at Purgatory. One of the instructors, Dave Spencer, had lost his leg due to cancer but was still teaching skiing out of the traditional ski school. That winter, a family visiting from California had come out to ski and the mother had also recently lost one of her legs and thought that she would simply hang out and watch her family ski.

So she's sitting at the beach and looks up and sees Dave skiing down Pandemonium on one leg, just hauling. And she was like, "Oh my gosh." So she, you know, the story is that she like chased him into the bar and was like, "You've got to teach me how to do that." And you know, at that point he hadn't taught anybody else with a disability how to ski. And so they made reservations to come back out. And for her, relearning to ski changed everything in her life. It changed how she saw herself in her family. It changed what was possible. She started working out again and, you know, getting physically fit and active and started to do all of these other things because she realized that life wasn't over, it just was different. And so then she was like, "Oh my gosh, "you've got to do this for other people."

And so the Adaptive Sports Association was formed. With the addition of a summer program in 1997, the organization has stayed true to its belief that sport and recreation can be used as a tool to positively impact people's lives. To keep the costs of the programs from becoming prohibitive for participants, Adaptive also offers scholarships catered to what participants can afford.

A big part of our mission is that we don't turn anybody away based on their financial circumstances. And I just ran the numbers for last year. We scholarshipped 78% of the people that came through the door. So if you come in and you're like, "I want to book a ski lesson," and we say, "Okay, "the cost is, you know, $250 for your day "and that's your lesson, your lift ticket, "and your equipment rental," and you say, "You know, "Anne Marie, I can pay $25." And we say, "Great, that's perfect," you know, and we go out and we raise the difference.

A key element of all these programs are the volunteers, of which Adaptive counts on a team of about 200 people.

So we have volunteer orientations that happen at the beginning of every season. So in kind of the early part of November, we do some orientation meetings at our building. And then for summer volunteering, we do some orientations that typically happen in early May. We're on all of the social media, so you can find us on Instagram or Facebook. We've got a website, And there's all sorts of contact information. You can stop by our office and just say, "Hey, you know, "I'm interested in joining." So lots of different ways that somebody could get involved.

Each year, Adaptive hosts the Dave Spencer's Classic Ski Tournament, honoring the roots of the program with a fun day of skiing in costume with live and silent auctions. The other major fundraising event is the Birdie Classic at Glacier Golf Course, where teams from Hillcrest, Dalton Ranch, and Glacier play 36 holes, with the goal of making as many birdies as possible to raise money for the event. Between events like these at the team of volunteers, Adaptive is able to consistently provide opportunities for people of all abilities to enjoy sport and recreation.

But yeah, that like original, you know, vision that Dave had. And one of my favorite quotes is that, "Society teaches people with disabilities "all the things that they cannot do. "And we want to be the place that shows them "all the things that they can." So we've stayed true to that.

This year is Adaptive Sports Association's 40th anniversary. Keep an eye on social media and the website for more information about upcoming events, volunteer opportunities, and sign up for programs online. Find out more information about this and other stories at Thank you for watching this edition of Community Matters. I'm Gillian Arnwine.


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