By Ed Racich

The Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program (LASP) at Holiday Valley has completed the 2012-2013 season, its 25th, and has come to be expected under the leadership of Director Mary Ellen Racich, it was record setting and accident free.

The fine, all-volunteer instructors in the program, most of whom are PSIA Level 1 certified or better, conducted 274 lessons to a combination of new and returning students. Each lesson accounts for two hours of on-snow time, utilizing as many as four and as few as one instructor per lesson, dependent on the ability of the student.

LASP offers ski lessons to persons with virtually any disability, either physical or cognitive in nature. Some of the more frequently encountered disabilities include spinal cord injuries, Down’s syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, autism, visual impairment, and paraplegic injuries or loss of limb. Each student is individually instructed, with full emphasis on his/her ability to perform, rather than on the disability.

“Lesson results vary, but our students experience freedom and a sense of achievement. Many find a renewed confidence to tackle other activities,” said Racich. “There is no greater thrill than when a student shouts, ‘I got it! I got it!’”

The goal of LASP instructors is to help students have fun and enjoy skiing. Many of our students want to be able to participate in a sport with their brothers and sisters, and their moms and dads, to be able to ski independently with their classmates from school. The program has had more than its share of successes.

This season LASP had a woman move from being a sit-down skier to the snow-slider, and further, from the snow-slider to stand-up skiing with the aid of hand-held outriggers. A young skier from Salamanca, Charlie Hensel, is now skiing with his classmates after school, even though he uses a snow-slider to do so. These are a few of the huge accomplishments LASP instructors have seen, in large part, through their own efforts with their students.  More than one of our instructors has said, “Give us the student and we will find a way to make it work.  We will adapt!”

Both Becky Connely and Sue Whistler, lesson schedulers for LASP, said, “We’ve never seen so many dedicated people willing to help however they can. Remember, the instructors are all volunteers, and they do this all on their own time.”

Many LASP students ski with standard equipment, skis and boots, but others require more specialized gear. Adaptive ski devices such as outriggers, snow-sliders, bi-skis and mono-skis, help to allow skiers to use whatever natural abilities they have to get out on the slopes. This is the equipment that allows LASP skiers to become more independent.

It is also extremely expensive ski equipment. Outriggers, the crutch-like poles with skis on the end, that provide balance and help to initiate turns cost upwards of $350 per pair. The snow-slider, which is a walker-like device, is a bargain at about $1,700 per unit. Bi-skis, those sit-down bucket seats on skis, used for paraplegic and amputee skiers range in price from $3,800 to $6,000 per ski, and the mono-skis, those race-car like units, range from $4,500–$6,000 per unit.

LASP is an independently funded ski program, operating at Holiday Valley under the good graces of Holiday Valley management, and the Snowsports School, directed by Ron Kubicki. Holiday Valley graciously provides LASP with a building, located in the Tannenbaum area, to house their equipment, and the ability to use terrain suitable to teaching our students to ski.

The program is funded by private donations, service organizations, and the annual program fundraiser, the Penguin Paddle, which has become a Holiday Valley institution. Held in February each year, the Paddle provides most of the LASP budget for the year. If you would like to help support this worthwhile program, please join LASP at the Penguin Paddle next February. They’ll have a sliding bag for you, and we can all have some fun!

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