By Ed Racich

On Dec. 2–7, 2013, the Hartford Ski Spectacular was held for the 26th consecutive year, at the Beaver Run Resort, in Breckenridge, Colo. Hosted by Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA), the Hartford Ski Spectacular is the nations’ largest winter sports festival for people with disabilities, with more than 800 participants annually.

The programs offered during this week-long event include learn to ski and snowboard lessons, a week-long race camp for Paralympic hopefuls, clinics in Nordic skiing, Biathlon, curling and sled hockey, the PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors) National Adaptive Academy for Instructors, banquets and other social networking events.

The title sponsor of this event is the Hartford Financial Services Group. The Hartford’s own “ability philosophy” — empowering every individual to meet their fullest potential — is shared by these incredible athletes whose accomplishments inspire and motivate us all. The Warfighter Sports program, part of DSUSA, offers sports rehabilitation programs in military hospitals and communities across the U.S., through a nationwide network of over 100 community-based chapters. Since 1967, DSUSA has proudly served wounded warriors, including those active from the Second World War and Korea, through Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, rebuilding lives through sports by improving self-confidence, promoting independence and uniting families through shared healthy activities.

It is both an honor and a privilege to participate in Ski Spec events either as a volunteer instructor or as a clinic member, learning new and better ways to teach adaptive skiing.  In 2013, Holiday Valley’s Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program provided three volunteer instructors to the ski spec — Chris MacDonnell, Steve O’Neil and Steve Goodwin — all of whom have donated their time, at their own expense, many times in the past to help at the ski spec. Lounsbury also sent four instructors out to further hone their teaching skills:  MaryEllen Racich (director of the Lounsbury Program), Patti Jordan-Smith, Bill Bredenberg and me. HoliMont also had clinic participants this year, as they frequently do, and John Propis, Dan Murray, Jim Brindle and Nate Murray participated this year.

Other sports offered at the Ski Spec included sled hockey, Nordic skiing, biathlon and curling.  A former/current mono-skier with the Lounsbury program, Adam Page from the Buffalo area, is a member of the U.S. National sled hockey team and represented the U.S. at the winter Paralympics games in Vancouver in 2010, where he won a gold medal. Page has said that he plans to retire from sled hockey after the 2014 Sochi games and attempt to qualify for the 2018 games as a mono-skier.

Ellicottville has played a very large role in the development of adaptive skiing and instruction in the Eastern United States. Both the Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program at Holiday Valley and the Phoenix Ski Program at HoliMont work with many less abled skiers each year at their respective areas, providing a dedication and commitment that other areas have become jealous of and strive to emulate.

In 2013, Holiday Valley will host several PSIA events for the improvement of the level of expertise of the Lounsbury Adaptive instructors, improving their ability to provide the best instruction available to all skiers with dis-abilities. Lounsbury and Phoenix are integral parts of the backbone of adaptive skiing in the U.S.

With 109 chapters in 38 states, DSUSA works diligently to provide national leadership and opportunities for individuals with disabilities to develop independence, confidence and fitness through participation in community sports, recreation and educational programs on a year round basis. Their chapter network is the heart and soul of DSUSA and provides remarkable opportunities for people with disabilities from all walks of life, relying heavily on both Lounsbury and Phoenix.

Because of them, Ellicottville truly is the heart and soul of it all!