‘There’s never, ever a bad day at Powderhounds’: Adaptive snow sports school makes skiing accessible – Okanagan


Snow sports are a huge part of local culture in the Okanagan.

But what happens if you have a physical or cognitive challenge?

At Powderhounds Adaptive Snow Sports, the goal is making snowboarding and skiing accessible to everyone, no matter the disability.

“Powderhounds is a ski and snowboard program run by the non-profit People in Motion,” explained Gail Williamson, who is the director of the program. “We take out anyone with any kind of physical, cognitive, sensory challenges that mean they can’t get out independently on the hill without a bit of assistance.”

The program started as a grassroots movement many years ago.

“It has grown immensely since then and continues to grow as people become more aware that we’re out there,” Williamson said. “The demand doesn’t shrink.”

The organization is run entirely by volunteers.

“I have 58 volunteer instructors this year,” Williamson said. “We had over 80 students this year.”

There is a large group of participants that attend Big White Ski Resort every Thursday to learn how to sit-ski.

“We have two kinds. We have the bi-ski, which has two skis on it. It’s a little more balanced, and we do a nice big carve down the hill and we have a great experience,” Williamson said. “We also have a mono ski. Those are designed more for kids or adults who are learning or are independent sit-skiers.”

Stephen Peters is a father of nine.

Four of his children have disabilities and are attending the Powderhounds program.

“Most of their days aren’t spent with wind in their hair. They’re spent moving slowly around the house or in an electric or manual wheelchair,” Peters said. “And then they come to the hill here and they’re going 50 kilometres an hour down the hill. It’s just an amazing experience for them.”

Peters adds that the team at Powderhounds loves the kids and they’ve become an extended family that the children look forward to seeing every week.

John Howard Baldino is another participant who has been with the organization for about a decade.

He’s gotten so good at skiing that he doesn’t need the lessons but still shows up to ski with Williamson and the group.

“I look forward to this day every week,” Baldino said. “I like it. (It’s) pretty fast with the wind in the face.”

Williamson gets emotional when talking about how proud she is to be part of the program.

“We have so much fun. There’s never, ever a bad day at Powderhounds,” Williamson said. “The sound of a little guy who’s maybe non-verbal and you hear him coming down the run and you hear him humming and you can hear him giggle over a bit of a dip. It just fills your heart.”

From a young three-year-old with a spinal cord injury to an 82-year-old stroke victim with vision loss, Powderhounds is making dreams come true at any age and any skill level.

“The smiles you get, these giant grins are just hiding underneath there. We get just the best gift out of it,” said Williamson.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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