Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. snowboard instructor Chris Rogers assists Denver resident Jennifer Kosatka on Saturday during her first day of snowboarding. A new service offered by partnering organizations allows skiers and snowboarders of all abilities to enjoy Steamboat Ski Area.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. snowboard instructor Chris Rogers assists Denver resident Jennifer Kosatka on Saturday during her first day of snowboarding. A new service offered by partnering organizations allows skiers and snowboarders of all abilities to enjoy Steamboat Ski Area.

Inclusion program expands options for adaptive skiers

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— Until this season, learning to ski in Steamboat Springs was costly and sometimes difficult for skiers with adaptive needs.

"It was challenging. If they needed additional help, it was hard for one instructor to deal with six kids plus one with adaptive needs," said Julie Taulman, vice president of the board for Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports, a local nonprofit group that has partnered with Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club for the season.

With a base of volunteers and a stock of adaptive equipment, STARS has taken charge of the adaptive skiing opportunities on the mountain. In programs through the Steamboat Ski and Snowboard School, STARS volunteers will assist with any adaptive needs. That frees up the instructors to focus on the group, Taulman said.

"The biggest difference, really, is that in the past, if I didn't own the equipment, the only way I had access to any of the equipment was to take a ski lesson," Taulman said, explaining the cost of teaching her son, Kyle, how to play on the mountain with a sit-ski. "If I wanted my son to ski every week, there was no way you could do that."

A three-hour adaptive private lesson for a skier with adaptive needs is $105; an all-day lesson is $245. Under the new agreement, a child with adaptive needs could participate in a program such as Trail Busters with a cost of $195 for five all-day lessons. That child can use equipment that belongs to STARS, free of charge. It's significantly cheaper, and it allows those children to ski with their peers, Taulman said.

"Really, that's what most kids want, is, they want to be able to ski with their friends," she said.

The inclusion program also allows children with special needs to participate in the Winter Sports Club. Kyle Taulman will be the club's first athlete with adaptive needs, and he will be able to ski with his age group, said Rick DeVos, executive director of the Winter Sports Club.

"They're able to be with their friends in the group, they get a little bit of help with the staffing that STARS provides, and I just think it creates the right opportunity for a lot of these kids," DeVos said, explaining that most of the club's offerings would be available through the program.

"It's not restrictive in any fashion for them, as long as they can do the sport, which could be pretty much anything on snow," he said.

STARS hosts an informational meeting for interested volunteers from 6 to 8 p.m. today in the Round-Up Room in Gondola Square. Volunteers with coaching experience are ideal, but anyone with an intermediate or better level of skiing is eligible, Taulman said.

"We're looking for people who have time and have the will to learn, and they have to be a decent skier so that they're safe," Taulman said. Jim Schneider, board president for STARS and vice president of skier services for Ski Corp., said the program needs as many volunteers as possible.

"Last year, I think, we had 20 to 25. I would love to double that, or more, and do so each year so we can go forward," Schneider said. "There are times when we don't have enough help to manage the demand, so the more help we can get from people in the community, the more we can help these disabled guests."

Taulman said the inclusion program offers children and adults a chance to ski with everyone else, despite any physical disability they might have.

"My biggest thing, as a parent, is that a lot of these kids, they don't consider themselves with a disability. They play with able-bodied peers every day at school, because it's a full inclusion program," Taulman said. "And really, now with skiing, that's something we can provide inclusion for in our community."

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