The New England Nordic Ski Association (NENSA) will launch a new adaptive skiing program this winter, centered in the greater Boston area.
Leveraging a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Olympic Committee, the initiative, which targets disabled veterans, will partner with area hospitals and operate out of the Weston Ski Track for its first season, then likely expand to other ski areas in New England over the next three years. A search for the program’s director was announced Tuesday morning.
According to NENSA Executive Director Pat Cote, his organization was approached earlier this summer about applying for a grant from U.S.A. Paralympics, an arm of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC). The USOC had received money from the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (V.A.), which was seeking to create recreational opportunities for disabled veterans, or fund existing ones.
NENSA was officially awarded the money in September, which covers the salary of the new program director, as well as equipment, travel, and other costs.
While NENSA typically avoids a hands-on approach, preferring to facilitate the work of its clubs, the core of the new initiative will consist of direct coaching at Weston during its first year, since the number of pre-existing adaptive programs and coaches elsewhere in New England are limited.
According to Cote, Weston was selected due to its proximity to two large veterans’ hospitals in Boston and Bedford, and because of the strength of the Cambridge Sports Union—the able-bodied club that already exists there.
Most participants in the program will use sit-skis, Cote said—essentially chairs with two skis attached. While the initial goal is modest—attracting six to ten people to ski at Weston twice a week—Cote said that he hopes to expose a “much, much wider audience” to the sport in general.
Initially, NENSA will purchase a total of 25 sit-skis, and participants will be recruited by therapists at the veteran’s hospitals. Cote said that his organization will also conduct outreach through other adaptive programs, like those that offer rowing or alpine skiing. (While the program will be marketed to veterans specifically, any disabled individual can participate.)
The aim of the program, Cote said, is simply “to get people outside and physically active,” since veterans who exercise regularly will leave the V.A. saddled with fewer medical costs down the line.
For those with interest in competing at the elite level, Cote said that NENSA is “ready with other support that the U.S. Olympic Committee has in place to help someone who wants to go further, in either skiing or biathlon.” But that, he said, “would be a by-product of this program.”
NENSA has secured funding for the first year of the initiative, but Cote said that he was confident that the money would continue to flow in for at least four years—“as long as we reach fairly reasonable benchmarks and do a fairly good job with the program.”
After establishing a group of adaptive skiers at Weston this coming winter, Cote said that he would like to expand to other locations, with the program’s director leading an effort to educate more coaches and volunteers. Cote himself will oversee a group of veterans near his home in central Maine.
“We feel that we can have the most impact if we have a lot of people working on this, as opposed to just one staff member,” he said.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.