Pete Apgar learned to ski as a child, long before he lost his vision in his 20s. Vermont Adaptive was thrilled to help keep him on the mountain after he lost the ability to see. Pete quickly made a smooth transition from skiing by sight, to skiing by feel with guides calling turns.
Since the beginning of his guided skiing about 19 years ago, Pete and Vermont Adaptive Volunteer Instructor Frank “Gib” Gibney have developed a strong history and close friendship that is readily apparent whenever you find them together. With a huge smile, Gib makes the joke that he frequently “forgets that Pete is blind.”
Safety and Companionship on the Mountain
They openly share their feelings about skiing together or the health challenges that Pete was once facing or any other of the myriad of topics the two have in common. When they are done poking fun at each other on the chairlift, they use a high-tech radio system inside their helmets to communicate turns. Pete skis in front, with Gib behind him calling turns and directing Pete down the hill.
It’s volunteers like Gib that Pete says he’s impressed by and thankful for. He says that skiing with Vermont Adaptive gives him a sense of security and camaraderie.
“From the highly trained Vermont Adaptive volunteers to the Sugarbush Ski Patrol, I know that this group understands visual impairment and I can ski safely,” Pete says.
It’s not just that he feels safe on the slopes, though. Pete also says that when he is with Vermont Adaptive he has the chance to meet people who aren’t afraid to interact with the visually impaired.
“In a lot of social situations, people see you walk in as a blind person, and they may not be comfortable or willing to interact with you,” he said. “But then you walk in here, and everyone comes up to you and shakes your hand, introduce themselves and immediately engages with you.”
During his runs with Gib, Pete is out to ski the good snow, to pick the best lines, and make jokes the entire time. He occasionally works on his multi-year campaign of convincing Gib to guide him over a jump so he can catch some air. It hasn’t worked yet, but we’ll keep you posted.
Vermont Adaptive Programs
Pete is just one of the many athletes Vermont Adaptive serves at Sugarbush’s Mt. Ellen, as well as at multiple resorts throughout the state. Summer programs are available on the Burlington Bike Path and Lake Champlain, as well as in southern Vermont, too.
Since its inception in 1987, Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports has provided more than 25,000 sports adventures to people with disabilities. Clients who live in Vermont benefit from the organization’s daily year-round programming while approximately 50 percent of the client base travels from to Vermont from around New England and other eastern states on vacation. They consider Vermont to be the destination and choose Vermont Adaptive programming as their “attraction” of choice.
Vermont Adaptive officially opened its second home in Vermont at Sugarbush in 1991, thanks to an introduction to resort owners by Mike Murphy, who holds his own (and family) legacy at the resort. Mike grew up skiing at Sugarbush until a motorcycle accident left him as an amputee. He went on to ski at Mt. Ascutney with Vermont Adaptive, then introduced the program to Sugarbush officials. This spring, Vermont Adaptive will break ground on a new 4,000 sq. ft. adaptive sports facility at Mt. Ellen, pending permit approval (learn more at vermontadaptive.org).
Thanks to the Volunteers
Today, the nonprofit organization relies primarily on its nearly 500 volunteers at multiple locations (there are only 12 full-time staff members) to provide state-wide lessons or guided outings. Of those volunteers, about 50 percent are from Vermont. The remaining 50 percent travel from their respective New England states to Pico Mountain, Sugarbush Resort and Bolton Valley Resorts in the winter, and Burlington and the Southern Vermont areas near and surrounding Rutland in the summer. They work as guides and coaches for sports like Nordic and alpine skiing, snowshoeing, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, biking, horseback riding, and rock climbing. Vermont Adaptive is the largest year-round disabled sports non-profit organization in Vermont offering the most diverse program opportunities and unique, specialized equipment.
“There is something to be said about an organization that can provide several thousand adventures a year for people, with the support of 24,000 volunteer hours,” said Executive Director Erin Fernandez. “In true Vermont tradition, we work really hard for a ‘fine crafted product.’ Our product happens to be adaptive sports, but we are very Vermont in every other sense. We promote all that is the outdoors that Vermont has to offer and make sure it is available to everybody. That’s why we try to incorporate as many varieties on our programs as possible.”
One could argue that Vermont Adaptive creates magical moments, both for those living with a disability and for those who aren’t.
“We had a client from out of state on vacation with her family, who had autism,” said Fernandez. “Her guides for the day were two retired, traditional and humble Vermont gentlemen. Watching them work side by side with a vacationer, with a disability, enjoying what we many times take for granted here in Vermont was astounding to witness. It was like watching a super patient genius. That is magic in Vermont’s truest form.”
According to statistics from its partner, the US Paralympics, less than 10 percent of people with disabilities participate in physical activity or sports. Many times, this is due in part to the financial limitations. Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports is committed to getting folks involved with healthy activity by removing the barrier of the cost for participating in its programs.
The cost of an outing with Vermont Adaptive for the consumer can range from a mere $35 for a two hour canoeing session to $140 for a full-day ski lesson. All of the school and advocacy groups it works with are also subsidized by the organization. School groups are charged a reduced rate starting at 50 percent off, and participants receive the same one-on-one experience as any individual who participates.
Volunteer training programs highlight safe and proper use of adaptive equipment, disability awareness and outdoor education. In addition, Vermont Adaptive hosts special events and fundraisers, including its annual Vermont Adaptive Charity Ride, the Vermont 100 Endurance Run and the Vermont 50 Ultra Run and Mountain Bike.
To learn more about Vermont Adaptive at Sugarbush’s Mt. Ellen and beyond, visit www.vermontadaptive.org.
*Written by Kim Jackson and Hunter Hedenberg