Ignite brings snow joy to disabled

Ignite brings snow joy to disabled

Barbara Lawlor

On Friday, January 3, the Ignite buildings at Eldora Mountain Resort were bustling with activity: skiers and snowboarders with various disabilities were signing up for a day on the slopes; volunteer instructors were reading documents on their students’ needs; and people in the equipment trailer were matching skis, snowboards, sit skis and a wide assortment of aids enabling the clients to enjoy their recreation time on the mountain.
It was joyous chaos.
In the fall, before the season opened, the Ignite Adaptive Sports program was in jeopardy. Eldora Mountain Resort Administrators had asked the Ignite board of directors to sell the trailers to EMR and work the program off the main mountain, sharing with the EMR instructors.
Ignite Executive Director Finn Murphy explained that “We don’t do that…share equipment. We couldn’t come to an agreement, so we organized a demonstration in front of the Boulder EMR office on November 1.” The EMR administrators inside the building decided to allow the program to continue as is, but only for one year. Previously, Ignite had a two-year contract. Murphy says that although he is happy that the program is up and running again, the future is murky and that is a shadow hanging over the volunteers and students.
Since its inception, Ignite has had 19 renewals, over 38 years of serving disabled people who want to enjoy the freedom and accomplishment of being able to get out on the mountain and make it on their own. Five years ago, Ignite expanded its program to include veterans, including a transportation system that would enable the vets to get up to Eldora, a feat that can be difficult if you can’t drive.
Ignite Board President David Levin prepared to take a skier out on the slopes on Friday, the first day of being back in business. He came from San Luis Valley, where he ran a hot air  balloon resort. He began skiing in New Hampshire and then skied at Wolf Creek when he moved to Colorado, thinking he would become a member of the ski patrol.
When he moved to Boulder he skied at Eldora and says he became addicted to the sport. He was a good skier; he worked for himself and was able to teach on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Levin went through all the training required to be an instructor and to be adept at teaching specific disabilities.
“Not only did the training make me better at helping people, it also made me a better skier,” says Levin. After becoming the treasurer, after years of fundraising, it seemed natural to take over the position of president. He came on just in time to deal with the negotiations with EMR. He says that by opening day, things were almost back to normal.
Part of the deal with Eldora is the donation of season passes and lift tickets. A volunteer teacher will earn a season pass for the following year after working for 10 days. Throughout the season, 1,250 lift tickets will be given to the students. Last year 1,600 tickets had been donated.
Levin says these passes can only help EMR’s relations with the community; that good public relations lead to a positive residual effect in the adaptive community.
Murphy says that so far, things are running smoothly and that the program has had a wonderful reception from the operations staff at the resort. The lift operators and ski patrol have stopped in to say “welcome back” to the volunteers. “I hope we are here another 38 years. I have been here five years and it is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. The students appreciate what we do; their benefits are both physical and sociological.”
A  veteran who was pulling on his ski boots said that when he heard the program may be discontinued at Eldora, it felt like a slap in the face. “It was very upsetting to us.”
Amputee Chris Robbins from Littleton headed out onto the hill with his instructor, Tommy Carroll from Boulder. Carroll is also an amputee, same leg. Both men lost their legs in motorcycle accidents when they were younger.
Carroll says he has been an instructor with Ignite for eight years and it has been a life-changer for him. Robbins says he has been skiing with Ignite for three years. He says the Veterans’ Administration had been paying for it but they lost their funding and Ignite said they would cover the cost. “The program gets me out and I have a lot of fun and exercise. This isn’t like a gym; I am actually doing something and interacting with people.”
The instructors and the students headed up the slope, using specific equipment enabling them to get up and down while feeling the love that emanated from the trailers in the parking lot. The future may be murky, but for opening day at the Ignite Adaptive Sports center, the present was bright and clear.

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.

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