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Adaptive Skiing: Ineke Strother Rediscovers Her Edge at Mount Washington Alpine Resort

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After my young wife had a stroke and was left paralysed, I thought our family ski trips with our two children were lost forever. But remarkably, we’re in the process of taking that cherished time back.

There’s nothing quite like being with the ones you love in British Columbia’s mountains, especially in the wintertime. The mix of snow and scenery, silence and adrenaline, has a way of bringing people together. And access to the province’s powder reserves is available to people of all mobility levels, thanks to a network of advocates and dedicated volunteers. A little more than two years removed from that life-altering day, my brave wife decided to dive in.

Mount Washington Alpine Resort | @bcrobby

With the help of her care team, Ineke signed up for a Vancouver Island Society for Adaptive Snowsports (VISAS) membership well in advance of the ski season. This non-profit organization provides nationally certified snowsports instruction to those with the physical and developmental challenges, offering all people an equal opportunity to enjoy alpine and Nordic snowsports. When the time was right, Ineke headed up to Mount Washington Alpine Resort, home of VISAS.

While it doesn’t offer the international flair of Whistler Blackcomb or the vertical feet of Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Mount Washington—located on the fringe of Strathcona Provincial Park on Vancouver Island—is an uncut gem. Visible from its ample terrain are the glacial peaks of Strathcona, the islands of Discovery Passage, and on a clear day you can see across the Strait of Georgia to the Coast Mountains on BC’s mainland.

I was advised to let Ineke go with someone other than me for her first visit to the adaptive ski program, but after a couple of hours sitting at home I couldn’t stay away. When I arrived, I found our friend Linda alone at a table outside the VISAS office, wiping away tears. She told me that Ineke was doing amazingly well, and already five runs into an assessment. After the brutality of her stroke, we couldn’t help but reflect on how far she’d come.

Just as I was starting to tear up, too, Ineke came in from the cold, blowing snow, red cheeks bookending her wide smile. Without any words exchanged, we could tell the morning had been a resounding success.

“She is doing really, really well,” one of the two volunteers assisting her beamed. “It’s her first day and she is already turning in both directions. Her balance is incredible!”

Ineke Strother | Miguel Strother

VISAS lends out a large inventory of adaptive equipment to skiers and riders at no cost, and they’d spent time carefully determining what would best fit Ineke’s affected right side. She ended up on her own skis with adapted poles strapped on, each with a miniature ski attached to the bottom. One of the volunteers harnessed Ineke to him so that she would not get going too fast or be more than an arm’s reach away. Then, in well thought-out steps designed to boost her confidence, Ineke started to find her balance on the snow nearly three years after her last run.

Mount Washington Alpine Resort | Miguel Strother
Ineke Strother and a VISAS Volunteer | Miguel Strother

Following lunch, the volunteers suggested that Ineke try the sit-ski, an adapted sled with a ski on the bottom. While Ineke was exhilarated from the morning’s adventure, I could tell she was also also exhausted and a bit relieved at the prospect of being able to sit back, relax, and soak in the experience while somebody else steered the ship.

Once the sled was pointed downhill, the volunteers wasted no time getting up to a healthy speed. I kept my distance, but Ineke’s hoots and hollers and her unmistakable laugh were clear indication that she was doing just fine. We moved from Vancouver to the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island in large part to be able to integrate Mount Washington’s gifts into our lives. And as I followed Ineke and her new companions around the mountain, my awe turned toward dreams of the day our entire family would be together again, soaking in the magic of winter in the British Columbia mountains.

Whistler Village | Leanna Rathkelly

Other Adaptive Ski Programs in BC

 

From Vancouver to Whistler, Kamloops to Revelstoke, the network of 17 adaptive snowsport programs is an amazing testament to British Columbia’s culture of inclusivity.

These include the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program, which has been in operation for more than 20 years, teaching thousands of lessons in 18 adaptive sports. Vancouver Adaptive Snow Sports offers ski and snowboard programs at Cypress, Grouse, and Seymour mountains in North Vancouver, minutes from downtown Vancouver. Northeast of Kamloops, Adaptive Sports at Sun Peaks can accommodate a range of needs, including adaptations for people with sight and hearing impairment, as well as intellectual and cognitive disabilities.

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