Hartford Ski Spectacular: New abilities born

DSUSA_lead

Alana Nichols was at first hesitant to get back on the mountain in a mono-ski. Not because she was fearful following her life-changing snowboarding injury two years earlier that left her paralyzed from the waist down, but simply because she thought it might fall short of her expectations.

DSUSARace“I wasn’t afraid,” the 30-year-old says. “It was really that I didn’t want to be disappointed. Being an adaptive skier, you have to make some big changes. You have a load of equipment. You have to go up the mountain with a guide. But after I got through all that and the initial hesitation, I had the fresh air blowing in my face and realized that I love the mountain. I thought if I have to be in a mono-ski to be there, I’m fine with that. The challenge of learning how to mono-ski was like learning how to snowboard. I just wanted to get better at it and learn how to become independent as a skier.”

Not only did she become independent, but Nichols went on to ski competitively, joining the U.S. Adaptive Ski Team and winning two gold medals, a silver and a bronze in the 2010 Paralympic Games. Naturally, she has her eyes set on more hardware this February in Sochi.

Also a gold medal-winning Paralympic basketball player, when Nichols began mono-skiing she clearly had the innate athletic drive to push herself to the best of her ability, but at the Hartford Ski Spectacular, where more than 800 individuals with physical disabilities come to Breckenridge to learn to ski and snowboard as well as participate in Nordic ski, biathlon, wheelchair curling and sled hockey clinics, a new sense of self emerges within each one of them.

“People find they can do a lot of with it. They get on top of the mountain and progress really well. Then they start thinking, ‘how do I play with my kids? How can I ride a bike? ‘ Ski Spec is a real turning point in their mindsets as disabled people in realizing all the things they can do,” she says.

Nichols, along with U.S. teammates and fellow Paralympic medalists Chris Delvin-Young and Danelle Umstead, U.S. Alpine Paralympic Director Kevin Jardine and Development Coach Erik Peterson mentor and inspire newcomers to the Ski Spectacular while Disabled Sports USA  and the Breck Outdoor Education Center provide necessary equipment and teach Ski Spectacular guests how to ski and snowboard in lessons and race camp.

Among those attending the Ski Spectacular are dozens of men and women in the armed services who recently sustained permanent disabilities. Through Warfighter Sports, they will be given the opportunity to learn a Paralympic sport and thus move forward with their lives.

“One of the most powerful parts of the Ski Spec are these wounded warriors who come and are surrounded by people in their same boat. They don’t feel disabled at all when they’re here,” Nichols says. “I think for a lot of the wounded warriors and people first trying to get back on the mountain, once you realize you can ski, you realize everything in your life you thought was difficult as a person with a disability becomes a lot less difficult. You think, ‘if I can get on the mountain to ski, I can do anything, really.’”

The Hartford Ski Spectacular comes to Breckenridge from Dec. 2 to 8.

— Shauna Farnell