Disabled skiing ‘turning the corner’
January 16, 2007
Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN Nine years ago when he was living in Crested Butte, Chris Devlin-Young showed up at the Winter X Games and asked organizers if he could forerun the boardercross course.He never contemplated that such a request would induce people to think he was crazy. He explained he was a member of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team and had previously competed at World Championships and the Winter Paralympics.Heck, he’d also done the Crested Butte Extremes – revered in big-mountain skiing circles – and held his own against able-bodied skiers on treacherous steeps. He could certainly rip on the groomed boardercross track.”Those guys looked at me and pretty much told me, ‘Go away, wheelchair boy,'” said Devlin-Young, who was completely paralyzed from the knees down in 1982 when he survived a plane crash while serving with the U.S. Coast Guard. “It’s taken a long time to really build ourselves up to where we are now.”Where that is is the precipice of the mainstream, considering the Winter X Games will host its first medaled mono-skiercross next week at Buttermilk.Devlin-Young – one of more than 100 athletes in town for this week’s disabled World Cup races on Aspen Mountain – won the inaugural mono-skiercross two years ago at Buttermilk when the event debuted as an exhibition sport.
Local Sam Ferguson was one of the sit-skiers in the field that day and will be gunning for Devlin-Young again next week. While he is eager to defend his title, more than anything, Devlin-Young is excited about the chance for the best sit-skiers in the world to get their turn in the spotlight.It’s been long overdue.”We put on a good show last time; now they’re promising the moon,” said Devlin-Young, who has finished second in the World Cup overall standings the past three years. “We’re turning the corner in disabled skiing. This is our avenue, because alpine racing hasn’t been. This could be our in. I think it will change the face of disabled sports in a good way.”Devlin-Young said the International Paralympic Committee Alpine World Cup, which opens its season today with two super Gs down the face of Ajax, operates mostly in obscurity.The tour features visually impaired skiers, sit-skiers and disabled skiers who have lost the use of appendages to varying degrees. Sponsorship is always an issue because the circuit hasn’t attracted a steady revenue stream like other snowsports. There’s also the perception that disabled athletes’ feats are inferior to those of their able-bodied peers.
Watch one disabled World Cup race, and you’ll know that’s not the case, Devlin-Young said. It’s why the chance to compete on the Winter X Games stage is so vital to the sport’s future.”With a speed race, a lot of times we’ll travel in speeds in excess of 70 mph,” Devlin-Young said. “It’s intense. Everybody is out there to win. Nobody shows up thinking they’re going to fill up the back of the pack.”Today’s two super Gs will be followed by giant slaloms on Thursday and Friday and slaloms on Saturday and Sunday. Athletes representing 15 nations have arrived in Aspen for the season-opening races. The whole circuit features 17 races spread out across four venues.The tour moves to Kimberley, British Columbia, next week and includes a slalom Jan. 26, which leaves Winter X competitors like Devlin-Young a window of about 15 hours to make it back to Buttermilk in time for Saturday’s race.Don’t count on anyone not showing up for their turn in the spotlight, Devlin-Young said.And if locals want a preview of some of the athletes they’ll be able to see at Buttermilk, they should head over to Ajax this week.
In his 16 years on the U.S. team, Devlin-Young said there has never been a World Cup race in Aspen. “We’ve raced U.S. Nationals here before and NorAms, but it’s been a while,” he said. When asked about the town’s proud World Cup skiing tradition, Devlin-Young paused, then said “this is exactly what the U.S. needed.”They’re putting on a good show,” he added. “Sometimes, that’s not always the case. As a racer, you just need to show up and have everything handled so you can be ready to race. Knowing the people that are organizing this, it will be just perfect.”Local nonprofit Challenge Aspen, which provides athletic opportunities to those with disabilities, and the Aspen Skiing Co.’s race department are putting on this week’s races. All the races are sanctioned by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and the International Paralympic Committee.”It’s definitely a World Cup hill,” Devlin-Young said. “I was out skiing on it Sunday and I broke a ski. I was skiing aggressive, maybe a little too aggressive for that hill. It’s not the steepest I’ve ever raced on, but it’s better than most.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org