Blind skiers association set to merge with Challenge Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Blind skiers association set to merge with Challenge Aspen

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Two local nonprofits known for pioneering services for the blind will merge next week after nearly a decade of negotiations.

Blind Outdoor Leisure Development (BOLD) will be absorbed into sister organization – and occasional competitor – Challenge Aspen on July 15, directors for both agencies confirmed this week. Both agencies have discussed the possibility of a merger for much of the ’90s, citing an unnecessary duplication of services for disabled athletes.

The merger will put an end to BOLD, an organization founded by retired French national team skier Jean Eymere nearly 30 years ago. The program was one of the first of its kind, offering blind skiers the chance to hit the slopes with a sighted volunteer guide. Thanks to programs like BOLD and, later on, Challenge Aspen, athletes with the fluorescent “blind skier” smocks pulled over their parkas have become a frequent sight around Aspen, Snowmass and neighboring resorts.

Mardell Burkholder, executive director of Challenge Aspen, said the merger will be an easy one for both agencies. Though the joining of the two agencies will not be official until next week, the two organizations have enjoyed a working partnership for the past few years.

“About three years ago, they contracted with us to run the BOLD program,” Burkholder said. “They’re determining it’s best to just merge with us, to simply become absorbed in Challenge Aspen, which makes sense.”

Currently, money isn’t available to allow Challenge Aspen to expand the staff that serves its blind customers. However, Burkholder said Challenge Aspen will always reserve at least one member of its staff for this particular group.

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“And we continue every year to grow the programs we have that serve the visually impaired,” she said.

The merger will not affect current Challenge Aspen programs, either, Burkholder said. The organization is currently in the middle of its summer mountain climbing courses for the blind – a class once led by Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to conquer Mount Everest – and will continue with its much-lauded assisted skiing program this winter.

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com.]