Challenge Aspen facing a huge challenge in Iceland |

Challenge Aspen facing a huge challenge in Iceland

The folks at Challenge Aspen have mastered how to get skiers who are blind, partially paralyzed or mentally disabled onto the slopes of Snowmass.

Now they’re facing perhaps their biggest test.

A six-member team from the highly-acclaimed organization is heading to Iceland today for a 10-day trip. Their mission is to export the program that has worked so well here to the slopes over there.

It’s easier said than done.

Instead of of working with state-of-the-art, high-speed detachable quad chairlifts and an army of trained volunteers, the team will work at a ski area that possesses one fixed-grip double chairlift with a center pole and a handful of Poma lifts that have no seat.

The team’s daily schedule is jammed as full as a U.S. presidential candidate’s on the eve of Super Tuesday. There are daily outings with skiers with a variety of disabilities, training sessions for volunteers who will continue to help the disabled, classroom instructions and discussions of what Challenge Aspen calls outdoor adaptive programs for disabled people in the summer.

The slopes at the Iceland ski area are lighted, so the instructors expect to be working into the evening.

While the work will be hard, Challenge Aspen co-founder and instructor Amanda Boxtel expects the rewards to make it all worthwhile.

“We’ve received e-mails from several of the families of the disabled kids we will be helping,” she said. “These are kids who have always dreamed of skiing. For the first time these families will all be doing it together.”

The destination is a ski area called Hlidarfjall near the town of Akuryeri. That’s about a five-hour drive from the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik.

Boxtel, a mono-skier, is making the trip with four other Challenge Aspen instructors. They are Houston Cowan, co-founder of Challenge Aspen; Jim Finch, a retired U.S. Disabled Ski Team member and president of Challenge Aspen; and Rich Ganson and Michael Stoner, who bring valuable skills in addition to teaching.

Stoner is a filmmaker who will shoot video of the trip; ABC’s Good Morning America plans to air a piece on the visit. Ganson is a musician who will be called upon in case the effort hits a snag, said Boxtel.

They will be accompanied by Paul Speight, a representative of Spokes n’ Motion, a company that makes mono- and bi-skis and other adaptive equipment.

The trip is the first time Challenge Aspen has exported its expertise overseas. The organization hopes it marks the successful launch of Challenge International, a program modeled after the local branch.

The trip is being underwritten by the government of Iceland. It sent a representative to Snowmass this winter and last to study Challenge Aspen and assess its applicability in Iceland.

The Challenge Aspen team, which will be in Iceland March 7-17, is taking along several mono- and bi-skis – equipment that isn’t available over there.

Warner Brothers is helping sponsor the goodwill mission by donating hundreds of gifts for children and adults. United Express and other air carriers have waived fees for equipment and excess baggage.

The mission won’t be deemed a success simply by getting disabled kids and adults on the slopes. The goal is to teach workers how to instruct and proper use of the equipment so they can keep up the effort, said Boxtel. She’s optimistic of the chances of success.

“We have the expertise not only to be a model in the U.S. but internationally,” she said.

Iceland is a perfect place to start because it will essentially be starting from scratch, according to Boxtel. “We’re using Iceland as a guinea pig for future ventures.”

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