Challenge Aspen takes mission south
A local nonprofit that has helped people with disabilities learn to ski for the past 10 years is taking its work to South America.Challenge Aspen has worked to set up relationships with ski resorts in Chile and Argentina for the past several years to develop adaptive skiing programs south of the equator. Adaptive skiing, in a nutshell, is how para- and quadriplegics and people with visual and cognitive disabilities can adapt to snow sports.What’s new about this trip is that in Chile they’ll help set up a new certification program for adaptive skiing instructors, and in Argentina they’ll distribute 200 wheelchairs to people who have never owned wheels, let alone skis.A group from the nonprofit, including co-founders Houston Cowan and Amanda Boxtel, are taking some disabled skiers and guides and two examiners from the Professional Ski Instructors of America; they begin their journey today.The group will be in Chile from today until Sept. 3. The Professional Ski Instructors of America has been working with its equivalent organization in Chile to create the certification course. Over the next week, the groups will give teacher preparation clinics, practical experience with 25 disabled children and a final exam.Fifteen Chilean ski instructors are scheduled to get certification with the program at Portillo ski area. They’ll also visit Valle Nevado and La Parva ski areas in Chile.In the past, Chilean instructors have had to travel to the United States for the certification courses.”We already have an exchange program, but instructors came up here on their own bill, volunteered, took training and got their certification in the U.S.,” Boxtel said. “Now they’ll be able to do it in South America.”The ultimate goal, she said, is to make both countries autonomous with adaptive skiing programs so they won’t need to depend on Challenge Aspen for certifications. Getting certified helps instructors become trained in all adaptive skiing equipment and make safety their No. 1 priority.On Sept. 7, the group will shift its mission to Argentina, where their purpose is getting wheelchairs to those who need them. Boxtel notes that it is the first step in getting disabled people onto the ski slopes, since in Argentina mobility-impaired people are more hidden from the public eye.Challenge Aspen has had a difficult time finding people with cognitive impairments who need help in Chile, but it’s the opposite in Argentina. Large schools work with the mentally challenged, while mobility impaired individuals are underserved and often live on the floor, without wheelchairs.To remedy the situation, Challenge Aspen paired up with Aspen’s Sister Cities organization and an international nonprofit known as The Mobility Project to distribute 200 wheelchairs to the poorest of the poor in Bariloche, a ski resort and one of Aspen’s sister cities.”We’re addressing the true needs in each country,” Boxtel said. “In Argentina, my goodness, we couldn’t get wheelchair participants to our [adaptive skiing] program because they didn’t have wheelchairs.”For more than a week the group will distribute wheelchairs – some specifically for use playing basketball and tennis – and teach clinics in wheelchair use. Finally, 24 mobility-impaired people will be taken skiing.Boxtel believes Challenge Aspen is on the forefront of other adaptive skiing programs in the United States by taking its work to other countries. She acknowledged the Aspen Sister Cities program for its help in partnering with Bariloche, and said member Griff Smith, who speaks fluent Spanish, will accompany the group to Argentina.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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