First-time skier with ALS ticks off a “bucket-list” experience at Snowmass |

First-time skier with ALS ticks off a “bucket-list” experience at Snowmass

Challenge Aspen, Team Gleason work together to support Asia Jami on the slopes

Asia Jami skis her first run at the Elk Meadows with Challenge Aspen’s Cami Aumoite-Crady on Snowmass on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. Jami, who has ALS, came to Snowmass to ski and fulfill a bucket list item with the support of Team Gleason and Challenge Aspen.(Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Valerie Wardrick could tell that her friend Asia Jami was having fun on the slopes of Snowmass just by the look on her face.

“She’s super excited: All you see is teeth,” said Wardrick, who went to college with Jami and has known her for more than a decade.

Jami proved as much when she returned to the base of the mountain on Dec. 8 beaming ear to ear on her first-ever day shredding the mountain. She had just completed the last run of her day in a sit-ski guided by Cami Aumoite-Crady, an instructor with the Snowmass Village-based adaptive sports nonprofit Challenge Aspen.

Jami has ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that impacts muscle control and movement, so she uses a motorized wheelchair to get around.

Her review of the experience? An “A-plus,” Jami said during the Sky Cab ride back up to the Snowmass Mall with Deb Sullivan, Challenge Aspen’s Recreational, Educational and Cultural (REC) program director. (The REC program provides outdoor recreation opportunities to individuals of all ages and disabilities both on the ski hill and off it; there are offerings for locals as well as ones for visiting groups and individuals.)

The Challenge Aspen crew was “responsive, helpful, patient and very kind,” Jami said.

Sullivan said the trip was a “bucket list” one for Jami, who came with a crew of friends from North Carolina. And it happened thanks to support from Team Gleason, a national nonprofit that backs adventures, technology, equipment and care services for people living with ALS. The organization is named for the former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason, who founded Team Gleason with his wife, Michel, after he was diagnosed with ALS in 2011.

Jami’s trip to Snowmass last week marked the first time Team Gleason has ever worked with Challenge Aspen for an adventure. Sullivan said she hopes it won’t be the last. Kacie Banegas, who works on developing content for Team Gleason, shared the same sentiment.

Asia Jami, center, Challenge Aspen’s Cami Aumoite-Crady, left, and Anna Wright, ride the Elk Meadows lift on Snowmass on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

“When we find organizations like Challenge Aspen, we’re really excited to continue … working with them to keep breaking those boundaries and opening up those limits that people may not even know they can ski down a mountain,” Banegas said. “First, it serves as letting these people who live with ALS do it, but also serves as getting the word out there, educating people on what ALS is, and educating those who may or may not know that things like (skiing with ALS are) possible.”

Team Gleason works with people with ALS — Banegas and the folks at Team Gleason use the acronym “pALS” with a lowercase “p” — on the logistics and funding side of these adventures, which have run the gamut from peak-bagging in Patagonia to sailing along the coast of Florida to gambling in Las Vegas. For Jami’s trip to Snowmass, Challenge Aspen offered boots-on-the-ground support for the skiing experience; Jami’s week in the Roaring Fork Valley also included a hot springs dip, massages and plenty of dining.

“The trips are centered around food,” Wardrick said from the patio of Venga Venga, where she was waiting with Jami’s coworker-turned-friend Kamilah Pleasants and current caretaker Shanyia Verene with an eye on the mountain for Jami’s final run of the day. Jami’s friends have joined her on other trips too, and they said they would know pretty quickly if anything wasn’t up to snuff because Jami will make that clear: “She’ll tell you early on what the review is going to be,” Wardrick said.

Challenge Aspen’s Cami Aumoite-Crady pushes Asia Jami on her sit ski act Elk Camp for their first laps on Elk Meadows on Snowmass on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The whole crew was savoring all the flavors of the experience last week, part of a trip that began Dec. 7 and wrapped up Dec. 12. With a terminal disease like ALS, “time is priceless,” Wardrick said.

“You could be going good today and tomorrow you never know. … Find a way to make it happen,” she said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Kamilah Pleasants and Asia Jami are coworkers-turned-friends.