`Flying Sam’ aims for Park City podium
With a mono-ski bucket for a plane and a ski slope for airspace, “Flying” Sam Ferguson hopes to swoop onto the podium at three United States Ski Association (USSA) disabled races this weekend at the Park City Mountain Resort in Utah.
Ferguson, an Aspen resident who’s gunning to make the U.S. Disabled Ski Team, begins his assault today in a super giant slalom race in Park City. He’ll continue that mission tomorrow in a giant slalom race, and again on Sunday, in the slalom.
Ferguson, whose affinity for catching big air earned him the nickname “Flying Sam,” took sixth in a USSA giant slalom race earlier this season at Breckenridge – finishing behind riders who train with the U.S. Team or other elite clubs. At Park City this weekend for the Huntsman Cup, Ferguson hopes to crack the top 5 and gain points toward making the U.S. Disabled Ski Team.
“This is my first year of competitive racing,” Ferguson said this week. “In the past few years, I’ve done some big events to gauge where I’m at, but this year I’m really going for it.”
“At the Huntsman Cup, I just need to go out there and do well – place top 5 or top 3 and acquire some points and let the [U.S. Disabled Ski Team] coach know that that’s where I want to be.”
Ferguson, the operations coordinator at the Roaring Fork Club in Basalt, trains with Aspen Valley Ski Club masters coach Mike Tache, and competes regularly in the Aspen Town Series races at Aspen Highlands.
“Here I am, someone who’s had a few lessons and developed the talent and I feel like I could make the U.S. Team,” Ferguson said. “Now, I want to take it to that next level.”
“It’s been a learning process for Mike (Tache) and me,” he said, “but I saw definite improvement the first day out. To get that second eye, if you will, lets me know what I might be missing.”
Ferguson credits the generous Aspen community for supporting his efforts – through fund-raising efforts and technical and moral support. Tom Anderson at Pomeroy Sports in Aspen helped Ferguson refine his racing bucket, and Terry Young at the Ski Service Center provided technical expertise about skis, which Ferguson can switch off his bucket for the various disciplines he races.
“If I hadn’t had this assistance, I’d be dirt poor. I’d have to sell my car or wheelchair,” he joked, half serious.
Depending on how Ferguson fares this weekend, he plans to enter several other USSA races later this winter, including U.S. National Championships at Big Sky, Montana, in March.
“Skiing is the love of my life and something that lets me know I’m alive,” Ferguson said. “Once I’m on my ski, I’m no different from the guy next to me. I’m going to rip it just as hard as him.”
Finding a new line
In what Ferguson describes as a “freak mountain bike accident” in the Aspen area in the spring of 1995, he lost the use of his legs. “Unfortunately, it was the first bone I broke in my body,” he said.
The California native grew up snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing, though after the accident, he was reluctant to try skiing.
“When you have had such a devastating accident as mine was, you’re feeling frail and you’re cautious about things,” he said. “You know who you are, but you don’t know how to go about being who you are. It’s really a confidence issue: `I don’t have the use of my legs; how can I do this?’ And, `if I fall, am I going to get hurt again?’ Being associated with Challenge Aspen showed me how to get over that.”
Challenge Aspen, a Snowmass Village-based nonprofit that “makes possibilities for people with disabilities,” convinced him to give it a try during the winter of 1996.
“I did it on the condition that they would leave me alone afterwards,” he said. “But when my ski hit the snow and I made that first turn, I knew things were going to be all right. I felt the control, the power and the adrenaline. And every time I go out there, it’s still the same feeling.”
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Telemedicine is a growing field that provides Roaring Fork Valley residents with access to specialists without driving to Denver or Grand Junction. A new midvalley business called Sentia is providing facilities to make telemedicine more accessible.