On-mountain competition breaks barriers while raising funds for Challenge Aspen | AspenTimes.com

On-mountain competition breaks barriers while raising funds for Challenge Aspen

Limitless Mountain Challenge gives adaptive skiers a chance to compete

Bottom row: Erin Loftus, Mary Porter, Annabelle Baldwin. Top row: Juan Vargas, Beck Rouston, Nate Gillette, Brenna Sandstrom at the top of Long Shot at Snowmass this week.
Courtesy of Challenge Aspen

Mary Porter never thought she would shred or compete again after her ALS diagnosis, but thanks to Challenge Aspen, she and her team clocked 13,200 vertical feet on Thursday and have already raised over $1,000 for the inaugural Limitless Mountain Challenge.

The Limitless Mountain Challenge is mountain-based competition and fundraiser for Challenge Aspen, a local non-profit that creates adaptive experiences for individuals with cognitive and/or physical disabilities.

What makes this challenge different than some of the other fundraising challenges in the valley is the format. The Limitless Mountain Challenge is a downhill skiing challenge that tracks vertical feet skied in a day, making it inclusive for people like Porter, who used a bi-ski to complete the challenge at Snowmass.

“The world is not a friendly place for people with disabilities. And just the fact that I can actually contribute meant a lot,” she said.

Porter, an Army veteran, lifelong skier, and former Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities participant, competed with her team made up of her husband, Alex Porter; her nurse, Becky Rouston; CAMO Program Director Nate Gillette; and Challenge Aspen ski instructor Annabelle Baldwin. Although they have completed the skiing part of the challenge, they will continue fundraising money on the Limitless Mountain Challenge website through April 8.

“Breaking barriers is what we set out to do, and that’s exactly what our team, F*CK ALS, did,” Baldwin said. “Our team captain, Mary Porter, is the most badass person ever. She led us up Long Shot and Cirque in a (bi-ski) for this competition. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to ski with her and the rest of our team.”

Porter and her husband live in Mt. Hood, Oregon, where she skied for 48 years before being diagnosed with the disease. Going from being an able-bodied “shredder” to reliant on a wheelchair was devastating for her, especially when she would look out her window and see the mountain she grew up skiing on. However, she said, learning about adaptive skiing turned things around for her.

“Once I found out about adaptive skiing and got to participate in (Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities), it wasn’t feeling like life was over anymore. There was hope. It gave me something to keep holding on to and looking forward to and having something to live for to keep doing,” she said. “I don’t know that I would have survived last winter without it.”

She began working with Challenge Aspen, Baldwin, and Gillette last year through the CAMO program. She said she is already looking forward to competing again next year and beating her speed record she set this year, which was about 54.5 miles per hour.

Mary Porter and CAMO Director Nate Gillette skiing at Snowmass this week.
Courtesy of Challenge Aspen

“Knowing Mary and Alex, I figured it wouldn’t take much to get them on board with the Limitless Mountain Challenge,” Gillette said. “They face challenge at a scale unknown to most on a daily basis and maintain some of the most positive attitudes of anybody I’ve ever met. Our day of harvesting vertical feet was another story, another adventure, and another opportunity to make memories with friends.”

This friendly, yet fierce competition has participants competing for most vertical feet skied and is designed for everyone to participate, regardless of ability. Participants can compete virtually at their home mountain or can compete at the live event at Snowmass on April 8.

“I think our primary goal is to make this an accessible, community event,” said Challenge Aspen Developmental Director Brenna Sandstrom. “Unlike a lot of the similar on-mountain fundraising events in the valley that are uphill, this is a downhill challenge.”

All competitors, whether virtual or at the live event, are competing to be the top fundraiser or have the most donors or most vertical feet, but those who attend the live event April 8 will also be entered into a costume contest.

The group hiked to the top of Long Shot and skied down.
Courtesy of Challenge Aspen

To compete virtually, participants need to track their downhill vertical in a single day using their preferred ski app and submit it to race organizers.

“We have a lot of people who support us and would like to get involved but aren’t local. The virtual event allows people to ski at their home mountain any day between now and April 8,” Sandstrom said.

Challenge Aspen has teamed up with the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research, and all donations to Team Fox challenge participants will be split 50/50 between Parkinson’s research and a dedicated Challenge Aspen scholarship fund for participants with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders.

According to Sandstrom, Challenge Aspen was connected with Michael J. Fox Foundation through a board member and they are helping to promote the event.

Entry fees are waived for competitors with disabilities and adaptive equipment, and on-mountain support will be available upon request, she said.

“They tell us everything that they need during their registration process, whether that’s on mountain assistance, adaptive equipment,” she said. “What we do is we treat it like any other lesson at Challenge Aspen if they want to compete, and we hook them up with a ski pro or volunteer and the equipment they need in order to get them out there skiing.”

Although this is the first year of the Limitless Mountain Challenge, she said she believes it will become an annual thing. The event started as an idea one of the volunteers came up with, and once Challenge Aspen was able to pull a team together, they decided to go for it.

“It’s been a dream of ours for a long time and it’s finally coming together,” she said.

At the live event on April 8, competitors will be able to participate in different on-mountain activities that center around disability and accessibility on the mountain. Participating in these challenges will earn competitors extra additional points that will count towards their final score for the day, Sandstrom said.

“(The Limitless Mountain Challenge) gives me the opportunity,” Porter said, “to give back and support and still feel like my life’s worth something. I can help raise awareness and help open doors and break down barriers.”


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