Activities expand at Aspen camp for deaf kids |

Activities expand at Aspen camp for deaf kids

Charles Agar
Aspen Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Kids psyched up for an adventure speak the same language, and “Me first!” looks the same in American Sign Language as it sounds coming in shrieks from an 8-year-old who wants to climb a sheer rock wall.

The Aspen Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Old Snowmass is celebrating 40 years of getting deaf children involved in those and other activities. The camp is also entering something of a new era of expansion into winter and opening its door to more campers.

Clint Woosley, the camp program coordinator, has a knack for getting people’s attention. Bearded and quick with a smile, the outdoorsman and certified ropes course instructor from Maryland was born deaf but can read lips and hears with the help of hearing aids.

On a recent day of rock climbing near Lincoln Creek, waving his hands in the air as other counselors tapped children on their shoulders to get their attention, Woosley busied himself wrangling some 25 campers between the ages of 8 and 11.

Woosley pointed two fingers at his eyes ” a sign for “eyes on me” ” and made a show of mock exasperation until he had all eyes on him.

“I’m not going to lie to you. Climbing is dangerous,” Woosley told the kids in American Sign Language. “People get hurt every year. That’s why we wear our harnesses and always have a helmet.”

The campers are an eclectic mix; some communicate mostly through sign language, others have lesser degrees of hearing loss or implants that enable them to hear and speak, and still others are children of deaf adults or siblings of deaf children and hear clearly but also can sign.

“It’s my job to make sure the kids have fun. That’s not hard,” Woosley said as he playfully swatted a camper on the helmet and lifted him up by the harness to see if he was ready to climb.

The kids took on a rock face called Fast Food, climbing a route dubbed Finger Food, a 40-foot vertical crack requiring a tricky move at the start following challenging handholds.

If the deaf children are facing the rock, Woosley said, then they can’t hear instructions or warnings. So Damien Spellane and Mitch Curtis, two college-age instructors, both deaf, watch the climbers closely. Spellane at the bottom and Curtis standing on a rock shelf halfway up the route.

But these campers were practiced at hanging on harnesses from high places. These kids had slid down a 385-foot zip line high above Snowmass Creek, and had trekked into the backcountry for a night of camping.

The first climber scrambled to the top of the route in just a few minutes.

Rock climbing is just one addition new director Judith Cross had made to the camp’s curriculum.

“We don’t want to throw out something that is working and valuable. We want to enhance it,” said Cross, a former marketing executive whose adult daughter is deaf.

Programs for deaf children at the camp have always been about “creating confidence and independence,” said Cross, adding that she hopes to up the ante on those challenges and included an even more diverse population of deaf people. She hopes to run the camp in the winter and open its doors to other groups.

After the camp’s 2006 season was canceled for campus upgrades, 2007 saw more than 100 kids at the Old Snowmass campus learning backpacking skills, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, canoeing or navigating the camp’s extensive ropes course, which recently received a $10,000 makeover.

In keeping with the Roaring Fork Valley’s reputation as a fly-fishing Mecca, Cross hopes deaf kids can learn too, starting with casting practice in the camp pond and graduating to pulling trout out of Snowmass Creek.

Other programs get kids involved more generally in valley life, from attending events at the Given Institute to a day spent at Computers for Kids, a Glenwood Springs nonprofit where children have a chance to build their own computers.

In the future, Cross hopes to integrate a film-making program into the camp.

“We want to make sure they leave this camp with skills they can use elsewhere,” Cross said.

As with eyesight, there are levels of hearing loss. Many deaf people can hear low frequencies and guttural sounds but have a hard time hearing soft, high-frequency S sounds, the camp’s new director, Judith Cross said.

American Sign Language is the common denominator for most people at the camp, but many campers and counselors have cochlear implants, for example, and communicate with speech, said Cross, a former marketing executive whose adult daughter is deaf.

The ability to develop speech for the deaf and hard of hearing has many factors and sometimes extroverted kids or kids who “really want to talk” learn faster, she said.

“In the deaf community, people feel very passionate about signing or not signing,” Cross said. “There are many people who do not wish to have their children signed to.”

It’s Cross’s goal to cater to everyone in the deaf community. And that’s why organizers plan to hold 2008 sessions for deaf children who are learning speech.

For more information about the Aspen Camp of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, visit or call (970) 923-2511.

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