Vail Valley resorts work to help disabled skiers
Vail, CO Colorado
BEAVER CREEK ” Being paralyzed from the waist down doesn’t stop Doss Malone from skiing as often as he can. However, the biggest challenge for the Avon resident is not the skiing ” it’s getting to the mountain.
“Showing up is the hardest part,” said Malone, who broke his back in a biking accident three years ago.
Once he gets in his modified sit-ski, he can ski the mountain and get on and off the lifts on his own, he said.
But getting out of bed, getting dressed and driving his hand-controlled car to the slopes is time consuming and physically straining, he said.
“By the time you show up, you’re already kind of tired,” he said. “Sometimes I really have to gage my strength and energy to make sure I’m not too tired to ski. But once you get up there on the mountain it’s a phenomenal experience.”
But the resorts and the towns of Vail and Avon want to make the area’s slopes friendlier for skiers like Malone, said Sarah Will, executive director of AXS Vail Valley, which works to expand services for the disabled.
“We want to become one of the most accommodating mountains,” said Will. “People with disabilities spend billions on travel. If they find a place they are comfortable with, they will be very loyal and come back.”
Representatives from Beaver Creek transportation, food services and public safety, as well as Avon and Vail transit, attended a training session last week to learn how they can better serve disabled visitors.
Vail and Beaver Creek are outfitted with wheelchair lifts and ramps, but the key is really being aware and simply asking if people need help, Will said.
“A lot of people are intimidated by how to be with a person with a disability and how to talk to them,” she said. “Sometimes there’s just a social barrier.”
Beaver Creek public safety manager Matt Sperr said his staff will be more pro-active in looking out for disabled visitors.
“We’ll make sure we’re asking people if they need help instead of waiting for them to make the first interaction,” he said.
Mountain staff also have to keep in mind that just because there are ramps or wheelchair lifts does not mean it is easy to get around.
“We are a mountain community. We have snow and ice and temperatures that affect those devices,” Will said.
Bus drivers, for example, might have help the person in a wheelchair on the bus first, and resort staff might need to keep ramps clear on snowy days.
It is becoming increasingly common to see visitors with disabilities, said Avon transit manager Jane Burden.
“More and more people are able to ski now, and we want to accommodate them quickly. We want to treat them like another guest,” she said.
Parking is often the biggest problem, Malone said, since the few handicapped spaces are often taken during the season, and it’s difficult for someone in a wheelchair to take the bus.
“It’s the little things that are barriers for people,” he said. “I know some people who go all the way to Snowmass because the parking is better.”
At Beaver Creek, the parking lot at the base of the mountain has the most handicapped spots, Sperr said. But staff plans to make getting up the mountain easier for disabled skiers by helping them bring special ski equipment, he said.
“The monoski can be pretty heavy and cumbersome. We can make arrangements to bring them up and we have volunteers to help them get on the bus,” he said.
Malone said he knows the mountain “like the back of his hand,” so he knows places to avoid, such as catwalks where he could get stuck.
But if skiers are not familiar with the mountain, resort staff should inform them of trouble spots where they could get stuck and give them a grooming report, he said.
Malone usually goes to Golden Peak, where his skis are stored. The staff there know him and the great room and bathrooms are easy to maneuver, he said.
Other slopes are not so easy, he said. Lionshead is too difficult to get around in because of the construction, and he has not skied Beaver Creek, he said.
But despite the difficulties, getting on the slopes, even if his options are limited, is worth the pain and trouble. “It’s incredibly liberating when you’re living in a prison of disability. I want everyone with a disability to be able to experience that. I hope the resort towns pay attention,” he said.
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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