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When Skiing's the Easy Part

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On January 20, more than a thousand skiers will attempt to set a world record for a simultaneous disabled “ski down” at Winter Park, Colorado. The event is part of the National Sports Center for the Disabled’s 30th anniversary celebration.

The center got its start in 1970 when Winter Park instructor Hal O’Leary taught two dozen child amputees to ski. Around the same time, disabled Vietnam veterans were returning home. The ones who turned to skiing sparked advances in adaptive skiing, but it wasn’t easy. They faced strong opposition from ski areas, who claimed disabled skiers were too much of a liability. Adaptive gear was unavailable; many veterans ended up designing equipment in their basements and garages, explains Sandy Trombetta, founder of the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.

Today, adaptive ski gear and prosthetics are better, ski areas are more open-minded, and thousands participate in adaptive programs nationwide (3,000 in the Winter Park program alone). Perhaps the best measure of success: The historically strong U.S. Disabled Ski Team, according to Trombetta, is still “kicking the world’s ass.”