The HoliMont Snowsports Phoenix Program is celebrating its 19th year! With over 40 dedicated volunteers, 25 PSIA certified instructors and many devoted parents, this program has persevered though nearly two decades. If you aren’t already familiar with this phenomenal program, it teaches skiing and snowboarding to adults, youth and children with various disabilities. It offers more than the opportunity to ski or ride, however. It opens up the world of snowsports and the opportunity to experience passion for POW!
Multiple options are available for adaptive skiers and riders. A “Drop-In” program is accessible for guests of HoliMont members, which runs alongside the regular adaptive program. Another option available is the Outreach Program, which is especially designed for the local community for a limited number of area students that have special needs. The HoliMont Snowsports Phoenix Program not only offers the opportunity to ski and ride in a family atmosphere, it also offers the steadfast support of the many dedicated program volunteers!
During a recent interview with one of the many Phoenix Program volunteers, Annette Auteri expressed her passion and excitement for this program. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” she told SNOWED-IN, “but to make a long story short, immersing myself in this program has proven to be one of the single best decisions I have ever made!
For more information about the HoliMont Snowsports Phoenix Program, head over to www.holimont.com/adaptive.
ONE-ON-ONE WITH ANNETTE
NICOLE: What is your role with the HoliMont Snowsports Phoenix Program? And how long have you been involved?
ANNETTE: I'm a Certified Level I Adaptive Ski Instructor. I became a volunteer in January 2011 and passed my exam in March 2014.
NICOLE: What made you want to get involved?
ANNETTE: I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. My husband Ken and son Tyler opened Dom's Butcher Block in Oct. 2010. As soon as the snow fell, we started seeing repeat weekend customers. There was a gentleman and his daughter that I had seen in the store previously and struck up a conversation with them. I complimented his daughter's orange ski jacket, as orange is my favorite color. He shared with me that her jacket was worn by all the students in the Phoenix Program. Being that I was not familiar with this program, he invited me to visit the Phoenix Room at HoliMont any Saturday or Sunday and meet Chuck Richardson,
their director. I'll never forget the energy level of excitement from the families and friends in this room. The camaraderie amongst staff and volunteers gave me a sense of, "I HAVE TO BECOME A PART OF THIS!" Who wouldn't want to be involved?
NICOLE: Tell me a little about the picture of the boy in the snow cat; not many get to experience such a cool ride!
ANNETTE: I skied with Wil Searby one afternoon with his mom, Connie Searby, and since this was Wil’s last day, I managed to ask permission from one of the guys operating a snow cat if he would let Wil get up close to see it. The cat operator was eager to make Wil's last day a memorable one! I'm not too sure how many other ski resorts would have done this for us. However, it was a quiet day on the hill when we did this.
NICOLE: Yes, what a spectacular day for Wil! Awesome! What makes this program so different and dynamic?
ANNETTE: Adaptive ski teaching focuses on skill development, regardless of where the movement originates. This takes creativity, skill and experience. Each student typically has at least one lead instructor and one volunteer. In some instances there will be multiple instructors and volunteers. Chuck assigns the instructors and volunteers based on the staff on-hand for the day and the needs of each particular student - unlike alpine programs where one instructor is assigned to a small group of students.
NICOLE: This program in itself sounds amazing, and it certainly sounds like you have some excellent volunteers in this program as well! Tell me about the International Race on Feb. 7 and what’s involved with its preparation?
ANNETTE: It's a fun, unique event the students and staff look forward to every year. Everyone is a winner! It takes an army of people to pull this off. We'll practice gates with students prior to race day and ski the actual hill that the race will be held on. There will be volunteers available to pull kids up the hill in sleds to get to their starting point. And more volunteers will be on-hand to help with warm drinks and snacks, etc.
NICOLE: What goals do you set each year when you volunteer?
ANNETTE: When an instructor has a volunteer, this enables the instructor to focus solely on the student and their progression. When I volunteered I would either be in front of the student demonstrating or behind the student providing feedback to the instructor. There are several different situations. If I'm skiing with a student in a slider, I might be singing silly songs at the top of my lungs to keep the lesson fun and engaging. Behavior is contagious!
NICOLE: How has the program grown since your time with it?
ANNETTE: The number of students that have joined the program has grown! Volunteers almost always become certified instructors. When this happens, we like to see ourselves replaced with another volunteer. I passed my exam last year and invited MJ Brown (local owner of Tangled Twiggs) to begin volunteering this year. She doesn't know it yet, but she, too will most likely take the exam as well!
NICOLE: How do you get participants of the program to overcome the obstacles that they might face, fears, or intimidations?
ANNETTE: All of our students have challenges - or they wouldn't be in the program. We have to earn their trust by ensuring they're safe and show them that we would never put them on terrain that they weren't ready for. Example: I've been working with a student who is fully capable of learning to parallel turn. There are sections of Sunset that are a little steeper than others. I noticed he was sitting on the back of his skis when he would accelerate faster than he was comfortable with. When fear takes over, it can be challenging to teach a student NOT to sit on the back of his skis. They're resistant to leaning forward and pressing their shins into the front of their boots. They want to "put their brakes on" and sit back. At the end of the lesson, I went to Watson's Chocolates on a mission looking for something with a dual purpose for my lesson the next day. I found gummy lobsters and gummy penguins! These were put in small clear plastic bags so I could place them in the front of my student's ski boots directly in front of his shins! He had to flatten the gummy lobsters and gummy penguins during his lesson all the way down the hill.
NICOLE: I absolutely love that story and that tactic. I might get out on the hill more if there were candy! What makes it worth coming back year after year?
ANNETTE: I hate to see the season end. It goes by so quickly! We're like one big family. You look forward to seeing the students and their families year after year. It’s rainbows and butterflies in our world; who wouldn't want to return! This is a program that sets everyone up for success, not failure. We have clinics every Saturday and Sunday morning and afternoon. If we didn't continue to hone our skills, we would become complacent. Parents trust us with their kids and we need to provide the very best, safe and fun experience possible, otherwise, they won't come back.
NICOLE: Other than the International Race, what other events and activities are there for the adaptive students?
ANNETTE: Our program will have a year-end party that everyone looks forward to. The parents of the families last year held a dinner for the instructors and volunteers with a cowboy theme. This was a lot of fun! We even learned to line dance - or some of us tried anyway! One of the instructors organizes a white water rafting event each spring at Letchworth State Park for families, instructors and volunteers. My sister and I participated last spring and froze while having a blast! We have had students and their families come along too! We continue to try and keep in touch.
NICOLE: How do you keep volunteers and participants, coming back? This question is silly now that I know more about this fantastic program!
ANNETTE: Who wouldn't want to come back? We realize it's not for everyone and we respect that. I simply cannot imagine doing anything else during the winter! The HoliMont Snowsports Phoenix Program is more like a family. We respect the parents and their children and they trust us to take their kids out on the hill every weekend. We ski in all kinds of conditions - snowy days, rainy days, and everything in between - because it's what we choose to do! :)
FAST FIVE …
NICOLE: Favorite winter memory of Ellicottville …
ANNETTE: Skiing with my son Tyler when he was barely 3 years old. He was fast and fearless and still is! Ha!
NICOLE: Favorite thing to do in the winter in Ellicottville …
ANNETTE: Teach Adaptive Ski Lessons (silly question)!
NICOLE: Tell me something most people don't know about you …
ANNETTE: I'm very outgoing, but also very sensitive. I'm a people pleaser.
NICOLE: Favorite spot in town to grab a bite and a drink …
ANNETTE: Lunch and Breakfast - Katy's Café.
NICOLE: Favorite thing to do on a Sunday Night …
ANNETTE: Stay in and have a hot family dinner. My family works seven days a week. I've always been a stickler for making time for quality family time - Sunday is our day.