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PENGUIN PADDLE @ H.V.

Find your inner penguin ... see you at the base of Yodeler Feb. 20th

I love skiing, and chances are that if you live here, you love it too. But for some, injuries or disabilities may prevent them from participating.  That’s where the Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program at Holiday Valley comes in.

LASP offers lessons to persons with virtually all disabilities, both physical and cognitive. The key word here is ‘adaptive’.  If someone wants to ski, the dedicated Lounsbury volunteers will do everything they can to make it so.  The focus of the program has always been on what a student can do, not on what they can’t.  A single lesson usually involves two instructors and sometimes three depending on the severity of the student’s disability and the type of adaptive ski equipment required. In the past, some of the clients they’ve worked with have: spinal cord injuries, Down's Syndrome, Spina Bifida, Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Traumatic Brain Injury, Visual Impairment, Autism or Developmental Delay.

This is a program with humble beginnings. In 1987, local ski patrolman Bill Lounsbury lost his leg to cancer. He lost no time in purchasing a pair of outriggers to keep skiing with just as much enthusiasm as he had before. When he lost his battle with cancer the next year, donations to the ski patrol came pouring in. Not knowing what to do with the money, they eventually decided that it would be best to start an adaptive ski program as a way to honor Bill’s memory. They named it the Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program.

That first year, resources were scarce. They had only 4 instructors and 14 students. Today, the Lounsbury program accomplishes an incredible amount of work through their volunteers. They currently boast over 43 instructors and do nearly 250 lessons each year. They even put on events, of which the most popular is the Penguin Paddle.

The Penguin Paddle has roots as humble as the organization itself. In 1989, the four instructors and their friends from Cleveland took a look at the poor conditions outside and decided to have some fun in spite of it. They strapped on some garbage bags and took to sliding down the hill like a penguin might. Onlookers had fun watching the festivities and donations were collected in a coffee can. Since then, the event has grown far beyond what the instructors could have hoped, with nearly 300 participants coming to the Penguin Paddle each year.

The Penguin Paddle now is much more organized. Participants interested in registering for this year’s race can do so on event day at Creekside Lodge from 8:30am-12:30pm or at Yodeler from 9am-1pm, with all races taking place on the lower part of Yodeler beginning at 1:30pm. You pay just $1 for a garbage bag and race on your belly against challengers in your age group / category. They also offer lunch for a mere $5, as well as a raffle and silent auction. All the money they raise in these events goes directly back into the adaptive program.

The silent auction prizes are typically donated by businesses around the community. Prizes in the past have included “winebags” - a bag containing a bottle of wine as well as one other prize like a gift certificate. The program itself also creates an Adirondack style chair made of old skis as well as a bench made from old snowboards. Apparently, one of the biggest hits year after year is the free groomer ride they auction off.

The raffle tickets are available for purchase at $5 or five for $20. This event raffles off a season pass to Holiday Valley, a $500 travel voucher, and a pair of skis donated by Dekedebruns. Program Head Mary Ellen Racich is blown away every year by the support from local businesses and the community at large. “The people and Holiday Valley are very generous,” she told SNOWED-IN.  “They give so much and always come through for the adaptive program.”

Marketing Director of Holiday Valley, Jane Eshbaugh is always happy to do it. “The Penguin Paddle is one of our favorite events. It’s a fun time for all, especially the adults who have a chance to act like kids as they slide down the hill on their bellies. And best of all, it is a great fundraiser for the Adaptive Program that benefits so many people in our area.”

Registration starts at 8:30am on Saturday, Feb. 20, so make sure you don’t sleep through it. Helmets are required to participate in any of the races. I would encourage you to check out what promises to be one of the most fun events Holiday Valley puts on and remember that the proceeds could not go to a more noble cause.