Share |


30 Years of Changing Lives; 30 Days to Make an Impact

There’s nothing quite like the glorious sensation of skiing down a hill, the crisp wind biting your cheeks, the ground a blur beneath your feet. Skiing, many say, is as close as it gets to flying. It’s for this reason that many come to Ellicottville, itching to get on the slopes. Skiing is freedom, and here, when the ground is covered in sparkling powder and the skies are a cloudless blue, skiing is magic.

The team at the Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program, or LASP, has made it their life’s mission to bring this magic to everyone. Because of them, people who never dreamt they would ever ski can know what it feels like to fly. Completely non-profit, LASP offers adaptive ski lessons to children and adults with virtually all disabilities, both physical and cognitive.  Commonly encountered disabilities include spinal cord injuries, amputations, Down Syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment, autism, and developmental delay.

LASP was founded in 1988 in memory of Bill Lounsbury.  Bill was a member of the Ski Patrol at the Holiday Valley Ski Resort who lost a leg to cancer.  He refused to give up the sport he loved and taught himself to ski on one leg.  Since its founding,  LASP has grown from four instructors teaching 14 students in a total of 35 lessons to over 40 instructors who collectively teach more than 250 lessons during the course of a single ski season. All instructors are volunteers who are specially trained in adaptive ski teaching methods. Over half of these instructors are certified by the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA).

Bill Bredenberg, LASP’s director, has been involved in the program for over 17 years. “My first lesson was with a man paralyzed from the waist down,” he says. “He had been involved in a car accident and had to sit-ski. He was tethered from behind by one of the finest instructors Lounsbury has known, the now late Dick Granger. At first, it was very difficult to balance, to control the man’s turns and speed. We were at the top of Tannenbaum; he almost fell many times. It was trial and error, and when he finally got it, the parents were in tears. They never dreamed that their son would be able to do a sport like this.”

“I see this every time,” says Bredenberg, “That sense of accomplishment, the joy. Every lesson, we change someone’s life.”

Ann Chamberlain, local resident and math teacher at Ellicottville Central School, volunteers with Lounsbury for this very reason. “I became a Lounsbury Adaptive ski instructor because I love to ski and I thought it would be fun to help other people learn to do it too,” she says. “I also liked the idea of volunteering – an opportunity to give back, I thought. What I have found is an amazing group of kids (and the parents who bring them) and adults who come out to learn to ski, but give me so much more than I could ever give them. There is nothing like the smile on a child’s face sliding down the hill, feeling the freedom to move in a way that they may not normally experience or the look of accomplishment on one of our adult student’s faces when they conquer that next harder hill.”

To truly conquer those hills, LASP requires special equipment. The bi-ski (pictured) allows individuals unable to stand the ability to balance and ski. These life-changing hunks of metal can weigh up to 75 lbs without a human strapped in. With the student inside, bi-skis must be hoisted onto a chairlift, often causing wear-and-tear on the instructors’ backs and bodies. This year, LASP is looking to the future. The Dynamique Bi-Ski is specially designed for persons who struggle with disabilities such as amputations, spinal cord injuries, and cerebral palsy. Costing over $7,000, it will be the lightest and most effective bi-ski yet. “The Dynamique was 20 years in the coming,” says Bredenberg. “It will be easier for staff to load and control.”



#GivingTuesday is held annually on the Tuesday after (U.S.) Thanksgiving to kick-off the holiday giving season and inspire people to collaborate. “We’re using this nationally-celebrated day to kick off our month-long #GiveAdaptiveSports campaign,” explains Kara Lounsbury Elias, #GivingTuesday Coordinator. “To purchase the bi-ski, we have set a goal of $8,000.”

This season, LASP asks campaign donors to consider a $30 gift to mark the 30th anniversary of this marvelous non-profit. With 30 days to make an impact, donors can forever change the lives of children and adults with cognitive and physical disabilities. The campaign runs from Tuesday, Nov. 27th (#GivingTuesday) through Dec. 26th.

With the snow finally settling, Lounsbury Adaptive Ski students and instructors are excited to get their season started. Thanks to Holiday Valley’s ongoing sponsorship and support from people like you, LASP will continue to inspire smiles, change lives, and make dreams come true.