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The Penguin Paddle: Ellicottville’s Coolest Winter Event

A Special Connection: Penguins, People and the Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program
Matt Brahaney

Deep in Antarctica’s frozen wasteland lies the world’s cutest, most playful creatures. These little treasures live out their days fishing, swimming, and exploring. Not a human to be found in the glacial expanse, the black and white, dignified waddlers have grown to dominate the landscape, and, coincidentally, our hearts. Ah, penguins … emperor of the animal kingdom, and icon of February in Ellicottville.

There’s a special connection between penguins and Ellicottville. That connection is made through the Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program at Holiday Valley. The organization, a not-for-profit member of Disabled Sports/USA, teaches individuals with varying disabilities to become skiers. With specialized equipment and trained volunteers, the Lounsbury Ski Program inspires joy on the slopes every winter.  In the spirit of the season, the Lounsbury’s annual Penguin Paddle extravaganza is a chance for all - young and old - to become a penguin for a day. By slipping a black plastic garbage bag over your ski suit, Penguin Paddle attendees can slip and slide down the lower part of Holiday Valley’s perfectly groomed Yodeler ski slope, to raise money for the Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program.

Bill Bredenberg, Lounsbury program director, outlines the history of the beloved event. “Back in the day, we didn't have a lot of expensive equipment, but we did have expenses, outriggers, and harnesses,” says Bredenberg. “A group from Cleveland who were all friends of the program got the idea of sending kids down the hill in black plastic garbage bags to help offset expenses. They looked like penguins coming down, hence the name. It took off from there.”

Now one of Ellicottville’s favorite winter events, the Penguin Paddle has become a day of races, auctions, raffles, and fun! All proceeds go to benefit the Lounsbury Ski Program. Thanks to generous donations last year, the program was able to purchase a state-of-the art bi-ski for its participants, but with so many possibilities on the horizon, they must keep looking to the future. The Penguin Paddle is a way to make those dreams come true.

“What makes the Paddle different from your typical fundraiser is the involvement of the Holiday Valley community,” says Bredenberg. “The whole staff of Holiday Valley really gets behind us and supports our efforts. A lot of participants and their families help out, and it really turns out to be great, regardless of the weather. I just love all of the people, support, and fun that we have …and watching the kids coming down the hill.”

Whether you’re a racer or just there to cheer, the Penguin Paddle is a winter event fit for the whole family. Registration for Penguin Paddle racers takes place the day of the event, Saturday, February 23rd, at Creekside Lodge beginning at 8:30am and at Yodeler Lodge beginning at 9:30am. Register to race and purchase your garbage bag for just $1.00! From 11:30am-2pm, the Silent Auction will be held at the base of Yodeler. This is your chance to snag some cool goodies donated by Ellicottville’s generous local businesses. While browsing all the wonderful prizes up for grabs, take advantage of the delicious catered lunch that will be offered in the Lunch Tent for just a $5 donation. The real fun begins at 1:30pm! It’s the start of the Penguin Races, divided into several age brackets, plus a mixed double division. (Helmets required for all racers.)

There’s no shortage of Penguin Paddle fun at Holiday Valley. Stop down to show your support for an organization that’s been changing lives for many years. Come “chill” with us and discover what winter is truly all about. We hope you find it as “cool” as we do!