Skiers with disabilities conquer slopes at Wells Fargo Ski Cup
The Wells Fargo Ski Cup celebrates its 40th anniversary at Winter Park Resort Feb. 20–22 as skiers with disabilities again conquer mountains through sport.
Watching Jasmin Bambur, Alana Nichols, and other Paralympians rocket down the slopes in the Wells Fargo Ski Cup on monoskis and other adaptive equipment takes Hal O’Leary back to an offer he made more than 40 years ago.
In 1970, while an instructor at Winter Park (Colorado) Ski Resort, he volunteered to teach skiing to amputees at Denver Children’s Hospital. That eventually launched the National Sports Center for the Disabled and set in motion its largest fundraiser, the Wells Fargo Ski Cup, which celebrates its 40th year Feb. 20–22 at Winter Park Resort.
“All I wanted to do was to help kids have fun skiing,” says Hal, whose 1973 adaptive skiing manual, The Winter Park Amputee Ski Teaching System, has since been translated into Japanese, Swedish, and Spanish, and used throughout the world.
“Little did I know that one decision would evolve into pioneering so many aspects of adaptive skiing that we know today. Many of those first kids, who are now in their 50s and 60s, still stop by to see me at Winter Park and share how their mountaintop experiences so many years ago changed their lives.”
Alpine ski program support
Participant fees pay for only 15 percent of the cost of the center’s programs, which benefit more than 3,000 adults and children each year. The rest comes from Wells Fargo Ski Cup proceeds, individual donations, grants, and sponsorships.
The fundraiser is a weekend-long event that brings together the world’s top skiers with disabilities and amateur skiers, snowboarders, and Denver celebrities.
It raises more than $200,000 for the center’s alpine ski program: paying for 2,222 ski lessons for 440 children and adults, including 57 military veterans, and providing scholarships to more than 200 participants.
The alpine ski program is one of 15 therapeutic sports experiences the center offers each year. Whether it’s alpine skiing, rock climbing, or kayaking, Becky Zimmerman, the nonprofit’s executive director and CEO, says the goal is the same — changing lives from the inside out.
Self-confidence and self-esteem become the building blocks for sports training, which leads to a more active lifestyles — success that is reported by 94 percent of program participants.
“The transformations we see are amazing,” Becky says. “People who thought they couldn’t, realize they can and that anything is possible.”
The power of ‘yes’
Jennifer Leasure’s daughter Kati, 14, overcame a muscle-disabling genetic disorder to stand ski for the first time in 2014 using an adaptive skiing device called a slider.
“As the parent of a special needs child, you hear ‘no’ a lot,” Jennifer says. “At the National Sports Center for the Disabled, they tell me ‘yes,’ and that makes all the difference in the world.”
Gary DeFrange, chief operating officer for Winter Park Resort and its seven ski territories, says the Wells Fargo Ski Cup began in 1975 as a promotion for its new Mary Jane ski territory. A predecessor bank had signed on as sponsor and Wells Fargo has remained the event’s title sponsor.
The 2015 event is particularly special for Winter Park, he says, as the resort celebrates a big anniversary of its own — 75 years in business and as a Wells Fargo customer.
“When you come here and watch the racers compete against each other, all you can do is say, ‘Wow,’” Gary says. “These are people who have been dealt some tough stuff along the way and been able to take these experiences and turn them into something positive in their lives.
“I know that hearing the stories and seeing them on the slopes inspire me and give me a different perspective on my own life and what’s really important.”