Of Life, Learning & Monoskis

By | 2017-01-13T20:44:09+00:00 October 1st, 2000|
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Sarah Will

With visions of becoming a professional skier dancing in my head, I spent some of the best days of my youth at ski camps. What could be finer than a chance to ski a world-class mountain for a week while meeting and learning from superstars? Not only did it improve my skiing, but it gave me confidence in other areas of life.

The Vail Monoski Camp, now in its eighth year, offers the same opportunities to skiers with disabilities. The camp was started, and continues to be taught, by Sarah Will and Chris Waddell. The two dominated the last three winter Paralympics by collecting 18 medals–13 of them gold–between them.

Following the ’92 Paralympics, the pair realized that good monoskiing instruction was rare. If better monoskiers were to be made, they decided, Will and Waddell would help to make them.

Their first camp was held at Vail in 1993. The camp consists of four days of instruction from Will and Waddell and other top monoskiers, videotape analysis of ski technique each evening, and a fifth day of free-skiing. And although not meant as a racing camp, it has contributed to the development of racers Muffy Davis, Paul Edwards, Carl Burnett and Joe Tompkins.

“The camp is designed to accommodate most levels of skiing,” says Will. “From somebody able to ski from point A to point B on their own to an aspiring Paralympic racer, the goal is to raise each skier’s ability to the next level. We teach skiers to be in control at slow speeds, because you have to be able to ski slow to ski fast. We also teach the dynamics of how a ski works, because it works the same if you’re standing or sitting. We teach from the ski up, not from the disability down.”

U.S. Disabled Ski Team member Carl Burnett, from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, attended the first camp in ’93 when he was 12 years old. “It really helped me with the fundamentals,” he says. “Also, I had never been in an environment where the sports peers were in wheelchairs, and it was the first time I had spent a week away from home. Chris and Sarah were great mentors.”

“A lot of disabled people have never had peer support from others who are disabled,” says Waddell. “When they come to our camp there are a bunch of disabled people who are doing all this cool stuff. It makes them think, ‘Wow, I better get off my ass.'”

Waddell says he, too, learns at the camps. “I remember a guy named Erick Kondo. We came to a flight of stairs and he just whipped around, grabbed the rail, and wheeled up the stairs. It blew me away. I figure if that is happening for me, it must be happening for others.”

Joel Goodman, from Sherwood, Ore., attended the camp in ’93 and ’99 and gives it high marks. “It’s a great week,” says Goodman, whose family business is the Yetti monoski. “There’s so much information to absorb that you don’t get it all in one week, but you learn what to work on, and over the winter it starts to gel. Plus, it’s great to spend a week with other disabled people trading ideas. It’s a great chance for give and take.”

“For me skiing and sports are metaphors for success in life,” says Waddell. “I am a full-time athlete right now, and if I didn’t believe there was some sort of transcending quality to what I’m doing as a skier, then in the big picture I’d be wasting my time. I don’t think I’m wasting my time.”

This year’s camp will be held November 26-30. Tuition is $300, plus $85 for a season monoskier lift pass (a bargain; stand-up skiers pay $55 a day). Included is lodging at the Vail Marriott. For more information, contact the Vail Monoski Camp, Sarah Will, P.O. Box 2407, Avon, CO 81620; 970/949-1943


Most ski areas now have at least a rudimentary adaptive skiing program. Some have much more extensive ones. You can learn a lot about local ski areas by just picking up a telephone. Here are some programs that have been around for awhile and have good reputations.

Ski Resources:

  • Adaptive Sports Association,
    P.O. Box 1884, Durango, CO 81302; 970/385-2163. Rates include adaptive ski equipment, lift and lessons: full day adult $70, child (12 and under) $55. Advance reservations are required. Some scholarships are available.
  • Adaptive Sports Center of Crested Butte,
    P.O. Box 1639, Crested Butte, CO 81224; 970/349-2296. Rates include lessons with a PSIA certified instructor, adaptive equipment rental and lift: half day lesson $65, full day lesson $105.
  • Adaptive Sports Foundation,
    Ski Windham, CD Lane Road, Windham, NY 12496; 518/734-5070. Rates include lessons, lift and adaptive ski equipment: half day $45, full day $50.
  • Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center,
    P.O. Box 697, Breckenridge, CO 80424; 800/383-2632. Rates include lift tickets, rentals and full instructions: full day $100, half day $75. (These are 1999/2000 rates; new rates to be announced in late September.)
  • Disabled Sports USA-Alpine Meadows,
    P.O. Box 9780, Truckee, CA 96162; 530/581-4161. Rates include private lessons and adaptive ski equipment. Lift tickets are purchased separately, unless beginner package is chosen (same price as standard package). Advance reservations of at least two weeks requested. Two-hour midweek lesson $45, weekends/holidays $55; five-hour midweek lesson $75, weekends/holidays $95.
  • Maine Handicapped Skiing,
    Sunday River, 8 Sundance Lane, Newry, ME 04261; 207/824-2440. No charge for lessons, any equipment that’s needed, or lift tickets. Must call for reservations.
  • National Ability Center,
    P.O. Box 682799, Park City, UT 84068; 435/649-3991. Rates include lessons, lift and adaptive ski equipment: two-hour lesson $55, half day $75, full day $125.
  • National Sports Center for the Disabled,
    P.O. Box 1290, Winter Park, CO 80482; 970/726-1540. Rates include lessons, lift and adaptive equipment. Alpine skiing or snowboarding: adult half day $45, adult full day $90; child half day $35, child full day $70. Nordic skiing available Thursday, Friday and Saturday beginning January 11, 2001. Reservations required. Rates include lesson, trail fee and adaptive equipment. Half day $10, full day $20. Group programs also available.
    1621 114th Ave. SE, Suite 132, Bellevue, WA 98004-6905; 425/462-0980. Rates range from $75 to $500 depending on the program-snowshoeing, snowboarding, downhill or cross-country. Includes instruction, lift and (depending on program) adaptive equipment, transportation, season passes and trail passes.
  • Squaw Valley Ski School Adaptive Programs,
    P.O. Box 2007, Olympic Valley, CA 96146; 530/581-7263. Interested skiers should call for a pre-lesson interview. Squaw Valley recommends a minimum three-hour lesson at a cost of up to $199. Lift tickets are $15.
  • United States Adaptive Recreation Center,
    P.O. Box 2897, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315; 909/584-0269; www.usarc.org. Lessons are held from December through April. Advance reservations required.
  • Vail Accessible Programs and Services,
    P.O. Box 7, Vail, CO 81658; 970/479-3072. Rates to be released in late autumn.
  • Waterville Valley Adaptive Skiing Program,
    P.O. Box 253, Town Square, Waterville Valley, NH 03215; 603/ 236-8311 ext. 3175. Rates range from $35 to $45, including lessons, lift and adaptive ski equipment.