Vancouver Adaptive Snow Sports
Credit: Ji Taek Park

Vancouver Adaptive Snow Sports aims to make skiing and snowboard accessible for everybody.

It’s 9:00 p.m. and group of green-jacketed folks are headed inside the lodge atop Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver, BC, to share stories and sip hot chocolate. The views of Vancouver’s shimmering nighttime cityscape are breathtaking.

We are a varied group of returnees and newbies, comprised of instructors, assistant instructors, program co-ordinators and students. We are VASS — Vancouver Adaptive Snow Sports — and we have just finished our first night of the season volunteering as adaptive ski instructors. Our green jackets identify us on the hill.

Serendipity brought me to this place but intention made me take the steps. This past December, I signed up for and attended a full day on-snow session with a Level 3, CSIA (Canadian Ski Instructor’s Alliance) Instructor. This condensed CSIA Level 1 refresher course is available at no cost to CADS (Canadian Association of Disabled Skiing) students. CSIA provides national standards in ski teaching and a progressive approach to ski instruction; CADS is aligned with this approach.

Two weeks later and it’s a Friday evening. I am amongst a diverse group of people, both in age and background. While our motivations might differ our reasons for being here don’t. We are all here to participate in a weekend course to become CADS Ski Instructors. We want to share the freedom of the mountains with everyone, including those with disabilities.

Anne Bethune, the personable President of VASS and a CADS Level III Examiner, is perfectly suited to deliver and oversee our training course, both in style and knowledge. VASS is affiliated with BC Adaptive Snow Sports, the Provincial Sport Organization that supports adapted snowsport programs throughout the Province. VASS delivers the CADS courses in the Lower Mainland. A growing number of local and provincial Associations offer similar programs across Canada; VASS and BC Adaptive Snow Sports program is widely considered to be the pre-eminent course of its kind in Canada, if not North America. Last year they celebrated their 40th Anniversary.

The weekend is an eye-opener. We receive basic education about cognitive and physical challenges as they relate to instruction and to skiing. We learn about and use many of the specialized teaching aids and adaptive ski equipment on the hill. It’s both fun and incredibly humbling. Most impressively, I learn that all of our VASS Instructors this weekend are volunteers. So are the Board Members, Ski/Snowboard Instructors and Program Coordinators who deliver the programs to the students throughout the season.  Grouse Mountain provides the volunteers and students with support, such as free parking and ski passes to defray costs. Similar programs and support in the Lower Mainland are offered at Cypress and Seymour Mountains. 

Students of all disabilities, ages and skill levels (ski and snowboard) are welcome, from beginners to aspiring competitive racers. Equipment is available for students and grants/scholarships provided if there is a need. Instructors are paired with one or more other instructors depending upon the unique challenges of each student and share the same student for the season. Everyone is encouraged to engage this newfound community of resources to problem solve. No stone is left unturned.

As we wind down our first evening of instruction, we reflect back on how much we have learned so quickly. Now that we are actually working with our students reality has hit. My young student, who has Down's Syndrome, loves to laugh and really loves to ski. His smile lifts my spirit. While I am not sure what to expect this season in terms of his progression, I suspect that he will teach me a great deal.

For program info in your area (volunteer or student) here are some resources: