For the 26th year, Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA) and the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC) will host The Hartford Ski Spectacular. The week-long event, held at Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge, celebrates adaptive snowsports, offering training classes for adaptive instructors, lessons in adaptive skiing and snowboarding for people with disabilities, and a chance for adaptive amateurs and professionals to gather with their families and enjoy some time out on the mountain.
Each year, upwards of 800 people make their way out to Colorado to participate in The Hartford event, so named for the sponsoring The Hartford insurance company. Children and adults of all ages come to learn a new sport or improve their skills with some of the best adaptive instructors out there.
“The whole purpose for Disabled Sports USA and chapters like the BOEC is to help people rebuild their lives through sports,” said Disabled Sports USA executive director Kirk Bauer. “We know it’s a very effective tool to speed recovery after disability from disease or injury. We firmly believe this is a critical part of recovery.”
First timers, whether they’ve recently recovered from injury or illness, or have never set foot on snowy slopes before, can attend lessons to learn how to ski and snowboard. Family members are welcome to try their hand as well.
“We always try to include the family in the activities because it’s important that the family share in the success of their injured family member,” Bauer said. “When someone becomes disabled, it impacts the entire family. We firmly believe that success will come when the whole family heals, and part of that is when they share recreational sports, like snowboarding and skiing, so that they can heal and see there is actually life after disability.”
Bauer understands this all too well. A soldier in the Vietnam War, he lost his leg when a grenade blew up in a firefight in 1969. Through Disabled Sports USA, he learned to ski and has now been executive director for the past 31 years.
Wounded Warriors — members of the military who have become disabled in the line of duty — make up a large portion of attendees at The Hartford Ski Spectacular, and similar events that DSUSA holds year round throughout the country.
“It’s been a great deal of satisfaction to see the progress that these young men and women have made going through this program,” Bauer said.
This year will see some new faces, as well. Several survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing will be participating in the event along with their family members.
“We hope that we’ll be able to show them a way forward in their life after this tragedy happened to them,” said Bauer.
In addition to classes for participants, The Hartford Ski Spectacular offers classes for adaptive skiing and snowboarding instructors. This includes instructors from the BOEC as well as from around the country.
“Almost our entire office moves up to Beaver Run for the event,” said Gene Gamber, BOEC adaptive ski program director. “New volunteers, new interns, new staff members — it gives them exposure to the greater adaptive snowsports community that the event represents.”
The BOEC also helps out with organizing the event and assisting attendees who are new to the area find their way around.
“It’s a good way to kick off the season, get people excited and get ready for the whole year,” Gamber said.
The event is the largest of its kind in the country. Colorado’s pristine skiing conditions and central location are big factors, as well as local support, said Bauer.
“The ski area has been tremendous, and its resort. We had the support of the community wanting us to come to the event.”
While the ski spectacular provides a place to learn something new and to meet other people in the adaptive sporting community, it all comes down to the feeling of being out on the mountain.
“It’s a real high for (the participants),” said Bauer, “and when you’ve been in the hospital, you’ve had to suffer through multiple operations, you’ve been dealing with infections, pain, and just a whole array of medical issues and suddenly to be able to get out on the mountain and just scream down the mountain, it’s the greatest feeling in the world.”