A participant works with a coach through Teton Adaptive Sports. (Photo courtesy of Teton Adaptive Sports)
In a perfect world, there would be no need for programs like Teton Adaptive Sports (TAS). People with disabilities could go anywhere in the country and have the same access to outdoor sports and recreation as able-bodied individuals.
While that perfect world may not exist, Teton Adaptive Sports is committed to providing year-round programs for people with physical and mental disabilities. Located in Teton Village, Wyoming, TAS serves the greater Teton area including Jackson Hole, Victor, Driggs, Dubois and Star Valley. Renowned for its rich ski tradition over the past 50 years, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and its area ski schools have long been committed to providing resources for anyone wishing to ski.
“Disability is not going anywhere,” said Joe Stone, Teton Adaptive’s director of mission. “What we’re talking about is people with disabilities can show up to any business just like anybody else and have support, trained staff and the equipment they need. It’s not about overcoming your disability, it’s about living life with your disability.”
In 2005, a small group of Jackson Hole ski instructors got together with some local philanthropists to assist in purchasing adaptive ski equipment for local skiers with disabilities. This led to a model of inclusion that currently defines the organization’s mission. Other programs use different facilities for adaptive activities.
TAS has created a unique model that develops partnerships with businesses in the ski community to offer the training and equipment necessary for people with disabilities to have equal access. The goal is to develop long-term relationships with outfitters, ski and bike programs, and other community organizers to help them become more inclusive.
Those partnerships are Stone’s primary responsibility.
“We’ve got about 10 to 12 partners around Jackson that are pretty dialed in with supporting people with disabilities,” Stone said. “If you show up here, there are plenty of opportunities for a whole family as far as people with and without disabilities being able to (have recreation) together.”
Teton Adaptive has had a major impact on Stone’s life. In 2010, he nearly lost his life after crashing into a Montana mountain while speed flying, a form of paragliding. The accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. He has since committed his life to advocating for people with disabilities, particularly in outdoor recreation. He first became acquainted with TAS after forming the Joe Stone Foundation, which was dedicated to bridging the gap between people with and without disabilities. After discovering the two organizations shared the same mission, Stone has worked full-time with TAS for the last year.
“I learned a lot by having Teton Adaptive’s support and how to organize an event and how to better manage a nonprofit,” Stone said. “Getting on full-time has taught me a lot more in terms of sitting at the computer, seeing what it takes to get grant funding and donations, what it really takes to run a nonprofit.”
TAS averages approximately 750 lessons each year in its ski program. Many include students from area public schools who participate once a week for 11 weeks. While COVID-19 has affected the number of participants somewhat over the past year, it hasn’t dampened the program’s enthusiasm.
“It shows what the community is here and people traveling here that are wanting to explore the mountain and learn and further their skills in alpine skiing,” Stone said.
Instructors are PSIA certified and trained to provide lessons to children and adults with all types of disabilities. Except for some differences in equipment and teaching techniques, lessons are conducted in much the same way with disabled skiers as able-bodied. The idea is to create an unforgettable experience in a safe, fun environment.
“The instructor helps make sure that whether you’re an adult or kid, you’re learning safely so you can end the day with a smile and want to come back and keep learning,” Stone explained.
Skiers can choose a six-day or 12-day package. Scholarships are available for residents, which covers ski passes, instruction and equipment rentals. A scholarship program is being planned to offer them for out-of-town visitors as well.
“Jackson Hole Mountain Resort offers adaptive ski lessons in all the capacities they offer non-adaptive ski lessons,” said Christy Fox, the executive director of TAS. “We negotiate prices with the resort and try to get them to give an adaptive rate that’s a little more friendly, knowing that people with disabilities often have a lot of extra costs.”
TAS accepts donations in all amounts to cover everything from equipment maintenance to paying for lessons. Other fundraising events include a soiree, which was adapted the past two years due to the pandemic.
“What we did was a gift bag people could purchase that had restaurant gift cards, beer, swag from Teton Adaptive and a handful of other companies,” Stone said. “The proceeds from that purchase go to Teton Adaptive. There’s a raffle, which also goes to Teton Adaptive.”
Along with the obvious physical benefits activities like skiing provide, Stone is quick to point out the social aspect that can be gained from bringing disabled and able-bodied individuals together.
“Recreation is such an interesting place for challenging the stigma against disability,” he said. “A lot of times, the conversation starts with what you’re doing, not what you can’t do. People start learning about it, and it’s more about what someone’s doing and less about what their disability may be making things more challenging. It’s a win-win all around.”
Visit the Teton Adaptive website to find out more information on skiing and other programs.