Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports opens its new $1.3 million headquarters this week at Pico. Officials say the new space will make it much easier for athletes in wheelchairs and those with other special needs to ski, bike, kayak and enjoy the outdoors.
Founded in 1987, the nonprofit moved its administrative offices to Pico in 1999.
The ski resort donated space, but as the adaptive program grew, things got tight.
Rutland resident Paula McNeill, an avid skier who severed her spine in a snowmobiling accident in 2010 was among a growing number of clients.
“There was nothing that was going to stop me from getting back on snow,” says McNeill, a trim, athletic 48-year-old who now gets around in a wheel chair.
“Vermont Adaptive has been so supportive,” she says, helping her relearn how to ski, kayak and bike. But she admits her first visit was daunting. “They were fitting me for the mono ski and it was so crowded and so congested.” McNeill says, “It was really hard for me to concentrate on what the instructors were trying to tell me to do and how to feel in the mono ski; and people are looking at you; and you’re hot and there’s no place to put anything.”
Last week, volunteers were helping move equipment out of that tiny space and into the organization’s much larger new headquarters next to the Pico Base Lodge.
Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports’ Kim Jackson says the new building will provide secure storage space for equipment and be much easier for clients to use. “This is the signature piece right here,” she says pointing to the elevator. “This is what makes this totally accessible at Pico.”
Erin Fernandez, Executive Director of Vermont Adaptive, says it was important that the new space work well for everyone and she says figuring out how best to do that has been challenging. “What will a parent of a child with autism think? What will their experience be? How can we make this easier for our blind participants?” she asks. And is everything wheelchair accessible?
And that’s the easy part, says Fernandez. She says figuring out the best lighting and furniture to include was more difficult.
Kim Jackson says a mom came in for a tour last week and was overjoyed to see they’d created a private family area that could be closed off from the main lobby. “And in that family room is a changing table,” says Jackson, “and it’s a full size table with a curtain. And it brought tears to this mom’s eyes because she said these are the little things that make my life easier.”
Killington ski resort donated prime land for the new building and Vermont Adaptive was able to raise funds to build it thanks to a unique partnership with the Pico Ski Education foundation.
That group helps young able-bodied skiers pursue their dreams of racing. The two organizations will share the multi story building and the chore of fundraising. Officials from Vermont Adaptive say the two groups are now just $150,000 short of their $1.3 million goal.
While Vermont Adaptive’s headquarters will be at Pico, Kim Jackson says they’ll continue to have offices in Burlington, Sugarbush and at Bolton Valley.
“We attract people because of the skiing,” says Jackson. “But then they realize wow, there are all these sports and recreations that I can do. And I don’t have to do it just one weekend in the winter, I can do it all summer long. I can be up on a bike path, up on a horse horseback, I can be sailing.” Jackson says everything is adaptive.
With 500 volunteers statewide, Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports offers about two-thousand programmed outings a year for kids and adults.
Rutland resident Linda Goodspeed is among them. She became blind as a young adult in the 1980s. “Disability,” she says, “is very isolating and it can be very confining.”
She says having to give up driving and put her skis away was difficult. “For me, just walking, I have to use an assistive devise, a white cane. I have to be totally focused, counting street corners, counting driveways, looking out for obstacles.”
But thanks to Vermont Adaptive, Goodspeed says she’s been able to get back on the slopes, which she says is incredibly liberating.
“I get on the hill and I am completely free, independent, no special equipment.” She smiles and says, “It just brought back that whole experience that I had put aside for ten years or more. . . the wind in your face, sliding down the hill, turning, going fast, keeping up with my daughter. I mean it’s cool,” she says laughing.
Vermont Adaptive’s Erin Fernandez says it's that kind of feeling they want all their clients to enjoy.