Nationwide Ski Tour off to a ‘Spectacular’ Start

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By Brady Delander

A smile stretched across Steffini Vandever's face expressed everything that could be said about the 20th annual Hartford Ski Spectacular, held December 2-9 at Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge, Colorado. And the proud mother wasn't even on skis. Instead, she watched and beamed as her son, Jonah, made careful turns down the slopes standing on his prostheses.

It was the perfect way for Jonah to spend his tenth birthday.

"Doctors said he would probably never walk," Vandever said of Jonah, who at 18 months old underwent bilateral knee disarticulation amputations. "He walked across the living room with stitches in the bottom of his stumps, and he's been taking off ever since."

The Vandevers were two of the estimated 800 participants, family members, sponsors, and instructors on hand for the eight-day event, which featured adaptive ski instruction and certification, disabled ski races, members of the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), and young prodigies hoping to make the U.S. Disabled Ski Team.

Carl Burnett competes in the giant slalom at The Hartford Ski Spectacular in 2006.
Carl Burnett competes in the giant slalom at The Hartford Ski Spectacular in 2006.

"The Hartford Ski Spectacular has a national impact," said Kirk Bauer, executive director of Disabled Sports USA (DS/USA), not long after a few runs down the mountain. "We are training 150 instructors how to teach adaptive sports, and they go back to their own communities and 20 or 30 ski areas around the country and are able to offer higher quality instruction because of what they learned here."

Bauer said there were about 60 members of the Professional Ski Instructors of America National Academy on site to give lessons and another 125 DS/USA staff and volunteers to keep the show running.

John Jones, national spokesman for WWP and a bilateral transtibial amputee, was one of a number of featured speakers tapped by Bauer to share their inspirational stories.

"Eight weeks after my amputation, Kirk called me and asked what I was doing," Jones said. "I told him, 'I'm sit ting here kicking my nubs, what do you think I'm doing?' And he goes, 'Hey, let's go ski.'" Jones protested at first, saying he couldn't stand up, let alone ski. But Bauer insisted and eventually set up Jones in a mono-ski. In Breckenridge, Jones mentored Jonah Vandever, and neither wasted any time heading back to the lift after each run. "I'm going again," Jonah said.

Laurie Stephens competes at The Hartford Ski Spectacular in 2006.
Laurie Stephens competes at The Hartford Ski Spectacular in 2006.

The second half of the week featured elite disabled skiers from around the country, including Adam Hall of New Zealand, the winner of the slalom and giant slalom events for standing males. Other events, for men and women, included both slalom races for those in ski chairs as well as the visually impaired.

Bauer said The Hartford Ski Spectacular was the first of a nationwide ski tour that will make 32 stops. That's enough to keep the Vietnam veteran busy through the winter, but he has big plans after the snow melts. "We want to...beef up the summer activities." Bauer said. "We want there to be adaptive programs in all regions of the country where people don't have to drive more than a couple of hours to get there."

The final results are available here as a downloadable pdf.