Today, the sight of the physically impaired is increasingly common on the ski runs of America. People of all ages, from kids to seniors, are on the slopes, enjoying the thrill of skiing, without letting their physical or mental disabilities keep them off the mountains.

Scott Ingram, director of the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, Colorado, one of several distinguished institutions in the nation that teaches the disabled to enjoy the out-of-doors doing everything from skiing and canoeing to backpacking, says these activities help the handicapped escape from what was once an isolated way of life.

“The learn self-confidence and self-esteem. They find a new level of independence in themselves,” he says.

People with special needs are taught how to ski at the Breckenridge center. Lessons are offered both to individuals and groups throughout the ski season. Some 1,000 participants each year come from rehabilitation centers, individual living centers for the disabled, and hospitals.

Ingram says many of the disabled have been grossly overprotected by parents, siblings, schools, and society. “Some have never been permitted to climb on the back of a couch, much less climb onto a chairlift.”

Once exposed to the world of skiing - under the careful guidance of trained volunteers - participants begin to place their trust in others. Ingram says he still finds it one of the most meaningful activities of his own life to watch them discover that “they are not that unusual, after all, and that they can do anything - if they put their minds to it.”

Hal O’Leary, founder and director of the National Sports Center for the Disabled, at Winter Park, Colorado, says of the physically challenged: “If there is a limitation in what they can do, it is not a failure.

It is only temporary - until adaptive equipment is designed and methods discovered that permit success.”

With a full-time staff of 13, and 850 volunteers, Winter Park gives more than 14,000 lessons a year to 2,500 skiers with 45 types of disabilities. A sign above its center reads: IN CELEBRATION OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT.

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