Adaptive skiing enables skiers with disabilities to participate in alpine skiing by using special equipment. Adaptive skiing lesson programs are available at many ski resorts for children and adults with a wide range of disabilities. Equipment that people with disabilities use may be different, but individuals with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, visual and hearing impairments, post polio syndrome, and a wide variety of other disabilities go to the slopes to enjoy adaptive skiing each year.
There are many ski resorts across North America that provide adaptive skiing opportunities. Here is an in-depth summary of two popular winter vacation destinations, looking at their suitability for adaptive skiers of all abilities, accommodation options and transport systems for people with disabilities.
Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico is a fairly large resort with nearly 1,300 ski-able acres to enjoy. It is an extremely high resort with a summit of 3,804 meters and a base elevation of 2,806 meters. The altitude can take a bit of acclimatizing to but it usually guarantees excellent snow fall and there is a vast amount of terrain to choose from.
Where to Stay:
There are a range of hotels, lodges and apartments all located very close to slopes but it can be difficult to find specific details about accessibility for people with disabilities within their accommodations. The best thing to do if you are unsure of where to stay is to speak to the Taos Ski Valley information organizations. The chamber of commerce website is extremely helpful for all things skiing in Taos and other useful information can be found at skitaos.org.
There are two main airports servicing Taos. One is Santa Fe Municipal Airport, which is one hour 15 minutes' drive from resort and the second is Albuquerque International Sunport, which is two hours and 15 minutes' drive away. You can fly to Santa Fe or Albuquerque from London with British Airways and for internal flights across the US, check out cheapOair.
There a shuttle bus service from Santa Fe called the Taos Express. This is a non-stop bus service that runs on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, sponsored by the town of Taos. The service is ADA complicit and there is no charge for up to two pieces of luggage. Make sure you book before as the service is popular.
Type of Terrain:
Taos is blessed with a multitude of slopes and trails. Many of these are located on steeper terrains and as such the resort is more suited to expert and advanced skiers. Taos does have lots of slope-side accommodation, which makes it an excellent resort for ski in - ski out access.
Access around the Village:
There is an excellent transport service between the town of Taos and Taos Ski Valley called the Chile Line. This para transit service has been running since the mid-90s and includes a small fleet of 'Handi-van' ADA accessible vehicles, which come with wheelchair supports and hydraulic lifts and offers curb to curb transport for people with disabilities. The service is incredibly cheap at just $0.25 for a one-way trip and $0.50 for a round trip. If you require the Handi-van service during your trip to Taos you need to complete a short application form, which you can find via the Taos Tourist Information site under transportation.
The village of Taos Ski Valley is fairly small but there is currently renovation and construction improvements being made to the lift infrastructure. A brand new chairlift is being implemented to provide access to Kachina Peak. The lift will take skiers up 1,100 vertical feet in just five minutes and it is planned to be open all year round. It is set to open this season and it will dramatically improve the access of those seeking advanced and expert skiing. Access around the town is fairly good and it is a fairly small ski village in relation to the amount of skiing available.
For the size of ski area Taos has the lift access is slightly limited but with the opening of the new chairlift at Kachina Peak the access will be greatly improved to the steeper and higher altitude areas of the resort.
Other Useful Information:
February and March are notoriously good months for snowfall in Taos. Last season saw 36cm of fresh snow fall in one day in early March, so if powder skiing is your thing, these are likely to be the best times to visit Taos.
The first thing you need to know about Vail is it's massive. With more than 5,200 acres of ski terrain, it's one of the biggest resorts on the planet. There are three base areas in Vail at the bottom of the slopes and each is surrounded by shops, restaurants and bars. There is a free shuttle bus service in between these points.
Where to Stay:
One of the best options for accessible accommodation in Vail is The Four Seasons. It is located very close to the slopes, near two of the major gondolas, and has wheelchair-equipped rooms. These include an excellent amount of accessible features such as, lowered light switches, peepholes in doors, drawers and desks, roll-in showers with grab bars, handled faucet in the shower and fold out seat, grab bars for the toilets and bath tubs and TTY/TDD equipment. Service animals are permitted in the hotel and there is good access from the hotel entrance to the accessible rooms, meeting room and ballroom. It's worth having a look at Hotels.com and Apple Vacations too, who provide good rates on lodging in Vail.
You can fly straight to Eagle County Airport, which is just 35 miles east of Vail resort. Alternatively you can fly to Denver International Airport, which is 100 miles to the East of Vail. The best way to get from either of these airports is via the Colorado Mountain Express. They have a selection of vehicles with disabled access features including a lift-equipped van. They advise that you contact them at least 48 hours before your journey to discuss any specific needs.
Type of Terrain:
Similar to Breckenridge, Vail is a great resort if you have a party of differing abilities. There is a selection of easy green slopes and an excellent range of intermediate up to advanced trails for more experienced adaptive skiers. For quality adaptive skiing lessons head to Adventure Ridge Activities. They are located via the Eagle Bahn Gondola, which is wheelchair accessible.
Access around the Village:
Of the three base areas in resort, Vail Village and Lionshead are the most popular and busy areas. The other is Golden Peak, which still provides good access to the slopes. There is a selection of shuttle buses which transport passengers around the mountain. You can track live timetables online with nextbus and there are good services through the ECO Transit system. If you're driving to Vail there is accessible parking at Lionshead and Vail Village parking structures. The Lionshead parking area is just 300 meters from the Eagle Bahn Gondola and the Vail Village area is next to a bus stop that transports you straight to the slopes. The free accessible bus service takes you to the ski lifts at Golden Peak. There are a small number of further accessible parking spots on the top level of the Vail Village parking area and in Golden Peak and Lionshead. These spots are available on a first come first served basis. There are drop off points for adaptive skiing equipment at the Golden Peak Lodge. There are a number of restaurants and eateries in Vail, which have good accessibility. Here is a selection of some of the best to feast your eyes on.
The Eagle Bahn Gondola from Lionshead is wheelchair accessible and delivers skiers to Adventure Ridge, which is Vail's mountaintop adventure center. Lift access around the rest of the resort is good and many of the chair lifts are express lifts, allowing easier access for sit-skiers.
Other Useful Information:
Vail provides adaptive ski passes at discounted rates. For more information on this call the Vail Adaptive Office on 970-754-3264 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taos and Vail are just two mountain resorts that offer adaptive ski opportunities. See this detailed resource to learn more about accessibility, ski terrains, transportation and adaptive ski instruction in more resorts, including Whistler Blackcomb and Jackson Hole.