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Faith Papp-Richards, daughter of Lisa Papp-Richards and Ralph Richards of Bemidji, worked with ski instructor Tyler Kondos and a Stand-Up Snow Slider Saturday at Buena Vista Ski Area. The ski lessons are part of the Courage Center Adaptive Downhill Ski and Snowboard Program. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

Courage Center offers people with disabilities winter sport opportunities

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BUENA VISTA -- People with physical disabilities will have the chance beginning this month to experience the thrill of downhill skiing and snowboarding through a partnership between Courage Center and Buena Vista Ski Area.

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The Courage Center Adaptive Downhill Ski and Snowboard Program offers adaptive equipment that will open the ski hills to everyone.

People ages 5 and older with disabilities are eligible to sign up for the program, which will run from Sunday, Jan. 24, through March 7 at Buena Vista. The cost is $140 and includes lift tickets, adaptive ski equipment, ski rental and one-to-one downhill skiing instruction. The limit is 15 skiers on a first-come-first-served basis. To register, call on-site coordinator, Lisa Papp-Richards, at 766-6822.

On Saturday, trainers from Courage Center helped volunteer ski instructors and ski buddies at Buena Vista learn the use of the Bi-Ski seat on runners and the Stand-Up Snow Slider.

"These are for people who are mobility impaired," said Karyl Hoeger, Courage Center staff coordinator.

She added that the equipment also allows people with visual impairments to enjoy downhill skiing with the help of ski instructors tethered to the rear of the apparatus to help skiers steer and brake. The buddies ski alongside the ski students to help them up if they fall or the Bi-Ski turns over.

Using the Bi-Ski and Stand-Up Snow Slider, skiers and instructors can ride up the chair lift together and make their runs down the slopes.

"If a student only has the ability to move their eyes left or right, they can initiate a turn," Hoeger said.

People with greater ability can point with their heads or hands and assist with the turns themselves. The project currently involves 30 volunteers, 10 skiers and one paid staff member.

"I've done it for like four years now," said Faith Papp-Richards, Faith, who has cerebral palsy, served as a volunteer Saturday to help the ski instructors learn to use the adaptive equipment.

"She's a very good skier," said Tyler Kondos, Faith's adaptive physical education teacher at Horace May Elementary School and her ski instructor at Buena Vista. "She's grown in muscle strength."

"Because she has a disability, some kids think she can't do this or that," said Lisa Papp-Richards, Faith's mother. "Tyler challenges her."

Hoeger said anyone who would like to participate in the program but can't afford the fee can call her at 763-520-0569 to work out a payment arrangement.

mmiron@bemidjipioneer.com

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