A skier and instructor prepare to hit the slopes at Mt. Washington. Scott Stanfield photo

Snowsports festival all about the fun

VISAS Festival for all ages

The People with ‘diverse abilities’ were treated to four days of lessons, lift tickets and rentals during the Vancouver Island Society for Adaptive Snowsports (VISAS) Festival Jan. 6-10 at Mount Washington. About 25 participants of all ages enjoyed downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding and sit-skiing.

The non-profit VISAS caters to individuals with a physical, cognitive or developmental disability. During winter, alpine lessons run seven days a week and nordic lessons five days a week.

“We have different options,” said Sebastien Braconnier, an instructor and VISAS board member. “If a person has lost a leg, they have the option to learn to tree track, which is one ski. They also have the option to sit ski. For people that have a hard time standing, we use belts and tethers to help them ski. We have many, many techniques to teach people with disabilities.”

Volunteer instructors also teach the visually impaired.

“We have all the adaptive equipment you can imagine, and we usually can figure out a way to get everybody out on the snow,” said Gina Stubbs, also a board member/instructor.

“The main goal is to have fun and learn,” added Braconnier.

The origin of the volunteer-driven society dates back to the 1960s when the late Herb Bradley started a disabled ski program at Forbidden Plateau.

“When Mount Washington opened, he brought the whole adaptive program to Mount Washington and incorporated the festival into our regular programs here,” Stubbs said.

The society’s major fund-raising activity is the annual Herb Bradley Challenge, where sponsors form a team with a student and enter a ‘guess-timation’ race. This year’s event is March 3.

Come summer, some of the 100-plus instructors run the beer garden at Nautical Days, which generates a couple thousand dollars for VISAS.

Another event is Veterans’ Ski Week, Jan. 27-31, sponsored by the Canadian Armed Forces Soldier On program — which seeks athletic opportunities for ill or injured service men and women.

“We see a lot more vets with PTSD,” Braconnier said. “It’s an amazing program.”

Learn more at www.visasweb.ca

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