In 2007, at age 11, Julia Tait had her first taste of adaptive snowsports at the Snowsports Festival, affectionately dubbed Snowfest.
The festival is an annual event put on by the Vancouver Island Society for Adaptive Snowsports (VISAS). It allows differently-abled participants to experience four consecutive days of snowsports instruction, including lift tickets, rentals and two banquets.
Julia attended her first festival on a pair of downhill skis. It was physically challenging for her to keep her legs close enough together and “it was suggested that I might try to snowboard,” relates Julia. Since then she has not looked back.
“I LOVE snowboarding,” exclaims Julia, “people are often surprised that I can snowboard and they think it’s cool.” Learning to snowboard has been a process for Julia, who has her fair share of challenges.
“I have a rare syndrome that affects my upper body and arms and I am legally blind and hearing impaired. I need assistance with my bindings, getting up, and seeing on the slope.”
Sometimes Julia can get a bit fearful of new things or changes too. She comments that the, “VISAS instructors understand that about me. They are very good at letting me go at my own pace – even when I want to go fast,” Julia states with a wide grin.
Julia continues to advance in snowboarding even as her body changes and creates new challenges for her. One year Julia had surgery on her feet. She was apprehensive about participating in the festival and going back out on her snowboard. “My feet weren’t the same, so going back [to the festival] gave me the safety net to relearn how to snowboard with my new feet. Although I was a bit afraid, it is wonderful to be able to learn a skill that other people, without physical challenges, do.” Julia has already purchased a season’s pass for the 2016-17 season at Mount Washington so she can get out on the slopes and snowboard as much as possible. Her snowboarding goals for the upcoming season are to try some more jumping and spend more time on the Eagle and Sunrise chairs.
As well as the Winter Snowsports Festival, VISAS provides lessons seven days a week during the winter season. Total costs for students are kept to a minimum to allow people of diverse abilities, and varied incomes to experience sliding on snow.
At 19 years of age, Julia is now a young adult. She is very appreciative of the minimal cost of the festival and lessons, stating that, “Without it I would likely be unable to afford to snowboard. The trained instructors are key to me being able to snowboard,” affirms Julia. They are “knowledgeable, energetic, enthusiastic and fun.” Julia shares that her love of and access to snowboarding has provided many benefits. She explains that she feels “energized and excited” and “more confident [and] my self-esteem is better. I feel cool and accepted among my peers.” Julia smiles and says, “I’m in my zone [and] I feel like I can do anything I set my mind to.”
Julia feels that snowboarding with VISAS has helped her in many other aspects of her life. She recounts a story of how she was asked to volunteer with a school program (Strong Start) because one of the VISAS instructors found out she liked working with children.
That was two years ago and now Julia is planning on taking college courses that would allow her to be employed in a child-related field. VISAS has shown Julia that she can do things she thought she wouldn’t be able to do.
“I feel like I learned a skill that surprises people and this helps me take every challenge as something I can overcome. I know that there are people who are encouraged to give things a try because I can do them and that makes me feel good.”
Julia’s final comments were, “We are very lucky to have Snowfest and VISAS on our mountain. Everyone should give it a try!”
The 2017 Winter Snowsports Festival runs from Jan. 8-12. Participants receive four days of fun on the snow, lift tickets, equipment rental, and snowsports lessons — all free of charge. Applications for the festival are now being received. For more information check out the VISAS website www.visasweb.ca/Learntoskifestival.htm or call Peter at 416-363-4972.