Adaptive Ski Program Empowers Both Volunteers and Participants

Greek Peak’s Adaptive Snowsports program

The biting wind whistles across the powdery snow at Greek Peak Mountain in Cortland, New York. At the bottom of the ski lift, a huddle of skiers in crimson jackets reading “Greek Peak Adaptive Snowsports” wait their turn to go down the hill. They look like average skiers, except for volunteer Jordan Oliver – he is missing almost the entirety of his left leg.

“I got into a motorcycle accident on May 20, 2010 where I lost my left leg and broke a bunch of bones in my body,” Oliver said. “It was kind of a life-altering experience where I was left to think all I used to do athletics-wise was over.”

Oliver was brought into the program, which teaches people with disabilities how to ski and snowboard, by Robyn King. King is currently the lead amputee instructor and a level one adaptive instructor, as well as on the board for the Greek Peak Adaptive Snowsports program (or GPAS). She has been working with GPAS for 13 years.

“I’ve gotten as much out of it as my participants have,” King said. “I’ve seen some life-changing events happen with some of them. I’ve gotten some ‘adopted’ kids out of the deal. It’s about giving back.”

The Beginning of GPAS

The program started in 1974 with a master’s project at SUNY Cortland by Gary MacDowell and Cindy Gibson, who taught people with vision impairments to ski. In 1995, the Dr. Robert M. Lovejoy Adaptive Ski Center opened atthe base of Greek Peak Mountain, named after the program’s first participant with total blindness.

Jim Cappellett, the director of GPAS, spoke about Lovejoy. “A professor from Binghamton was one of the first clients and loved to ski and came to Greek Peak and he and some friends got together.”

Now, the program has exploded. On any given Saturday or Sunday, the Adaptive Ski Center is packed with over 100 participants and about the same amount of volunteers.

“We’re a 501C non-for-profit organization, it’s all volunteers,” Cappellett said. “We are connected with Cortland SUNY and they have students that come and volunteer. We are a chapter of Disabled Sports USA, which is a national organization.”

Bonuses for Volunteers and Participants

Oliver said GPAS allows people with disabilities to truly feel empowered again. He began as a participant in the program, and now works as a volunteer.

“I’ve become a really good skier, and three years ago I didn’t even know how to ski,” he said. “To be able to know that I can still do something like that is awesome. That’s what this place does, it provides everybody with the fact that they still are a person, they still have a lot to live for.”

The small Adaptive Ski Center bustles with activity every weekend. It’s a safe space, said King. She started working with the program when her own son lost his leg in a car accident in 2001 and wanted to help him become active again.

“It’s about self confidence. It’s about your image of yourself. It’s about acceptance, about what you can do,” she said. “Everyone here has their own private cheering squad. They always do. That’s what magical. You walk in this building, no one looks at you funny, you are what you are.”

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The Future of GPAS

The program’s next steps are to construct a larger adaptive center, King said. They’ve confirmed the project with the mountain, but GPAS is just waiting on funding finalization.

“We are so crowded in here on a weekend because of wheelchairs and crutches and everything else. There are weekends you can’t move in here,” she said.

Oliver said the program thrives on the energy from the volunteers and the community atmosphere.

“They devote their time to making other people’s lives better,” he said. “It’s more than just teaching people to ski or teaching people what they want to do. It’s just an amazing program, it brings everybody together.”

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