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Rabbit Hill expands its adaptive skiing program

// Magda Piwowarczyk
// Magda Piwowarczyk

Since the early 1980s, disabled skiers and snowboarders in Edmonton have been able to experience the unique thrill of sliding down snow-covered slopes, thanks to the Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing’s Edmonton division.

From its home base at Rabbit Hill, just west of the city, CADS has given thousands of people a helping hand, enabling those who may otherwise not have the opportunity to ski or snowboard. While the program has grown to become a vital part of the Edmonton ski scene, the actual physical space the club operates out of has remained unchanged for decades. Money raised in the past was largely put towards training volunteers and purchasing equipment needed for adaptive skiing.

“The trailer we currently reside in is a 1965 Atco trailer: 50 feet long and 10 feet wide, and it serves as our clubhouse [and] equipment storage room,” explains Dale Loyer, president of CADS Edmonton. “As the club has grown, and the amount of equipment available has grown, we’d simply run out of space. We discussed various options with Rabbit Hill, like bringing in another trailer or taking on a piece of their lodge. We eventually decided to start fundraising to see just how much money can we raise and what would a new building cost us.”

Fundraising took on many forms including noodle-and-sausage sales, golf tournaments, selling entertainment books, silent auctions and a casino. The provincial government also kicked in funding through Alberta Culture and Tourism’s Community Facility Enhancement Program.

Once the fundraising for a new building started, plans began to expand, Loyer says.

“When we started looking at this about 10 years ago, it was just a simple garage package,” he expalins. “And then as we fundraised we realized that we have a real foothold here; we could probably fundraise enough to put up a building that is something substantial and fit our needs for the long term.”

Eventually they settled for a 1500 square foot, one-storey facility with a deck running the entire length of the building. As far as usable space, it will be about four times the size of the current building.

Once the ground is dry enough this spring, construction of the $135 000 facility will begin, starting with piles being drilled and pouring a foundation.

“The next thing for us is furnishing the new building and setting it up right for the ski club,” Loyer says. “So there is still fundraising going on for that portion.”

While the building will be for CADS use, consultations had to made with Rabbit Hill to determine the exact location of the facility on Rabbit Hill’s property,  Loyer explains.

“From the parking lot, the CADS building will be the very first one you come across even before you see [the Rabbit Hill] lodge. They’ve given us a prime location. It gives us easy access to the rope tow and chair lift. Our deck will have front-row seating to watch people come down the hill.”

Because of its prominent location, the building had to be the right fit for the entire resort.

“Part of the negotiations with Rabbit Hill was ensuring that the building fit in with their alpine esthetic,” Loyer says. “They gave us a glimpse of their plans for a new daylodge in the future, so the exterior was designed to match the direction that they are going. That adds up to extra cost as well, but rightfully so [as] it should fit in with what they have planned.”

With a bigger building to operate out of starting next winter, CADS Edmonton is already looking at how it can expand its offerings and best utilize the facility. This past winter, CADS had 60 students and 100 volunteers, which took part in an eight-week program held on Monday nights from January to early March. That program, along with filling requests from school groups and other local hills for instructors and adaptive equipment throughout the winter, has been the club’s standard operating schedule for years.

Loyer notes that getting even more people involved and making the equipment available outside of just Monday nights is the organization’s priority.

“We want our program to be more accessible to the skiing public, so if there was a member of the disabled community or an adaptive instructor that had the proper training and wanted to use the equipment on a weekend, we would like to be able to open up our equipment and building to them,” he says. “Our plan is to staff the building on the weekends so anyone from the disabled community could drop in and ski or snowboard if they wanted to and access the adaptive equipment.”

Another aspect of expanding its offerings is to make the CADS Rabbit Hill location a centre for instructor training, not only for the Capital region but for the entire northern part of the province. Neighbouring ski hills will be invited to come to Edmonton for specialized instruction on adaptive skiing and teaching techniques.

The new facility at Rabbit Hill will be a major change for CADS Edmonton, and it comes at a time when the national body of CADS is itself on the verge of major changes.

// Magda Piwowarczyk

// Magda Piwowarczyk

A partnership was struck earlier this year between the Canadian Ski Instructors’ Association (CSIA) and the various associations representing adaptive alpine snow sports throughout Canada—of which CADS is the largest member. The agreement is to explore common initiatives related to instructor education, training and certification.

Ozzie Sawicki, program director for CADS Alberta, says CADS divisions across the country are assessing the information on the new partnerships to see how it will work with their volunteer groups.

“Each province has a bit of a different volunteer structure. Some work more through ski schools in BC and utilize a ski-school model,” Sawicki says. “In Alberta we are very strongly volunteer-based.”

One of the concerns is the amount of training and information that may be required through the new partnership.

“It’s a significant change in volume. In the past there was an expectation to learn what was needed to work with different impairments,” Sawicki continues. “Now that material has become quite a bit more detailed. The question for ourselves right now is wanting to understand what is the cost element, and a fear for us is potentially losing a number of volunteers due to the high cost of having to do a number of modules.”

Sawicki would like to see the provincial CADS program aim for a province-wide outreach in which people from all areas of Alberta have the same opportunities to take part in a higher level of competition, if they wish.

“We are developing what we are calling Slide and Ride camps for every zone in the province next year,” he says. “The camps are designed to have experienced instructors and coaches to work with people who want to do things like fun races, and instructors can take certification modules at the camps as well.”


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