fitnessIssue 2

Skiing Without Limits



what does a day at the ski slope mean to you? If you’re an able bodied person who can ski—whether you have the skills to shred a black diamond run or can just barely manage the bunny hill—fresh powder and a short drive to Dodge Ridge can mean big time winter fun. But for someone with disabilities, a trip to the ski slope might mean a seemingly insurmountable number of challenges and barriers to enjoyment.

Twenty five years ago, this imbalance inspired a group of thoughtful skiers to found the Winter Skiing Unlimited Program and make the dream of skiing a reality for those who thought it would never be possible. Since then, the program, which is run through Stanislaus County’s Society for Handicapped Children and Adults, has helped facilitate numerous ski trips to Dodge Ridge for a wide range of people with disabilities.

winter-ski3According to Marci Boucher, Executive Director for the Society for Handicapped Children and Adults, the Winter Skiing Unlimited program helps kids and adults with autism and Down Syndrome as well as blind, deaf, paraplegic, quadriplegic and developmentally disabled individuals find fun on the slopes. “The program’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities,” said Boucher. “For the most part, almost anyone can participate. No disability is too severe. Our volunteers pride themselves on making it happen and coming up with adapted devices to assist an individual with anything they may need to make it easier.”

A day on the slopes with the Winter Skiing Unlimited Program is like looking into the heart of can-do engineering. Assistance devices from specially-adapted skis to sleds piloted by program volunteers mean access to unimpeached possibility for participants. The program’s many volunteers put these devices to work transforming sometimes hundreds of individuals who never dreamed they could ski to crowds full of beaming rosy-cheeked faces. Parents and caregivers often come along on the program’s weekly trips in order to share the joy of skiing with their loved ones for the first time. “For some, this is the only time they have ever been able to participate in a sporting activity,” said Boucher. “I had a father come up to me in tears at the end of last year’s program who said this was the only time he had ever been able to participate in a recreational program with his son. He said he will never forget it.”

For some individuals, Winter Skiing Unlimited can mean even more. For Katie Steeley, who was born deaf and had developed a fear of going outside, Winter Skiing Unlimited helped her overcome her fear and open up to new experiences. According to a letter written to the program by Katie’s mother Gaye, the influence of Winter Skiing Unlimited didn’t just help Katie learn to ski, it helped her build a great new group of friends and eventually the sense of possibility the program brought her led Katie to get her driver’s license and even land her first job.

While the program may not be as transformative for everyone, participants can expect great fun, said Boucher. “You can expect to make friends, meet the most amazing caring volunteers in the world and have the time of your life!”

One of the only limits to the program is the amount (and skills) of each trip’s volunteers. Over 100 such volunteers make weekly trips to Dodge Ridge during each winter season to help program participants experience the slopes. Volunteers get a free lift ticket, on-the-mountain training and an unsurpassed feeling of pride. “This is the most unique loving, caring group of people I have met,” said Boucher. “They all do it because they love to help, they have a passion for it and for seeing the smiles on the faces of the participants.”

winter-ski2The Winter Skiing Unlimited is made possible by volunteer directors Michael Ireland and Denis Sondeno—who have helped coordinate the program for over 25 years—and is funded from private donations, grants and a special ski-a-thon fundraiser put on each year by the program’s participants and volunteers.

To become a Winter Skiing Unlimited volunteer, to apply to become a participant or just to find out more visit the Society for Handicapped Children and Adults on the web at or contact Lynn Q-V, Program Director for the Society at 209-524-3536 or [email protected].

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