Colorado’s stunning landscapes are gifts that practically beg to be explored. And thanks to Crested Butte-based nonprofit Adaptive Sports Center, everyone—not just the able-bodied—can learn how to explore the Centennial State’s natural wonders.
Founded in 1987 by a small group of residents providing ski instruction and equipment for individuals with disabilities, Adaptive Sports Center (ASC) has grown—thanks in part to a $50,000 donation in 1988 from President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter—to become a full-fledged therapeutic recreation program, providing more than 6,000 outings and activities each year to nearly 800 participants and their families. The nonprofit currently offers over a dozen outdoor adaptive activities—such as skiing, cycling, rafting, and rock climbing, to name a few—and provides expert instruction on equipment like monoskis, bi-skis, and hand bikes. But it’s not just about adventuring, ASC will even be launching new art therapy programs this winter.
“Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities,” says Justin Clapp, marketing manager for ASC. “We want to be able to give them that ability to really capture that moment for themselves, no matter if it’s during the winter season or summer season. Through skiing, mountain biking, hiking, we want them to be able to get that sense of success for themselves and empower them each day.”
The cost of the organization’s programs—which range from sport-specific summer and winter adventures to camps focused on women, teen burn victims, and families—varies based on the chosen activity and whether it’s a group or individual session. Scholarships are also available for individuals in need.
Program director Chris Read says ASC helps pinpoint and prioritize the the goals of each participant, and goes from there. “If someone’s like: ‘I might ski once or twice a year, I might ski every other year on my family’s ski vacation,’ that’s one goal. And then someone else might be like: ‘Hey, I want to ski every week, and I want to work my way to being a Paralympian,’” Read says. “So based on their mindset, and what they want to get out of their participation really influences how we set them up and how we go through the learning progressions of the activity.”
The organization recently reached the summit of one of its own peaks of progress, opening its brand new Kelsey Wright Building at the base of Mount Crested Butte this past July. The $14 million facility was the organization’s biggest campaign to date, as they were slowly reaching capacity in the basement of a building at the base of Crested Butte and had to find space around town to lodge guests.
The new four-level, 25,000-square-foot complex doubled the nonprofit’s space and allowed them to create a facility catered to their needs, with features like an indoor rock-climbing wall and an entire floor of centralized lodging. The new digs will likely come in handy, as Adaptive Sports Center is preparing to reach 10,000 activities annually by the year 2030, if growth continues as projected.
That might seem like a daunting number to shoulder, but Clapp emphasizes that their focus remains the same: honing in on that individual-centric approach and personalization of the training and activities. This becomes important when working with a variety of needs and disabilities, including ASC’s programs for veterans and first responders. Read estimates that about 30–35 percent of ASC’s programming is centered around military veterans, and that PTSD is a common undercurrent that many participants are faced with.
“[PTSD] is the invisible disability,” Clapp says. “It’s the one you may not see on the outside, but it is striking somebody from the inside constantly, day in, day out.” Because of this, ASC caters their veteran programs to address the unique challenges of PTSD, often planning activities in advance with occupational or recreational therapists who accompany the veterans on their trips, or even arranging their rooms in specific ways that are mindful of triggers. For veteran participants, Read says they focus on healthy leisure activities that can be good for them in their free time—especially adventures that involve peaceful spaces like snowshoeing and nordic skiing. Read says the “flow state” often achieved through rock climbing has also proven popular with veterans.
The ASC team has been advocates for the benefits of outdoor recreation as a form of therapy, and Read says he wants participants to feel empowered to make the best choices in their daily lives, so if that choice ever boils down between going to the bar or going for a bike ride, ability won’t affect that decision. “We do think we are having an influence on their ability to be like, ‘Oh, I can go do this thing that’s going to be healthy and active and interesting for me,’” Read says.
More than anything, Adaptive Sports Center aims to help participants extend their peer network and foster independence. “We always joke that it’s a terrible business model,” Read laughs. “You know, because we lose money on every lesson we provide, and our goal is to make it where our participants don’t need us anymore.”