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Crotched Mountain provides accessible ski experience 

  • From left: Mike Egan, Courtney Ahearn, and Kristin Harris get off the chairlift at the top of Crotched Mountain on Thursday, March 15, 2018. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Kristin Harris guides Courtney Ahearn down the slopes of Crotched Mountain Ski & Ride. Staff photo by Abby Kessler

  • From left: Mike Egan, Courtney Ahearn, Kristin Harris, and Geoff Garfinkle stop to rest while skiing at Crotched Mountain. Staff photo by Abby Kessler

  • From left: Mike Egan, Courtney Ahearn, and Kristin Harris prepare to ski down Crotched Mountain on Thursday, March 15, 2018. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • The Crotched Mountain adaptive ski program hosts program Thursday, March 15, 2018. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Kristin Harris and Courtney Ahearn ski down a trail at Crotched Mountain on Thursday, March 15, 2018. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Kristin Harris and Courtney Ahearn ski down a trail at Crotched Mountain on Thursday, March 15, 2018. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, April 02, 2018 6:1PM

Donning a highlighter pink helmet and goggles, Courtney Ahearn careened down a trail in an adaptive ski sled at Crotched Mountain Ski & Ride in Bennington on a recent Thursday.

Kristin Harris, a program coordinator at Crotched Mountain Accessible Recreation and Sports, followed close behind the sled, using tethers to guide the device. Mike Egan, a volunteer, turned closely behind the duo, acting as an assistant. It was one of the first runs of the day, and the three wove their way down a trail called Meteor.

Harris held her gloved hands in front of her after the run. She explained to Ahearn, who has physical limitations and communication barriers, that tapping the left hand meant “no” and that the right meant “yes.”

“Do you want to keep skiing?” Harris asked Ahearn after the run.

Ahearn tapped her right hand, signaling that she wanted more.

Harris and Egan pushed Ahearn’s ski sled back to the base of the chairlift, waited for it to come around, and together, hoisted the sled onto the perch. The three rode the lift up together and got off a few minutes later at the top of the mountain. 

Harris held out her hands again, this time asking Ahearn if she was ready to ski. Ahearn tapped the right hand. She was ready. 

The three started winding their way down another trail. 

CMARS has been offering therapeutic programs since 1990. In 2003, it branched off and formed its own program operated out of the ski area in Bennington. When it first started, the adaptive ski program was only open to people affiliated with the school or the former hospital, but therapeutic programs have since been opened to anyone who is interested in the community. Geoff Garfinkle, director of recreation therapy, said today about 60 percent of the people who participate in CMARS are from the greater community. CMARS also offers hiking, kayaking, cycling, target shooting, and snowshoeing for people with disabilities.

“I was able to get kids with more severe disabilities doing things that their families didn’t think was possible, their teachers didn’t think was possible,” Garfinkle said as a reason that he has been with the program for nearly three decades. 

“Maybe what the outside world thought was possible,” David Johnson, director of marketing and communications for the Crotched Mountain Foundation, chimed in. “That’s a big thing like the doctor didn’t think it was possible. You have this disability and you want to go skiing? I mean that doesn’t make sense.”

Garfinkle said over time he started seeing additional benefits to the program as well.

“It was really about helping people develop their identities, so you would have a kid with a severe disability, so someone around them might see somebody in a wheelchair or somebody with very significant disabilities but all of a sudden now this individual is a skier and he’s up here (in the lodge at Crotched Mountain), you know, having snacks with people from other school districts,” Garfinkle said. “It became a very normative experience for them.”

Johnson said he’s not a skier and isn’t often on the mountain with the people running the program, but he said, the power of the program is evident through pictures and videos.

“You can see them bouncing and having fun,” Johnson said referencing a video that was taken of one boy that has severe challenges. 

Garfinkle said it’s hard to get that kid to do just about anything. He said walking from one class to another can be a feat.

“He doesn’t want to walk to the other classroom,” Garfinkle said. “But when he comes here, he lights up, he’s pumped. He’s bouncing and he’s very excited to be out here skiing.”

That’s one of the things Garfinkle likes so much about the program — CMARS provides real-world experience. One of the primary goals for people attending Crotched is to get them into the least restrictive environments as possible in the future. CMARS can help with that, he said. 

Ahearn was the only person taking advantage of the ski program on the Thursday afternoon in mid-March. Two others had planned on skiing through the CMARS program that day but canceled at the last minute.

Harris said that Ahearn graduated from the school at Crotched a number of years ago. No one had seen or heard from her until recently when she expressed interest in going skiing again. And for about two hours on Thursday, Ahearn skied. 

“I feel like there are successes every day at CMARS, they might be little or big successes, but every day there is a success,” Harris said at the end of the ski day.

For more information about CMARS, including participating fees and direction on how to volunteer with the program, visit: www.crotchedmountain.org and hit “accessible recreation” page.