By Amanda Dyslin
---- — Some of the people who take part in the Mankato Community Education and Recreation's adaptive skiing program never imagined they'd get the chance to downhill ski.
With a range of physical disabilities, many can't walk, let alone ski.
And that's why coordinator Ben Keist has enjoyed his job so much the past couple of years; seeing the smiles on participants' faces has been pretty amazing.
“We're providing an opportunity for these people to ski, and if our program wasn't around it really wouldn't be an option for them,” Keist said.
The volunteer-run Adaptive Ski program provides special equipment that allows people with physical disabilities to sit and ski down Mount Kato. On Tuesdays and Sundays in January and February, volunteers set up the registered participants in the equipment and then watch the fun unfold.
Equipment includes a device the person sits on that is strapped to a solo ski. The person then uses two out-riggers (like poles with mini skis attached) to balance. They turn by shifting their body weight.
“Our ultimate goal is for any of these individuals to be able to ski on their own,” Keist said.
Regular participation has been strong the past several years. About 15 or so regular skiers are taking part in the program. Their disabilities range from cerebral palsy and spina bifida to blindness.
Keist said private lessons and word of mouth have helped recruit a number of newer participants. Their ages can range from 6 to 70, he said.
About 30 volunteers are needed throughout the season, with about 25 volunteers working on any given Sunday because one participant could require up to four volunteers.
Keist said the program is always looking for additional help.
Anyone interested in volunteering should call Keist at 507-207-3036.