alpine access ability 

By Amy Fendley In the 17 years he has spent extreme skiing, Steve Napier has only missed one season. It was 1982, and he was in Banff for an Armed Forces training exercise. Today, Napier, 35, is concentrating his effort and skills on a new exercise. Napier is a volunteer ski instructor for Whistler/Blackcomb’s Alpine Access Ability program. He is a class T6 quadriplegic, and the only disabled Level 1 instructor on the mountain — a goal he fulfilled through strong will and determination. Napier, had just completed his studies in graphic design when he left his home of Surrey, England, and set sail for Whistler in December, 1998. With the encouragement of one of his "best Mates" Sian Blyth — who has been instrumental in marketing the Alpine Access Ability program — he decided to make the journey on a Tuesday, landed in Vancouver on a Thursday and drove to Whistler on Friday. Just before Christmas, Napier completed his Level 1. "I was sitting there in a mono-ski, in Winter Park, Colorado," recalls Napier. "There was only one direction to go, and it was downhill and fast. There was this able-bodied guy telling us what to do, using visuals to demonstrate how it’s supposed to be. I looked over at one point and the guy was smiling. At that point, I decided I wanted to be like him, doing what he was doing." Napier became a quadriplegic three years ago, after a fall off his XJ 600 Yamaha. "I decided to fall off my bike and get hit by a van coming the other way," he says. "I was wearing full leather when the accident happened and there were no marks on me, except for a bruise on my back where my spinal cord had been severed by the act of the van driving over me. A good helmet saved my life. But I guess if that hadn’t have happened, I wouldn’t be here right now, would I." Napier compares skiing in a sit-ski to go-carting, and says "It feels like you’re going 40 (kilometres an hour), but you’re really only going 2. "My biggest fear is hurting myself again. I’m getting better and faster, but I still haven’t got enough gumption to go straight down the hill. As an instructor, I emphasize the technical stuff, like taking time to go down, and turning, which is the most important factor in speed control." Disabled skiing has been going on at Whistler Mountain since the mid-60s, when a program for the War Amputees was introduced. Gradually, over the last three to five years, the Disabled Skiers Association of British Columbia has integrated into the mountains’ set-up, to provide ski instruction and assistance for disabled destination skiers. Since its inception last year, the Alpine Access Ability program has been providing people with disabilities, with the assistance of a large band of volunteers, access to the recreational opportunities available at Whistler/Blackcomb. The programs are directed toward all abilities: from beginners needing basic instruction, to the seasoned skier who needs only a guide to fresh powder. Certified instructors and volunteers use the latest in adaptive skiing techniques and equipment to meet the needs of each individual. In co-operation with the Disabled Skiers Association Of British Columbia, Alpine Access Ability rides and maintains an inventory of equipment and provides cutting edge instruction in downhill skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing, focusing on abilities, not disabilities. Skiers have the opportunity to learn individually or with family and friends. The program offers lessons on adaptive skis such as bi-skis, mono-skis and sit-skis, for people who use wheelchairs, including those with paraplegia and quadriplegia, bilateral lower extremity amputations, or developmental disabilities. Napier is competing in this weekend’s sixth annual Finning Challenge Cup Race, which takes place on Blackcomb Sunday, March 7 at 10 a.m. The dual slalom race has been raising funds for the DSABC for 17 years. Proceeds from the event go towards purchasing specialized equipment, learn-to-ski programs, and instructor clinics for people of all ages and abilities throughout B.C. to enjoy the sport of skiing. The race is designed for the recreational skier, and teams consist of three able-bodies persons, plus one person with a disability. Following the team’s first run, each member submits an estimated time for their second run. The team closest to their combined time wins. For more information or to register, contact the Disabled Skiers Association of B.C., (604) 737-3042.

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