If you have been at Fernie Alpine Resort (FAR) this year you may have seen some fluorescent vests accompanying skiers or snowboarders of different abilities around the mountain. Fernie Inspire the Race to Empower (FIRE) adaptive ski program enables individuals with differing abilities to enjoy snow sports on the mountain.
“With the help of our certified volunteer instructors, our mission is to give our students the freedom to ski and snowboard, as well as provide the opportunity to see the ability. Because of our sponsors, such as Fernie Alpine Resort and Highline 100, our services can be made available and accessible to all,” said the programs founder, Grace Brulotte.
Brulotte has recently received an award from the Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing (CADS) for Administrator of the Year for her work with FIRE.
“It’s a national award, given to a program coordinator in Canada. The CADS board gives this award to individuals who have shown outstanding commitment and dedication to the program they are involved with,” she said in regards to the award. “I was completely shocked when I heard my name being called for the award. It took me about 15 minutes to stop shaking afterwards. I am so honoured to know that my work has made a difference and has been recognized in such a way as this. I truly love what I do, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
The sport was introduced to Brulotte in the form of sit skiing when she was 15 years old.
“The experience touched my life in an indescribable way. For the first time in my life, I was able to experience freedom. Not just freedom from my physical constraints, but from the mental ones as well,” she said. “What society said was impossible, adaptive skiing proved to be just the opposite. I knew that I needed to provide this experience to as many people as I could, which is why I decided to get the ball rolling to bring an adaptive program to Fernie.”
The program is now in its fourth year of operation and has steadily grown each year.
“I am thrilled to say that this year we have had 12 students get FIRE’d up about skiing. When we first started four years ago, we had five students participate in the program, so it’s truly amazing that we’ve grown so much over the years,” she said.
FIRE adaptive ski program is completely volunteer run. The program is always looking for more volunteers, there are many roles available to help make FIRE run smoothly.
“Our website, Fernieadaptiveski.ca, provides all the information an individual would need to volunteer with us. We are always looking for volunteers, whether they’re interested in instructing, helping with equipment, program administration and management, or fundraising and event planning,” she said.
The season is now officially over for the program, and Brulotte considers the 2015/2016 season to be one of the best yet for the program.
“I can’t say enough about how well the program has gone this season. I am repeatedly saying it’s our best season yet, and couldn’t be prouder of its success. Not only that, but our student’s progression this season has been amazing, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if some of them end up being racers and athletes,” she said. “I tend to gush excessively about the program’s success; but I’m just so proud. We are officially closed for the season, and I am happy to say that we’ve given a total of 77 lessons this season, which is a record for us.”
The program does more than just get students out on the hill and often makes a lasting impression on more than just the skier or snowboarder.
“The reaction we get the most is that FIRE changes lives. From our students, I’ve heard parents say that they’ve never seen their child enjoy anything as much as skiing or snowboarding,” she said. “With some students we get reactions that wouldn’t normally be seen. And from our instructors, I’ve had one of them tell me that their student is the reason they get up in the morning. As one of our instructors says, “It’s all about the smileage.”
Even though it was a record setting season Brulotte has no plans of slowing down and wants to grow the program for the next season.
“We hope to continue making the necessary steps to make the program even better every year. We’d like to offer more opportunities for our students and instructors, and to see growth in general,” she said. “We also have goals of having the community be made more aware of our services, and continue to establish ourselves as a part of Fernie Alpine Resort.”