All Are Welcome: New Mexico’s Adaptive Sports Program

February 20, 2017 | By: Martin H. Jones, PhD, aka “The Professor”

New Mexico has resources for all types of skiers including those with physical and cognitive impairments. Everybody is welcome to feel the joy of skiing New Mexico’s sunny slopes.


Vests. Orange Vests. Not hunter orange, but the subtle orange of a late autumn pumpkin. From 20 feet above the ground, I can see orange vest after orange vest. Contrasting against the pearl white snow, the vests stand out, but the number of vests I’m seeing starts to make me wonder. Are the orange vests a new fashion trend on the mountain like the recent return of vintage 1980s and 1990s skiing attire? Is the orange vest some type of new skiing gear? As I float above the trail with the lift carrying me to the top of Ski Santa Fe, I notice the ski run dotted with people donning orange vests. I look up and down the mountain before my brain finally makes sense of what I am seeing. What I see is that all skiers are welcome and supported on the New Mexico slopes.

Adaptive Sports Program

Clad in orange fleece vests over their skiing attire, volunteers for Adaptive Sports Program New Mexico (ASP, help youth and adults with physical and cognitive impairments enjoy the many outdoor activities across New Mexico. In the summer, ASP helps athletes with special needs go kayaking, rock climbing, wake boarding, and other sports. In the winter, the ASP volunteers appear at Ski Santa Fe and Sandia Peak Ski to work with individuals having developmental delays, physical impairments, autism, traumatic brain injuries, Down’s syndrome, critical illnesses, veterans with PTSD, and a variety of other disabilities. ASP serves over 500 athletes a year and give more than 1,000 lessons each year. ASP even partners with physical education classes to help New Mexico students with special needs get on the snow. It is not uncommon to see a group of elementary students with different disabilities skiing on a Friday morning.

What It Does

ASP offers athletes with special needs an opportunity to enjoy skiing and winter sports in New Mexico in a safe and fun environment. Having worked with youth and adults having special needs, I can attest that many individuals with cognitive and physical impairments can feel unsure of whether or how they can participate in outdoor activities. The logistics can be daunting given the need for specialized (and often very costly) equipment needed for skiers with physical impairments. An individual with a physical impairment may not be sure whether there are proper facilities to help get around a ski resort. It may also be difficult for someone with a cognitive impairment or anxiety disorder to feel comfortable getting ski lessons with a large group of beginning skiers. ASP provides an opportunity for athletes with special needs get the physical and social resources needed for a full day on the mountain.

Maybe most importantly, ASP is an opportunity for athletes to socialize with other athletes having special needs in a sport that we all love. People with cognitive and physical impairments can find it difficult meeting other people with similar experiences and interests. ASP puts athletes in touch with each other as well as with over 300 volunteers, which helps develop friendships and build bonds around the common skiing denominator. We all want to feel the cool breeze on our face and powdery snow regardless of our own possible issues.

I may be gushing a bit, but I believe that skiing can become a vehicle for empowering all individuals to enjoy the outdoors. If you don’t believe me, look for the orange vests on the New Mexico slopes. You will see volunteers grinning as they work with children, teens, and adults with special needs. You will then see athletes who are pretty impressive hurtling down the mountain (I have lost count of the number of times when an athlete in a sit-ski beat me). Indeed, the differences are not so important as the outcomes. All are welcome to a great day being on the snow in the Land of Enchantment.

Additional Information

ASP offers instruction at both Ski Santa Fe and Sandia Peak Ski, with both resorts providing generous support to the ASP athletes and volunteers. Other New Mexico resorts, such as Pajarito and Taos, can provide instruction or have special days for skiers with disabilities. You may want to contact these resorts to see what might be the best for you.

Facts for this blog came from the Adaptive Sports Program New Mexico fact sheet. Pictures are courtesy of ASP.

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