Taos Adaptive: A Story

In 1986, Peter Donahue was tasked with an important job. A ski instructor at the Ernie Blake Snowsports School, he volunteered to ski with a little girl named Gina. However, Gina only had limited use of her legs. She had come from an orphanage in Bombay where she had contracted Polio, before being adopted by a local Taos doctor and his wife.

Peter, who had experience coaching the Special Olympics, set Gina up with equipment. As he recalls, “I accomplished this by getting the repair shop guys (thanks Jimmy Martinez!) to attach a pair of skis to the bottom of a child sized “walker” that I tethered from behind with reins.” Next, he attached her skis together at the tips and spread the heels of her boots apart with a bar to form a small ‘snow-plow.’

“We then got snowmobile rides up to the “beaver pond” from the ski patrol, and slid our way back down Rubezahl to the bottom. Gina had very limited English, and she would say “bumpy road!” with her strong accent. Ernie (Blake) saw me working with her one day, and he insisted that I be paid for my work.”

That was the birth of the Adaptive Program at Taos Ski Valley. The program now supports skiers and riders of all ages and varying abilities with instruction from adaptive pros at the Ernie Blake Snowsports School, who specialize in everything from mono-skiing to blind guiding. The Taos Winter Sports Team (TWST) supports over 50 children with special needs with season long scholarships.

When it comes to disabilities, snow is the great equalizer. “Snowsports is a venue where a child or an individual with a disability can actually stand up and glide and move over the surface of the ground in a way that only able-bodied people can,” says Peter, who is now the Special Olympics Program Director for TWST. “It gives them a great sense of freedom and accomplishment.”

In 1996, the New Mexico Special Olympics cancelled the on-snow events after a severe drought. Three years ago, Peter helped create the Special Olympics Competition Program at Taos. The TWST Special Olympics Team is now the only program in New Mexico. Every year, Peter takes the Taos Alpine team up to Copper Mountain for the Colorado State Special Olympics Winter Games. This season the team went up on February 24 th and 25 th , and dominated the podium, taking home 10 medals. “There is hope of rekindling interest in the sport here (in New Mexico) in future years,” says Peter.

Peter and the whole Adaptive Team have done an amazing job at creating an opportunity for those with disabilities to be included in the world of snowsports. You can donate to the Taos Winter Sports Team Adaptive Fund here

And make sure to check out the PyeongChang Paralympics, beginning today, and watch one-time Taos local Danelle Umstead compete in Alpine Skiing. Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at birth, Danelle is completely blind, but fell in love with the slopes while living in Taos in 2000, and is now a three-time Paralympian and three-time bronze medalist. Good luck to Danelle and all the competitors at the Paralympics!