A Brief History of Wintergreen Adaptive Sports

Wintergreen Adaptive Sports (WAS) began in 1984 when Vince Fiore, an adult amputee, received his first ski lesson from Michael Zuckerman, a ski instructor at Wintergreen Resort. Untrained in adaptive ski methods, but inspired by his experience with Mr. Fiore, Michael Zuckerman attended his first “Learn to Ski” clinic for individuals with disabilities at the Jack Frost Ski Area in Pennsylvania.

Over the next decade, more than 200 students with a disability received instruction at Wintergreen from Mr. Zuckerman on equipment fabricated or acquired to meet the need of students with a wide array of disabilities. In 1995, increasing demand for adaptive ski instruction, coupled with a decision by Wintergreen management to open the slopes to “sit down” skiers, led to the creation of the first volunteer instructional force.

Over 40 full day private lessons were given that year and seven enthusiastic volunteers were recruited for the next. In May 1996, WAS became an independent 501(c)3 non-profit, incorporating in the state of Virginia, and also became a chapter member of Disabled Sports USA, the largest sports and recreation organization for individuals with disabilities in the United States.

To date, over 2,500 students with disabilities have received adaptive instruction in outdoor sports through WAS. Students of our program have disabilities including but not limited to amputations, autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, developmental disabilities, hearing impairment, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment, and WAS has served an increasing number of wounded military service members.

A Wintergreen Resort slope-side hut was constructed in 2000 and expanded in 2005 to house our adaptive snowsports program. In 2005 WAS initiated its first-ever Wounded Warrior Weekend, an event that continues to bring wounded warriors to Wintergreen Resort for a fantastic family weekend of snow sports and other activities. In 2006 WAS initiated the summer boating program and in 2008 a boat storage building was constructed, next to Wintergreen’s Lake Monocan, to house the growing inventory of canoes and kayaks. A Wounded Warrior Golf tournament and clinic started in 2009 at the Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg.

The key to the success of Wintergreen Adaptive Sports is its volunteer corps.  Annually over 100 volunteer instructors participate in both winter and summer programs as junior and senior level instructors. 

As a public high school teacher, Mr. Zuckerman saw the potential of enlisting his students as volunteers, giving able bodied young people the opportunity and training to work with individuals with a disability.  Now, some of our young adaptive students have “graduated” and become junior and senior instructors themselves.  This union between the adaptive ski program and local high school (and college) students has become one of the mainstays of the WAS experience, encouraging the habits of volunteerism and civic responsibility, as well as human empathy, in growing numbers of young people.

The adult and/or professional volunteer corps at WAS is also carefully selected and cultivated.  Many individuals involved in the program bring their professional experience in related fields to their work with our students.  Among our senior instructors are rehabilitative and orthopedic physicians, neurologists, occupational and physical therapists, teachers, psychologists and carpenters. WAS supports and encourages the volunteer staff—both junior and senior—to pursue professional accreditation through PSIA, AASI and the ACA.  As a result, we have a large number of instructors with professional certification in adaptive skiing  and snowboarding techniques and whitewater kayaking and canoeing.

WAS is especially grateful to Wintergreen Resort for the use of its facilities and for welcoming our program into the life of this great resort.  Without this support, our program would not exist.  

WAS provides Wintergreen and the entire Wintergreen community with shrieks of joy, smiles of gratitude and a surpassing number of transformational experiences on the snow and on the beautiful streams of Central Virginia. We look forward to many more years on this beautiful mountaintop and at our Paddling Program home on Lake Monocan, forging friendships, and instilling great joy among the students, instructors, and friends in the ever-expanding WAS family.