By Ezra Black
Reporter, administrator, athlete, president of a non-profit society and first up the Timber Chair at Fernie Alpine Resort’s (FAR) opening day: Grace Brulotte is all those things.
By 8 a.m. on Dec. 2, about a hundred people waited in line for the lift to open but only the 20-year old and three others got to ride the first chair of the season.
Brulotte was born with a rare congenital disorder called arthrogryposis, a condition that stiffens body joints. You would think this could keep her off the slopes but she’s been skiing since the age of 15.
“To me it represents freedom,” she said. “With my disability every move that I make is very heavy and restrictive. Skiing is pretty much the only time I get to feel that freedom of movement. It makes my life special.”
Brulotte is the founder of the Fernie Inspire the Race to Empower (FIRE) adaptive ski program, which enables individuals with differing abilities to enjoy snow sports on the mountain.
“It’s our goal to push the limits and redefine what people think is possible for people with disabilities,” she said.
Brulotte secured her spot with the help of 49-year old Scott Courtemanche, an instructor with FIRE and her sit-skiing guide, who camped out at the foot of the Timber Chair with her sit-ski.
“She’s a normal everyday skier, she just does things a bit differently,” said Courtemanche. “I ask her where she wants to go and how she wants to get there.
She can initiate turns by moving her head and her shoulders and it changes the geometry of the sit-ski.”
Courtemanche said it was a thrill getting to the top of the hill and knowing that nobody else was on the mountain.
“Then you get halfway down and turn around and there are hundreds of people following you,” he said. “It’s like leading a huge parade.”
Perennial first-chair rider Greg (G-Money) Barrow also camped out to secure his spot. It was the 68-year old’s sixteenth consecutive year riding first chair at FAR.
Over 16 years of bitter cold and rainy nasty nights, Barrow has always managed to be at least the fourth person in line.
“Once I did it two or three years in a row I figured I had to keep it going,” said Barrow. “And over the years there have been quite a few people that have tried to beat me but I’ve always managed to beat them.”
“Most of the time I’ve camped,” he continued. “I find that camping is easier than getting up early. I’ve got a good tent, a good sleeping bag and I sleep super well.”
Then there were the dark horses Ryan Streifel, 27, who also camped out at the foot of the hill with his friend Taylor Entz, 28. The two were fourth and fith in line so final spot on the first chair was decided by a heated exchange of rock, paper, scissors.
“I threw rock, he threw paper,” said Entz, who went up on the third chair. “And that’s all she wrote.”
Matt (Powder Matt) Mosteller, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Sales and Resort Experience, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, said the carnival atmosphere on opening day is a long running tradition.
“It’s a spiritual thing,” he said. “The soul of the sport is to kick off the season. You don’t have to have first chair. Most important is the big smiles people have and to bring to life this grand experience that everyone is so passionate about in our community.”