The Fernie Adaptive Ski Program is hoping for two things: a good snow year and to grow the number of people they can help get on skis this year.
FIRE (Fernie Inspire the Race to Empower), as the program is known, was started about five years ago. Founder Grace Brulotte was inspired to start a program in Fernie after having to travel to Kimberley to experience skiing for the first time.
“I went skiing in Kimberley for the first time – sit skiing. We didn’t have a program running so I had to go to Kimberley. I fell so in love with skiing and I was so excited about it that I came home and I sat down and I basically said to myself, that it’s really too bad that we didn’t have a program here,” Brulotte told The Free Press. “I have crazy ideas, and when I have crazy ideas, I just go ahead and do them. So I just decided that I was going to start my own adaptive ski program and that’s where it all started.”
Brulotte, now 19, has seen FIRE expand in its lifetime. In its first year of operation, FIRE had six students. Last year, they had 12, and are hoping to expand again this year.
“We always grow at least two students every year,” Brulotte said.
The program will start in mid-January, and is expected to run through until the first week of April, depending on snow conditions.
Anyone who is skilled at skiing or snowboarding is eligible to become an instructor for FIRE. Brulotte has a lot of respect for the instructors, and said the students also hold them in high regard.
“We like to call our instructors superheroes – the reason we call them superheroes is because all of our students basically when they start they come up with this wall in front of them that says they can’t do skiing or snowboarding because they have a disability. What our instructors do is that they karate kick that wall down and say no you can do this and we are going to show you how. Basically they become superheroes to our students. That’s why it’s so special for our instructors to be involved in this program,” she said.
Brulotte has a disability called Arthrogryposis, which has controlled much of her childhood.
“I spent my whole childhood figuring out how to spell it,” she said. “It stiffens all the joints in my limbs so I can’t bend my arms and legs. I use an electric wheelchair but I’m still quite independent and mobile.”
After she tried skiing, she fell in love with the feeling of it, and finally understood what all of the fuss was about.
“I grew up hearing about powder but I didn’t know how it felt until I experienced it and I understood why people flip out about it so much. And it was also being able to be free because in the winter I’m basically cooped up inside all day long because I can’t get up and walk around, so it was just a way for me to get out and experience something really fun and exciting.”
Brulotte said FIRE has been well received and supported by the community.
“They have been really awesome with making donations and making sure we have everything that we need,” said Brulotte, adding that the next biggest supporter is Highline 100.
Brulotte is encouraging anyone interested in the program or in becoming an instructor to check out FIRE’s website at Fernieadaptiveski.ca.