This Colorado Ski Resort Is Making the Slopes More Accessible to Skiers and Snowboarders With Disabilities

Everyone should be able to play in the snow.

Biski with Mike client with MS in Steamboat Springs
Photo: Courtesy of STARS

Steamboat Ski Resort, located three hours northwest of Denver, Colorado, is well-known for its "Champagne powder," a.k.a its ultra-fluffy snow made up of just six percent water content. It's an off-the-beaten-path ski resort that offers skiers and snowboarders nearly 3,000 acres across 170 named trails. And the resort is working hard to ensure that skiing is accessible to everyone.

Snowy view of Steamboat Resort
Courtesy of Steamboat Resort

For more than a decade, the resort has partnered with Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports (STARS), a nonprofit committed to offering accessible ski or snowboard experiences for those with disabilities.

"STARS was formed in 2007 by a group of parents, ski instructors, and management from Steamboat Ski Corporation to help provide improved winter recreational opportunities for people with disabilities," STARS executive director, Gardner Flanigan, explained to Travel + Leisure. Since its inception, Flanigan said, the program has grown to offer year-round offerings on and off the mountain for youth, adults, and veterans with cognitive and/or physical disabilities.

A group of Visually Impaired skiing in Steamboat Springs
Courtesy of STARS

The partnership between STARS and Steamboat Ski Resort means everyone can find lessons and specialized equipment not only for skiing and snowboarding, but also for summer activities such as biking, kayaking, hiking, equine therapy, and waterskiing, giving travelers with disabilities the opportunity to discover the great outdoors in new ways.

"I had an amazing experience with skiing, thanks to my ski instructor," Emily F., a STARS skier, shared with T+L. "He made it really fun and took me on adventures that I thought I would never experience. And the best thing was we both like to go fast. He didn't see my disability as a problem, I was just me. He didn't make me feel bad if I couldn't do what he asked of me. He challenged me, but still knew how to have fun."

Beyond helping her ski, Emily explained, the program gave her a sense of responsibility.

"Every morning I knew that someone was waiting for me, so I better get up and get moving," Emily said. "And every morning, he would put me in my sit ski and never complain about anything. Skiing with my instructor made me feel something I haven't felt for a long time. My depression was gone for a while. He believed in me like nobody has before. I wish I could give him at least half of what he gave me."

A ski gondola at Steamboat Resort
Courtesy of Steamboat Resort

According to Flanigan, the program is available for skiers and riders age five and older of any skill level. Instructors are available to teach two-, three-, and four-track skiers, snowboarders, bi-skiers, mono-skiers, as well as those who are visually or hearing impaired, or those using ski bikes or ski trikes.

"STARS programming provides Physical, Behavioral, and Mental Health Services to some of the most vulnerable. We work to recognize, respect, and build on the strengths of all individuals and families," Flanigan notes. "We promote inclusiveness and design our programs to help move people with disabilities along the continuum toward self-sufficiency and independence."

Ready to hit the slopes? Interested participants can visit the Steamboat STARS website to book a lesson, which includes equipment and lift tickets.

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