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By Hunter Hedenberg
Usually, when you enter the Mt. Ellen base lodge at Sugarbush Resort on a Monday, it’s a bit quieter than the flurry of weekend skiers. A few folks will be there wrestling their boots on, or munching on french fries. This week, however, the lodge is an explosion of activity nearly every weekday.
This week is the bi-annual Zeno Mountain Farm ski camp, and that means it is a full week of ski lessons, seeing old friends, making new ones, and filling that base lodge with laughter. Zeno Mountain Farm is a community of people with a home in Lincoln, Vermont, about 35 minutes from our Mad River Valley home. They host year-round camps and retreats for people with and without disabilities with a focus on creating a lasting community that sticks together for life. At Zeno, no one pays to attend and no one is paid.
Zeno and Vermont Adaptive have teamed up for ski camp for many years, and it has been a blast ever since. Emily, one of the Zeno Mountain interns and a member of the community since the start of the ski camps, flattered us when she said that “Vermont Adaptive is like an extension of our community up on the mountain. Some of our athletes have been working with the same Vermont Adaptive coaches for years, and those athletes and coaches have long-lasting, continuing relationships.” She says that there’s “no way we could do this without Vermont Adaptive. The amount of support we get in terms of coaches, but also just in the gear and the passes is amazing.”
In-kind, we love the opportunity to get to know some of the athletes at Zeno that we wouldn’t have met otherwise. Like Emmie, who lives just north of Los Angeles and flies to Vermont every year specifically for ski camp. Some of the athletes we get the chance to work with have never seen snow before, let alone skied it. The chance to experience that with them is what we love, and what helps us build the relationships with our participants.
The collaboration between Zeno Mountain Farm and Vermont Adaptive is such a natural one. When we asked Abby, a volunteer with both Zeno Mountain and Vermont Adaptive, what kept her coming back, her answer was so simple and something we’ve heard so many times before: “It’s just so fun. It sucks you in.” Both of our organizations are interested in the skiing part of ski camp, but it’s the community aspect and feeling of togetherness that really stands out about the camp.
Emily pointed out that skiing is such a quintessential part of Vermont culture, but not always an easily accessible activity for someone with a disability. This ski camp envelopes people in to the activity and gets them connected to something so Vermont-y – it’s almost like pouring Vermont maple syrup on pancakes, it’s that “Vermont.”
She also stressed that learning to ski is a great equalizer. No matter who you are, learning to ski can be just plain hard. Some members of the Zeno Mountain community who don’t have a disability and are just learning to ski get absolutely smoked by their friends who are ski camp veterans.
Being the best skier is far from the point of this week of lessons, however. Each year Zeno Mountain and Vermont Adaptive put together a three turn race course that does not test time, but consistency. The entire group is split into four teams, and each team member takes two runs through the course, trying to get their two times to be as close as possible. Most of the athletes try to get through as fast as possible, and then match their time on the second run. Last year’s winner had a different approach. She had just started skiing that week, and her time through the course was an accomplishment for her, but was not the speediest in the group. Amazingly, she came in within .01 seconds of her first time, which was the closest time-match in the history of ski camp. This just goes to show that ski camp is for everyone, regardless of skiing ability.
Skiing is only one part of this week-long camp. Those four teams also compete in curling, soccer, bowling, and a relay-race version of charades. Jake, one of the Zeno athletes who has been coming to ski camp for five years, says that his favorites are curling, skiing, and charades, in that order.
Getting a window into the life at Zeno Mountain Farm is a treat for us at Vermont Adaptive. Their community has such an obvious love for each other you can’t help but feel it reach out and draw you in. It happens as soon as you enter the boisterous base lodge. We’re going to enjoy it all week, and at the next ski camp in the spring, and for many years to come.