Adaptive ski instructor Bill Dietrich knew when he witnessed a paralyzed veteran’s life changed through skiing that he had done the right thing in starting a nonprofit program that provides free adaptive skiing for disabled veterans and their families.
Dietrich, executive director for the Two Top Mountain Adaptive Sports Foundation and a certified Alpine ski instructor, began teaching skiing in 1991, but in Aug. 2007 made the decision to start up an adaptive skiing program at Whitetail Resort in Mercersburg, Pa
. Taking into account the large number of disabled veterans who lived in and around the Baltimore-Washington area, Dietrich knew starting his nonprofit could make a world of difference to veterans and their families.
“There was a paraplegic who walks with carbon fiber legs, and I remember listening to him being interviewed about how after he fell off a cliff in Afghanistan and was told he was never going to walk again that the first thing he wanted to do was get strong enough so he could get a gun and commit suicide,” Dietrich said. “But now, he’s mono-skiing with us and is on track to become an instructor this year.”
As a chapter of Disabled Sports USA, Two Top Mountain focuses on giving individuals with disabilities an opportunity to gain confidence and dignity through participation in sports. Unlike other adaptive skiing programs across the country, Two Top offers disabled veterans a chance to ski with their state-of-the-art equipment and on any day of the week during the season – all at no charge.
“Most adaptive skiing programs are only offered for a special week, but in starting this program, I wanted to make sure everyone we served had the best experience possible,” Dietrich said. “That’s what makes us different – we are a daily program, and as long as we know a veteran is coming, we’ll take care of them any day of the week.”
The program has grown to include more than 60 volunteers and can serve up to 35 participants in one day. Last winter, the program served more than 300 veterans as well as more than 200 of their family members, and the goal going into the 2015-2016 season is to serve even more, Dietrich said.
“There’s nothing I like better than seeing the whole family out there racing down the hill and seeing who can win,” he said.
The Two Top Mountain Foundation offers the lessons, equipment, lodging and most meals to veterans free of charge. Lessons are offered by reservation only starting at 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. every day of the week during the season, which typically begins the Friday after Thanksgiving and runs through March. For Alpine skiing, the Foundation offers two options: standing, using 2, 3 or 4 tracking methods, or sitting, using a mono-ski or bi-ski.
“If it’s a high level of paralysis, they’re going to need to be tethered,” Dietrich said. “But I’m very committed to teaching anyone how to ski if it’s a possibility.”
Whitetail Resort uses 100 percent manmade snow, which means ski instruction is not dependent on Mother Nature. The only requirement is that the weather is cold, Dietrich said.
“We will do everything in our power to help an individual attain what they want,” Dietrich said. “I don’t use the word ‘never,’ and I don’t use the word ‘always’ because never is a long time and there isn’t always one way to look at something. We’ll put in the effort to help our veterans learn how to ski so they can continue to do it because skiing is one sport they can share with their family for the rest of their lives.”
For more information or to make a reservation for the 2015-2016 season, visit the Two Top Mountain Adaptive Sports Foundation website at this link