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Mountains of Possibility

Published in the Durango Magazine Winter/Spring 2003

Like many visitors to Durango, Klaudia Birkner has visited Durango a number of times over the past 10 years. But she’s not a typical tourist. Because Birkner has been blind since she was 16 and has a rare disease that affects her spinal cord, she comes to ski with Durango’s Adaptive Sports Association, a group that strives “to give disability a possibility.”

Birkner had never skied when she could see, so in 1992, she learned to ski by following the voices of ASA volunteer instructors. She used poles with pontoons attached to the ends for extra support. Over the years, Birkner gained national success as an adaptive racer and was a medallist in the U.S. Disabled Alpine National Championships.

Birkner says her experiences as a skier with disabilities bolstered her self-confidence because when she used a wheelchair or a white cane, she was always attached to something or somebody. But when skiing with ASA, she was “only attached by voice.”

“It gave me freedom that I thought I would never have,” Birkner says. “Skiing opened up the world for me…every time I went to ski, I felt more confident. It poured over into every area of my life.”

Birkner isn’t alone: since its inception in 1983, thousands of people with disabilities have learned or relearned to ski with ASA. The mission of ASA is “to enhance the self-esteem and physical well-being of people with disabilities through participation in sports and outdoor recreational experiences regardless of individual financial limitations.”

ASA reaches that goal with the help of approximately 200 local volunteers who undergo extensive training before donating an average of 14,000 hours each year. Durango Mountain Resort pitches in with in-kind donations – such as lift tickets – that reach about $190,000 each year.

“I consider volunteers to be an essential element of what makes our program such a success,” says Tim Kroes, executive director of ASA. “People get involved because they truly care, and their passion shows in everything they do…”

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