Guest Author: Andrew Mitchell
As a former Host Mountain Resort of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and one of North America’s leading ski resorts, Whistler is on a mission to be more accessible to individuals of all abilities. And while accessibility features like ramps and features for the visually and hearing impaired are part of the solution, it’s through adaptive recreation that Whistler really stands out.
During the winter, you may have seen sit-skis on the slopes or cross-country trails during winter camps, or visually impaired skiers following behind one of the resort’s many trained guides. During the summer months things are really starting to take off with over a dozen different adaptive activities now offered through the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program.
“Our summer user numbers are starting to creep up to our winter numbers,” says Whistler Adaptive executive director Chelsey Walker. “In the last couple of years, we’ve really increased our equipment to accommodate individuals with different needs.”
Some of the new equipment includes adaptive paddleboards, adaptive mountain bikes, and adaptive kayaks. They are also working with the Whistler Sailing Club to host more sailing programs. Summer camps and programs are also popular. For example, this is the fifth year that Whistler Adaptive will host Spinal Cord Injury B.C., with 50 wheelchair athletes coming to Whistler to try a variety of sports.
Although they have over 40 trained volunteers and contractors (and they’re always looking for more), Whistler Adaptive recommends booking early – they started to book individuals and groups back in February. “We will always do our best to accommodate everyone we can up until a couple of days before their arrival, but you may not get the activity you want,” says Walker.
Walker says the outdoor recreational experience can be life changing for individuals with mental and physical disabilities.
“Anybody who has been outside knows the therapeutic benefits of being in nature,” she says. “A lot of people with disabilities are living in hardscape day in and day out, and the ability to get into the woods is absolutely key. One fellow came out to a mountain bike camp last year on Labour Day weekend, and it was a complete and utter transformation for him. It was like a lightbulb went off – he was so happy to be back in his environment really for the first time since his injury.”
Here are some of the things Whistler offers visitors of different abilities during the summer months:
On the Water
Through partnerships, Whistler Adaptive is able to offer adaptive programs for canoeing, kayaking, rowing, sailing, stand-up paddleboarding, and even outrigger canoeing. The best place to see the mountains is from the middle of Whistler’s amazing lakes. Programs can accommodate all kinds of disabilities and mobility issues.
On the Valley Trail
Whistler Adaptive has a fleet of bikes available, including hand-pedaled bikes for individuals with lower body disabilities, and e-bikes for riders with other mobility issues. This is an amazing way to get around Whistler, guided or solo, following the town’s almost 40 km network of paved, scenic trails.
Into the Woods
Whistler has over 50 km of hiking trails available on the mountains and in the valley that can be accessed using single wheel Trail Rider chairs. Getting into nature can be one of the most difficult challenges for the elderly and disabled, but Whistler Adaptive, as always, has found a way.
Mountain biking is also a growing activity, with Whistler Adaptive using a combination of two and three-wheeled bikes to get people off the gravel paths and onto some of the singletrack trails around Whistler. Trained guides are already working with riders that have various mental and physical impairments.
Into the Mountains
Whistler Blackcomb, a leading supporter of Whistler Adaptive, offers year-round wheelchair access up Whistler Mountain and the wheelchairs can be accommodation on the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola for a ride over to Blackcomb as well.
The Whistler Adaptive Sports Program also hosts a number of programs for athletes, including camps and season-long training sessions. Programs include alpine ski racing, alpine skiing, snowboarding, a year-round Autism Program (ASD) that does a variety of sports, training for Nordic skiing and biathlon, and programs for biking and hand-cycling, canoeing, hiking, kayaking, rowing, and yoga. The best place to get the details is on the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program website.
The Best of Everything Else…
That’s just the programs offered through Whistler Adaptive. A lot of other tours operating in Whistler have adaptive options as well, ranging from bear tours to off-road adventures by ATV, UTV, and 4×4. Availability varies, so please contact Whistler.com or the tour company before arriving and be specific about the type of disability and care that’s required.
…Including Bungee Jumping
Whistler Bungee also offers people in the wheelchairs the opportunity to drop 160 feet over the Cheakamus River. According to operations manager John Hunter, they have provided this service for well over a hundred individuals at this point.
“It’s really fun – there’s not always a lot of activities that you can do in a chair so it’s good to be able to share this with people,” he said.
Individuals must be strapped into their wheelchair for the jump so the chair can take the weight, and must have the use of their hands to attach the retrieval rope. Because of the extra rigging required you will need to book in advance as well. Visit Whistler Bungee for pricing.
…And Superfly Ziplines
The first two ziplines on the course are wheelchair accessible. For more information: Superfly Ziplines
…And the Bike Park
If you’re looking for a boost of adrenaline, there are several riders who take four-wheeled downhill bikes into the Whistler Mountain Bike Park. Whistler Adaptive does not have any four-wheel bikes available for rent, but they are allowed on lifts and on machine-built trails in the park.
For more information including summer accommodation with accessible options, visit Whistler.com.