Adaptive kayaking! Adaptive waterskiing! Adaptive canoeing, boating, jet skiing, sailing, tubing and paddle boarding! Achieve Tahoe makes all of these water activities possible for people with limited mobility as well as most other disabilities. In the winter Achieve Tahoe is the leader in adaptive snow skiing at Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, and Northstar.
North Lake Tahoe and Sacramento, California
“Achieve Tahoe” might be better known to some as “Disabled Sports USA Far West” and in fact was the founding chapter of “Disabled Sports USA”. The name change happened in 2015 to better reflect their belief that ability counts more than disability. For almost 50 years they have been known for basically writing the book on adaptive snow skiing for all types of disabilities. In more recent years they expanded to include a wide range of summer sports, even including 4-WD Adventures.
We were arriving in Tahoe the last week of June and Achieve Tahoe didn’t yet have any activities scheduled, but they were kind enough to take me out for a kayaking lesson anyway. I’ve kayaked a few times but always in a tandem kayak with Chip captaining. I decided this time that if I was going to give “adaptive kayaking” a try that I should do it in a single kayak and see just how adaptive this program was.
We met Allie Ibsen, the Program Coordinator, in the parking lot at Tahoe Vista Recreation Area on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. It was easy to find an accessible parking space and soon Allie arrived in the Achieve Tahoe van, loaded with kayaks, paddles, and life jackets.
Able-bodied people might wonder why a sport like kayaking would even need to be adapted for someone with a disability. After all, you just sit in a boat and paddle. Here’s why it’s necessary for me. I can stand but I can’t walk. That means that I can’t walk even a step or two to get to the kayak, and certainly not on sand. Even if the kayak is right beside me I can’t pick up my legs to step over the edge, and I don’t have the control to sit down safely. There isn’t any back support on a kayak, so once seated my weak trunk is floppy and I can’t keep myself upright, making it impossible to paddle even though I have the arm strength.
With Chip and Allie working together, they lifted me off my scooter and were able to gently and safely load me into the kayak. For a typical adaptive kayak lesson Achieve Tahoe would have numerous trained volunteers to help transfer people into kayaks, but today Chip and Allie got it done. Once in the kayak I immediately tipped backwards due to my weak core. Allie was prepared for this and started stuffing beach noodles behind me which amazingly gave me just the support that I needed. If I had needed head support they have life jackets that provide that.
Achieve Tahoe can make adaptions for whatever disability someone might have, so that everyone can participate and enjoy these incredible outdoor sports. The only disability they can’t handle is someone reliant on an oxygen tank. For the summer water sports, participants must be able to flip over from a face down position in the water, but for winter skiing they can make adaptations, even for someone with total paralysis. The disabilities they work with is quite broad, including physical, sensory, and intellectual.
After a short paddling instruction Allie waded into the lake pulling my kayak into the water behind her, and I was launched. I hung out in the shallows while she launched and then off we paddled. It took a little while before I was able to paddle a straight line, but I conquered it pretty quickly. So peaceful! Gliding over the still waters of Lake Tahoe with a view of the blue sky and surrounding mountains, the sun on my back, seagulls coasting by and the invigoration of a little exercise, I felt exhilarated. My body stayed upright with the help of the beach noodles and I felt as able-bodied as my life before Multiple Sclerosis. What a feeling!
I wanted to stay on the water for hours, but we were under a time crunch as I was scheduled to meet Achieve Tahoe’s Executive Director, Haakon Lang-Ree and the Guest Services Coordinator, Marina Gardiner, back at the program center at Alpine Meadows. And so, reluctantly I paddled back to shore where Allie and Chip got me safely back to dry land and onto my scooter. Adaptive kayaking was a great success and a wonderful experience!
Summer 2016 remaining lessons
If you want to take lessons this summer you need to hurry! Or plan ahead for Summer 2017. Between the 4th of July and Labor Day on Fridays and Saturdays, Achieve Tahoe offers their adaptive summer sports program. Dates that remain for 2016 are:
August 5 and 6: kayaking and canoeing on Lake Tahoe or Donner Lake in Truckee $40
August 12 and 13: water skiing on a private lake near Sacramento (2 legs, 1 leg, or sitting down) $50
August 19 and 20: Sierra Summer Sports- includes: boating, jet skiing, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, tubing, and paddle boarding on Donner Lake in Truckee $80 including lunch
August 26 and 27: water skiing on a private lake in Sacramento (2 legs, 1 leg, or sitting down) $50
August 12-14: 4 wheel drive overnight adventure for 3 days/2 nights on the historic Rubicon 4 WD Trail from Lake Tahoe $160 including meals
All of these programs can be shared with family and friends at the same low subsidized rate, and all of the specialized adaptive equipment is included in the price.
Winter Adaptive Snow Skiing
Summer sports are only half of the story! After my kayaking lesson, Chip and I drove to Alpine Meadows to meet with Haakon and Marina to learn more about the winter programs at the Adaptive Sports Center. Rows of bi-skis and mono-skis were lined up in the equipment room, with many configurations for different disabilities. Marina proceeded to explain them to me while Haakon pulled out a couple of models.
Both bi-skis and mono-skis are used for sit-down skiing. The mono-ski is for strong skiers who need to sit down to ski but have strong upper body strength and coordination to use hand-held outriggers. This might be someone with spinal cord injury or leg amputation. The bi-ski is more stable and used for those who need more help with balance and coordination. This might be someone with spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy. With a bi-ski an instructor typically helps with turning and speed control by tethering from behind.
Haakon then brought out a four-track slider from the back room. A four-track slider is for those who can stand but need assistance with balance and stability. These are great for people who have enough strength and balance to use canes, walkers, or crutches. The design actually reminded me of a walker and would work in much the same way. Another option is the three-track which is for those with single leg amputations or injuries, using a single ski with hand-held outriggers.
For those with full or partial blindness Achieve Tahoe has trained instructors who use verbal and physical cues to assist students utilizing tethers. For those with intellectual disabilities such as autism or Down syndrome, Achieve Tahoe instructors utilize a variety of techniques and adaptive equipment. They even have lessons for those who want to try snowboarding!
Adaptive snow skiing is affordable!
I used to be a decent skier before my MS progressed and I was unable to control my legs. I’ve heard about adaptive skiing for years but thought it would be too expensive with all the specialized equipment, lessons, and lift tickets. I was wrong! Achievetahoe.org is a nonprofit and as such makes it affordable.
The actual cost for the 2 1/2 hour private lesson at Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley would be $220, but with their subsidized rates it’s only $95 and that includes a lift ticket. With last year’s lift tickets at Alpine Meadows costing $139, this is an incredible deal! It’s an extra $10 for ski rental, which is so much less than rental equipment for able-bodied skiers. A 5 hour private lesson at Northstar is $220 with lift ticket and equipment rental included. These are private lessons, one-on-one instruction! 2 1/2 hours for $95 and 5 hours for $220! Incredible.
Adaptive ski lessons run daily from mid-December to mid-April with lessons at Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, and Northstar, all spectacular ski resorts on Tahoe’s North Shore. When booking your lesson they will have a phone consultation to determine what equipment will be right for you.
An annual membership fee is necessary for both summer and winter sports:
family (2+) $50
groups $100 (special sessions for groups of 10+ including family and friends)
Scholarships are available for those with financial needs or to US Military Service Members
For first-time skiers taking lessons at Squaw Valley or Alpine Meadows the membership fee and adaptive rental equipment is waived. Early Bird Special- call in November and get $10 off lessons at Squaw Valley or Alpine Meadows.
Achieve Tahoe provides incredible outdoor experiences for people with disabilities at a very reasonable cost. Whether summer or winter, Lake Tahoe can be your playground no matter what your disability!