It can be said that FIRE Adaptive began with an adventure. By definition, adventure means the exploration of new territory, which is exactly how this program came to be….
In 2011, a young girl with a physical disability was introduced to a whole new world. That world, was skiing. For the very first time, Grace was able to participate in something that so many others get to experience in the winter season. But not only that… She was able to experience freedom. Freedom from physical confinements, from labels, from any weight on her shoulders. Seeing the ability was never so real.
But there was a problem. At that time, Fernie had no means of providing adaptive ski lessons, which meant that Grace and her other friends with disabilities had to travel an hour and a half to enjoy this winter sport. After her first ski experience with this program, Grace made a very important decision. Being a firm believer that any challenge can be conquered, she made up her mind that Fernie would have an Adaptive Snow Program. With that decision, came a vision, which would bring her to a new adventure.
In 2011, when Grace was 14 years old, she began her plans to bring adaptive skiing to Fernie. Starting with equipment, she busily researched and chose the sit skis that she and her friends would use. Her first public event was a fundraiser held at Overwaitea Foods. It was there that her idea was made known to Gord Timm. He told Grace that he would like to help as much as he could, and help he certainly did. In a matter of two weeks, Gord, along with his friends and supporters, raised enough money to purchase two sit skis. With this overwhelming support to encourage her, Grace approached Andy Cohen from Fernie Alpine Resort with her idea. Andy was another person who was instrumental to this story. He completely supported Grace’s vision, and helped in many ways along the journey. Canadian Association for Disabled Skiers, or CADS, was the next organization to get on board. After many persistent phone calls and emails, Grace was told that Fernie volunteers could take part in a certification course that was happening at the very resort she first learned to ski. In no time at all, Grace had her volunteers recruited, and ready to become CADS Level 1 instructors. But unfortunately, this particular course was not meant to be…
That summer, Grace decided that she needed more help to conquer such a monumental task. It was decided that a society was to be created. But of course, there was one thing that needed to be done first. The society needed a name! Grace wanting the name to have Fernie in it, and therefore decided to look up all the words that started with F in the dictionary. FIRE: Fernie Inspire the Race to Empower came out on top. The board was then recruited, including Andy Cohen, Jennifer Gross, and of course, Grace’s mother Janice. FIRE became an official Non Profit Society in 2012, and Grace was enlisted as president at the age of 16.
With the help of the board members, Grace was once again able to recruit volunteers and organize a certification course, this time at Fernie Alpine Resort. On January 11th to the 13th, the volunteers became CADS level 1 instructors. In preparation for the start of the program, a third sit ski was purchased, with the help of Teck. On Sunday January 20th 2013, FIRE Adaptive Snow Program officially began operation.
FIRE Adaptive started with six students, and nine volunteer instructors. Throughout the years, FIRE has been privileged to have many generous supporters, including Fernie Alpine Resort and Highline 100. In their second year of operation, Columbia Basin Trust and Highline 100 helped to fund a new clubhouse for FIRE. Dave Brunker, who would become an adaptive instructor in season 2, built what is known today as the FIRE Hall, along with many other generous helpers. FIRE was truly established at Fernie Alpine Resort from that point on. The program continued to grow in almost every area; equipment, students, instructors, community awareness, etc.
FIRE has been open for four seasons to this day. Currently, 12 students participate in the program, and 22 volunteer instructors. The FIRE Hall has been filled with numerous pieces of adaptive equipment, including four sit skis. Statistically, FIRE has doubled in size since its founding.
But perhaps the greatest thing that FIRE provides, is the freedom to ski and snowboard. FIRE’s vision of seeing the ability is reflected on the faces of its students every week. The atmosphere that was created has had an impact on all those involved, and has changed many lives. .
In the years to come, FIRE will continue to provide adventures, and many more opportunities to explore new territory.
Throughout the years, FIRE has received overwhelming support from the community of Fernie. Thank you to all those who made this program possible! We couldn’t have done it without you!