RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
March means spring break is just around the corner and in New Mexico, mild temperatures and fresh snow will attract many people to those ski resorts in the area. A growing number of resorts are offering programs that cater to vacationers with disabilities. Carrie Jung of member station KUNM reports on the success of such programs.
CARRIE JUNG, BYLINE: At Taos Ski Valley's chair lift one, parents Barbara and Philip Logan prepare their son Tilghman for his first day of ski lessons. The Logans are from New York City, here in Taos, New Mexico for a winter vacation.
PHILIP LOGAN: Are you ready to go skiing? Are you ready?
BARBARA LOGAN: Are you going to do it to it?
TIGHLMAN LOGAN: Yeah.
JUNG: Now, Tilghman is not your average skier. He has a severe form of cerebral palsy, limiting much of his physical movement and some of his eyesight. But that's not stopping Tilghman and his dad from having a lot of fun today. With some careful planning and specialized equipment, this duo hopes to be tearing up the slopes together in no time.
LOGAN: When are we going skiing?
JUNG: And at the request of Tilghman to move things along a bit quicker, instructor Craig Stagg, takes the group up the lift to demonstrate a few sit ski basics.
CRAIG STAGG: I'm just going to tip these skis so the skis are parallel or flat on the hill. And then the sled starts to slip sideways, and that's how we initiate our turn.
LOGAN: All right.
JUNG: A sit ski is a specially made sled developed for people with limited use of their lower limbs, allowing them to slide down a mountain much like an able-bodied skier.
STAGG: They really are a lot of fun once you get the hang of them. All right. We're out of here.
(SOUNDBITE OF SKI SWOOSHING)
PETER DONAHUE: It gives them a great sense of freedom and accomplishment.
JUNG: That's the resort's ski school director, Peter Donahue, who says the snow can be a great equalizer.
DONAHUE: Snow sports is a venue where a child or an individual with a disability can actually stand up and glide and move over the surface of the ground in a way that only able-bodied people can, and that maybe they can't in any other activity that they might choose in their lives.
JUNG: Because the resort sits on Forest Service land, offering adaptive ski lessons is a requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And Donahue says the resort takes the program very seriously because it helps them serve the needs of all their guests, which, he says, is just good business.
DONAHUE: The ability for families to come and the money that they bring to the community and to the resort certainly helps us to continue to provide those services. And it's a benefit for everyone.
ERIC LIPP: So if you build it and we come and we like it, we're going to come back and tell our friends. And we will build a brand that way if we can.
JUNG: Eric Lipp is the executive director of the Open Doors Organization, an advocacy group helping people with disabilities get access to travel and other consumer opportunities. He says people with disabilities are extremely vocal, and they're a large group with significant buying power.
In fact, a recent market study shows that the disabled community now spends between $13 and $15 billion each year on travel. And as the general population continues to age, Lipp says, that number is only expected to grow.
LIPP: The likelihood of having a disability the older that you get increases greatly. And it doesn't stop people from going out and wanting to go on vacation.
JUNG: And, Lipp adds, when it comes to adventure tourism, this demographic should be considered a viable and competitive market.
(SOUNDBITE OF SILVERWARE CLINKING)
JUNG: Back at Taos Ski Valley, Philip and Tilghman head over to the lodge to discuss their first day on the slopes over a plate of chicken fingers.
LOGAN: I think after today it's a question getting the right equipment, and renting it and getting nice conditions, and if Tilghman's up for it. You want to do some skiing next year? That was a yeah.
JUNG: Two new ski addicts in the making. For NPR News, I'm Carrie Jung in Taos, New Mexico.