Adventure Kiddos: Skiing with our Special Needs Daughter

February 17, 2016

By Karin Sheets

Photo at right: Veronica’s huge grin was proof of a fantastic day of skiing. Photo by Karin Sheets


Editor’s Note: We have changed the name of our NW Kids column to Adventure Kiddos. Amy Whitley and other parents who are outdoor writers will be sharing their NW experiences with their adventurous kiddos in 2016 OutdoorsNW editions. We’d love to know what you think of the new name!

The day I’d been waiting for had arrived with sunshine and freshly groomed runs. This would be the first time my special-needs daughter would ski with us; finally my husband and I would be on the mountain together with our two girls.

Longing to Ski Together

Raised in the Pacific Northwest by avid skiers, my parents took every opportunity to hit the slopes. My husband and I have passed that passion on and we took our oldest on her first ski vacation before she could walk.

When my daughter Veronica was born with serious health and physical complications, skiing took a back seat for a while. When we did start up again however, Veronica would enjoy a fun day staying with her grandma while my husband, eldest daughter and I were skiing. I knew she was having fun, but there was a piece of me missing, longing to have her with us.
An opportunity for a family ski vacation to Park City, Utah, arose and I jumped at the chance.

Park City is home to the National Ability Center (NAC), an impressive organization that empowers people of all abilities to build confidence and skills through sports, recreation and educational programs. The Mountain Center, located at the base of Park City Mountain, occupies over 20 acres of property and represents 22 adaptive sports.

We’d be able to do something that I never knew was possible—my handicapped daughter would ski with us! I was simultaneously excited and terrified. How would skiing work for her? Would it be safe? How would she handle the cold and altitude?

We wouldn’t know the answers without taking the first step, so we prepared ourselves and  embarked on our first family ski vacation. After a quick two-hour flight to Salt Lake City and an easy 40-minute drive to Park City from the airport, we settled into our hotel and got ready for the day ahead.

No Idea What to Expect

We awoke to a sunny day full of possibilities and unknowns. We headed out for our first lesson and to meet the instructor at the NAC’s ski headquarters.

Prior to the trip, the NAC requested a doctor’s release and had questions about Veronica, asking everything from her diagnosis and challenges along with inquiring into her favorite things. Their goal was to keep her safe and happy.

Veronica’s condition is complicated. She has no diagnosis, but is blind, non-verbal and unable to stand or sit on her own. The expertise of the NAC’s instructor and guide was immediately apparent; they set up her equipment without skipping a beat.

Paying close attention to her safety and comfort, she was seated in a sit-ski—a bucket seat attached to one or two skis—and comfortably strapped in with extra padding. Geared up, we made our way to the ski lift. I had no idea what to expect next.

A Heart Complete

As we approached the beginner chair, the instructor and guide took the lead. Standing on each side of Veronica, they lifted her and the sit-ski onto the chair lift, securing it between them. My husband, our older daughter and I rode the next lift.

At the top we followed the team down. I don’t think I took a breath that entire first run. At the bottom we were greeted by Veronica’s huge smile and my fears quickly melted away.

We spent the next three hours skiing together as a family. I’ll never forget this snapshot in time: Veronica was leading the way, with her sister trying some new tricks close behind. My husband was riding alongside with words of encouragement for both girls. The sun was shining, the sky was brilliant blue and I skied behind, taking it all in. My heart was complete.

This experience changed me. It inspired me to see more possibilities and taught me that we still need to live life in the middle of doctor’s appointments and therapies.

Most of all, that day, I learned to enjoy the ride.

Karin Sheets is a mom, adventurer, entrepreneur and travel writer. She writes for several travel outlets, including her own blog

Learn more:

National Ability Center (NAC):
Special Olympics Washington:
Resorts with Adaptive Ski Programs:
Tips for Your First Time Adaptive Skiing: