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A photo of disabled skiers enjoying winter snow.

Everyone Should Be Able To Enjoy The Rockies

Rocky Mountain Adaptive levels the playing field transforming natural wonders into accessible dreams for people with disabilities

The Rockies are home to some of the most beautiful sights in the world, from crystal blue lakes to lush green forests. 

Two people in 2 wheelchairs navigating a paved pathway in the forest in Kananaskis
Experiencing trails in Kananaskis. Accessible Housing | Facebook

However, experiencing this phenomenal beauty can be challenging for some, especially those with disabilities. Rocky Mountain Adaptive (RMA) ensures everyone can enjoy what the mountains offer.

“RMA’s mission is to enable all individuals, ranging from children to older adults, with physical, intellectual, cognitive, or developmental challenges to participate, learn, and excel in all sport and recreation activities in the Canadian Rockies,” RMA’s mission statement.

Based in Canmore, RMA is a registered charity that provides individuals with disabilities the opportunity to enjoy mountain sports and recreation. 

The charity started in 2009 with adaptive ski lessons at Sunshine Village Ski Resort in Banff. Since then, RMA has grown to offer more than 20 different sports and recreational activities in the Bow Valley area.

RMA also provides lessons, guided experiences, camps, and more.

Last month, RMA hosted a week-long camp at William Watson Lodge in Kananaskis. The lodge offers year-round, barrier-free wilderness lodgings for persons with disabilities. There are over 20 accessible cabins, more than ten accessible RV campsites, and 20 kilometres of accessible trails. 

William Watson Lodge was completely renovated in 2022 after the provincial government invested $6 million in the site. The building was completely demolished and rebuilt with low-impact materials and energy-saving designs while meeting international accessibility standards. 

“We have a staff member, he rolled in, and he’s like, ‘I want to live here – I can actually reach the light switches.’ We don’t even realize how amazing that is — all the tabletops are low, everything is low for everyone to reach it, the lifts are incredible, families say that they’ve never experienced anything like it,” Irene Hutchens, a bike instructor with RMA, told CTV News.

A photo of the patio of William Watson Lodge
William Watson Lodge | Facebook

This is the fifth year RMA has hosted the camp. When it first started, there were 40 people interested in participating. Now, 90 people are participating, and another 60 were turned away due to limited space.

This year, Julie Rubin took part in the camp with her family, including her husband, Brian Banderk and her two sons, Kaleb and Henry. 

“Everything is set up perfectly for us and to have access to the lodge as well, where you get to interact with lots of other families in kind of similar situations, and Rocky Mountain Adaptive staff are so accommodating, friendly, so supportive, so empathetic — they’re great,” said Rubin. 

Kaleb needs help getting around, but thanks to the efforts of RMA, he can enjoy the outdoors to the fullest. At the camp, Kaleb rode in a BowHead electric tricycle operated by RMA summer programmer Darya Sepandj. 

Ross Billings is another participant. He lost the use of his legs after an injury and thought he would never be able to enjoy the outdoors again. An assisted tricycle let him experience the accessible trails around the lodge. 

Since its opening in 2009, RMA has helped make almost 20,000 individual sports and recreation experiences for participants through its programs. In 2021, the charity supported over 2,000 activities with nearly 400 individuals. 

RMA has helped many people with disabilities enjoy the great outdoors we are so lucky to have right in our backyard.

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