Children's Hospital Colorado
Orthopedics Institute
Orthopedics Institute

Skiing and Snowboarding with Adaptive Recreation for Childhood Health (ARCH)

A group of about 100 people dressed in ski jackets and hats gather on the steps outside of a building.Kids find freedom from physical challenges

On Saturdays throughout the ski season, our participants and a team of volunteers from Adaptive Recreation for Childhood Health (ARCH) hit the slopes at Winter Park Resort. According to one mother, ARCH gives kids the chance “to do something fun for a whole day with their peers, rather than mom and dad hovering over them.”

How we teach children with physical disabilities to ski and board

Specially trained volunteer instructors and individualized adaptive equipment make is possible for participants to find success on the slopes. Each child’s ability is considered when determining what instructional technique and equipment will work best for them.

Adaptive equipment can include:

  • Outriggers (forearm crutches fitted with a ski tip for enhanced balance and control)
  • Ski bras (to help keep skis in alignment)
  • Sit skis (mono or bi-skis allow individuals to ski in a sitting position)
  • Ski bikes (allow an alternative method to sitting while skiing)

Ski Fitting Day: Getting ready for the season

In early November, “Ski Fitting Day” is held at Children’s Hospital Colorado. This is when new and returning ARCH skiers and snowboarders get outfitted in their gear for the upcoming season.

To get ready for the slopes, kids are evaluated by volunteers, hospital staff and experts from the Winter Park National Sports Center for the Disabled, whose combined knowledge makes equipment assignments specific to the needs of each child.

Saturdays in Winter Park

Currently, there are two groups of 30 to 35 children in the winter program who ski and snowboard at Winter Park Resort on alternate weekends from January through March. Each child participates in five full ski days.

Volunteer commitments can vary, but the goal for each student is to have consistent, qualified on-mountain instruction. Each volunteer ski instructor must attend annual specialized training clinics before being matched with a skier or boarder. Many volunteers have returned to instruct in ARCH for 20+ years.

Ready for anything on the slopes

Participants in ARCH have conditions ranging from spinal cord or brain injury, to long-term illnesses and conditions like cerebral palsy, cancer and spina bifida. Instructors must be prepared for any on-mountain complications, from coping with seizures to caring for the needs of children with fragile bones, decreased muscle function and poor flexibility.

So for ten Saturdays each winter, kids ages 8 to 18 meet in a chilly Children’s Colorado parking lot at 6:30 a.m., hop on a wheelchair-accessible bus, and take the winding road to Winter Park.

Meet Dr. Chang: Medical Liaison of Adaptive Recreation for Childhood Health 

The volunteer medical liaison of the HSP is our own incredible Dr. Frank Chang. During the week, Dr. Chang serves as director of Orthopedic Surgery, medical director for the Center for Gait and Movement Analysis and professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Pediatrics and Rehabilitation Medicine.

For the past 25+ years, Dr. Chang has volunteered as medical liaison for ARCH, providing children and instructors with guidance related to orthopedic issues, tender-loving care, and encouragement on the slopes. His wonderful sense of humor, fun personality and relationships with the families helps parents feel better about letting go. In addition, Dr. Chang has chronicled much of the kids’ successes and achievements on the mountain with his own video camera.

"About 85% of our kids who ski with us are our patients, too," says Dr. Chang. "We've known most of these kids for years. We know what meds they're on, we understand their illnesses, and they're safe and happy with us."

Read stories of real patients who participate in ARCH.

“Oncology saved my life…but ARCH taught me how to live.”
-A young ARCH skier who received treatment at Children’s Colorado for bone cancer


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