Special Olympics Colorado needs volunteer ski coaches

Downhill skiing program supports people with intellectual disabilities

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An organization that provides sports training and athletic competition for people with intellectual disabilities needs volunteer coaches for its skiing program on Copper Mountain.

Special Olympics Colorado is looking for experienced skiers to help adult athletes — 18 and older — grow their skiing skills.

“Our coaches are the backbone of the (Special Olympics) movement,” said Ben Theune, spokesperson for Special Olympics Colorado. “Without their leadership, passion and dedication, we are unable to provide incredible sport experiences for thousands of athletes with intellectual disabilities.”

Coaching for the ski program is a unique opportunity to support others while also having fun at a ski resort, Theune said. And for those who find it especially rewarding, coaching can become a long-term commitment.

“We have some coaches who have been with us for more than a decade, even longer,” Theune said. “It is an incredible experience offering the ability to build relationships, give back and have a blast at Copper Mountain.”

He added: “You won’t find a more rewarding volunteer experience anywhere in Colorado.”

Copper Mountain ski resort is located in Summit County, about 75 miles west of Denver via Interstate 70. Special Olympics Colorado provides free bus transportation from certain locations.

The coaches are needed for Special Olympics Colorado’s “alpine,” or downhill, skiing program.

Here’s what to know about the program for those who are interested.

Time commitment

Participants will volunteer on one training day per week, either Wednesday or Sunday. Coaches can choose whichever works best for them.

Trainings occur from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on those days. The time commitment totals about 12 hours, which includes commute time, whether carpooling with athletes or taking the Special Olympics Colorado-provided bus from Morrison in the Denver metro area.

Coaches can be from anywhere as long as they can get to and from Copper Mountain.

Special Olympics Colorado also provides bus transportation from Colorado Springs, according to a news release.

Trainings started the first week of January, and the ski season ends on March 5 with the organization’s State Winter Games.

Ages

Regarding who can learn to ski through the program, the organization has opportunities for all ages 2 and older, but it currently needs coaches for adult athletes 18 and older, according to Theune.

The program needs around 15 to 20 more volunteer coaches.

The minimum age for coaches is 21, but younger folks can volunteer as “Unified partners,” Theune said.

​Unified partners participate with athletes to both help them and facilitate a positive sport experience.

“We offer Unified partner opportunities in all 21 of our sports,” Theune said.

See more about the other sports here.

Competitions

A regional competition is set for Feb. 14 at the Eldora ski area, and the March 5 state competition is set for Copper Mountain. Besides once-a-week training, those events are required, Theune said. Both the regional and state competitions are all-day events.

The Eldora ski resort sits about 21 miles west of Boulder.

Coaches help by “facilitating a positive athlete experience” at competitions, Theune said.

Responsibilities at competitions include:

• Helping athletes organize their team

• Making sure everyone is wearing their equipment, is hydrated and has snacks

• Ensuring athletes are all at the starting gates at designated times

• Helping athletes navigate the slalom, giant slalom and super-G courses, usually from the start line

“No experience is necessary in ski racing, as our team will help facilitate (coach) training for new coaches,” Theune said. “We do ask that coaches be proficient skiers though.”

Group size

The number of skiers each coach oversees at a time depends on the coach, Theune said.

“Five to 10 is pretty standard but is certainly negotiable based on the comfort level of the coach,” Theune said. “More-experienced coaches often oversee more than 10 athletes on the mountain at a time.”

Coaches do not need prior experience with supporting people with intellectual disabilities, Theune said.

The coaches need “just a patience and understanding that they are there to facilitate a positive experience,” Theune added. 

If possible, Special Olympics Colorado will pair coaches with an assistant coach.

Assistant coaches are volunteers too.

Other info

Coaches will receive free lift tickets to Copper Mountain to use on training and competition days, but they’ll need to provide their own ski equipment.

The free bus transportation from Colorado Springs and Morrison leaves at 5:30 a.m. and returns at 5 p.m. every Wednesday and Sunday.

If interested in the program, email Leah Combs, athlete experience manager, at lcombs@specialolympicsco.org for more details.

Special Olympics Colorado’s office sits at 12450 E. Arapahoe Road, Suite C, in central Centennial, just east of Peoria Street. Its phone number is 720-359-3100.

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