Saturday, October 17, 2009

Top 3 Ski Areas in the State

The writer and her husband Craig, in Winter Park
The writer and her husband Craig, in Winter Park
(C) Access Anything

The three main things that Access Anything looks for in a ski area when we want to recommend it to fellow people with disabilities (PWD) are:

1. General access of the ski area base - parking, equipment storage, and location to lodging

2. Lodging - several price options with great access near the base

3. Getting around - on the mountain and in town; local accessible transportation as well as ski area ease. (Ski areas with multiple peaks and lifts that don't connect to each other, or those without accessible public transit aren't our first choice for PWD.)

Having been to all 9 of the ski areas that have adaptive programs in Colorado, we've picked out the top three for PWD- the newbies out there that want to try skiing, but don't want the hassles of figuring it all out on your own, the experienced skier but newbie to Colorado, or the expert skier who just wants the best snow and easiest way to get to it! These three areas best cater to PWD needs before you arrive, while you're here, on the mountain, and off the mountain.

A. Winter Park - the National Sports Center for the Disabled since 1970

While we hang our skis next door in Steamboat, we still can't argue that WP's ski area is hands-down the best all around for all levels of skiers with disabilities who are either traveling on their own or with their family and friends. Why? From start to finish, WP covers your needs like grandma's homemade afghan blanket.

The winning combination: What 40 years of experience will bring you:

  • General Access: You name it, in WP it's accessible. From restaurants to lodging to the ski area, any disability is covered here. Don't even call the restaurant, seriously. Now that kind of reliability is what makes the best, the very best.
  • Lodging: Their central reservations department can answer every question on lodging before you get there, helping you find lodging from Bed and Breakys, hotels, to condos. [800-453-2525]
  • Getting Around: Both the Paratransit [(970) 726-4163] and the free city shuttle can help you get around the town of Winter Park. On the mountain, the NSCD will give you a lesson or a ski buddy, and has made sure that the mountain is a fabulous place for PWD.

B. Steamboat Springs - 2nd oldest adaptive program in the state, 1976

While it might sound like we're biased by all the 'Boat plugging we do, it's not for naught, I promise. Steamboat Adaptive was established just 6 years after the NSCD, boasting 33 years of experience this year, and it's just getting better. Access Anything has made sure that the last five years have been dedicated to improvements around the base and training all ski area departments on sensitivity, equipment, and needs, and a new nonprofit STARS has just taken over the operation of the adaptive school to expand its sports programming to other sports. Access Anything also teams up with Adaptive Adventures to offer one of the best advanced, adult ski camps in the state every January.

  • General Access: The multi-level base area might seem daunting, but the 3D map online and 4-yr old way finding signage will get point you in the right direction from the free parking (just for PWD) to the base. The Gondola is accessible and its staff will store your monoski overnight.
  • Lodging: As with Winter Park, Steamboat's Central Res [800-922-2722] staff is well trained annually to handle PWD's needs and the plethora of lodging gives options to everything.
  • Getting Around: Every free city bus in Steamboat has a lift on it, and the city also provides a Paratransit. Go Alpine also have several accessible options that double as airport shuttles and in-town taxis.

C. Aspen - the Veteran's Choice

Home to Challenge Aspen, a relatively new program in the state (1995), Aspen has hosted the DAV Ski Week (Disabled American Veterans) for years, bringing thousands of disabled vets into the area to have some fun on the slopes. While the other ski areas and adaptive programs are just as great, we've found that Aspen is the one that has to slide into this tough #3 spot for it's ability to fit all three of our major needs.

  • General Access - While skiing IS split up in this area between 4 mountains, Snowmass is the one we send PWD to for its relations with Challenge Aspen, acreage of terrain, friendly lifts system and employees, and base area access.
  • Lodging - The best part about lodging in this area is that PWD get great support through Challenge Aspens donors, so call the adaptive program for the posh treatment whether you're getting a lesson or not. [970-923-0578]
  • Getting Around - All mountain shuttle buses have lifts here as well, and the parking is best in Lot 6 or 7 to get the closest to the slopes.

Know all this information and more with Access Anything: Colorado, the only guide to the state for PWD.

More on Colorado Adpative Travel Examiner

Friday, October 09, 2009

No Yoke in New York

We recently returned from a two day visit to New York City, and the access we found there was leagues better than we'd expected, especially their modes transportation, the subject with the most need of improvements in the US.

Our first tour was at Yankee Stadium, where the access goes above and beyond the ADA thanks to a staff well-educated on impeccable customer service. We took Vega Transportation, the premier accessible van service in the area, to get from Newark, where we were on business, up to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Although more pricey than the subway, Vega is way more reliable than any other transportation we found, so if you use a power chair or scooter, need to get to a more specific destination, have a big entourage with you, or the need for a more limo-type service, Vega is definitely the way to get around the city quickly and easily. Once in the stadium, we got a free tour (offered to all PWD who as) to Monument Park, 1st base-line batting practice, the Museum, and a tour of the entire park, as well $5 bleecher seats. Craig, a die-hard Yankee fan since the womb, was brimming with excitement from the moment we entered Gate 2's Yankee Lobby.

On day two we took the train from Craig's sister's flat in Prospect Park in Brooklyn to Times Square, to pick up Gray Line Tours. All of their “hop-on, hop-off” buses have lifts and friendly tour guides, each with their own personal encyclopedia of New York knowledge. This is hands-down the best way to see New York City and learn about the sights; at your own leisure, over a course of two days, with as many knowledgeable tour guides as you can cram in and cheaply. Tours take off from their office on 42nd St., where you can also buy discounted passes to various sights like Liberty Island, the Met, Broadway, Empire State, and more, or get a package deal for a 72-hour bus pass and a dozen other sites included.

Back to the subway topic- while it is true that only a small portion of the NYC subway system have accessible stops, we found it very easy to manage our day around these stops by planning our trip in advance. Visit the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA)’s website to find a list of the accessible stops, and plan your trip accordingly. The site is very helpful right down to which elevators are temporarily out of service, which at the time of our trip, there were only three that were. We also found that the “way-finding,” or signage, in the subway system is superb. The elevators and some exits would be hard to find in the maze of this underground system without proper signage, and we give our hats off to MTA for excellent way finding. There are also text-capable payphones at the accessible stations for persons with hearing impairments. In addition, if you are there for an extended period of time, there is a discount pass to the subway system that you can also find on MTA’s link above.

Last, we were short on time to get back to Newark Airport to fly out, and took the subway from Brooklyn to Times Square Station, where $15 Coach USA shuttles to the airport leave every 15 minutes, and are half price to riders with disabilities. To get one with a lift, you have to call 48 hours in advance and know your time of departure; easy enough.

One last resource that we didn’t use is Access-A-Ride, MTA’s additional “paratransit” service for people with disabilities. Because you do have to apply to use this system in advance, and our important subway stops were all accessible, we didn’t do so. But if you know you’re going to need reliable transportation, they're easy to contact and cheap to use Access-A-Ride if you need it.

Don't let daunting NYC keep you from traveling, it's an awe-inspiring city of great access.