By Felicia Ennis

Rachel and I buckled Virginia snugly into a sit ski. It was cold outside,
and all three of us were bundled with snow pants, boots, jacket, neck gator, gloves, helmet and goggles. Virginia has been gliding on Bridger’s bottom lift for over 15 years, and is not a beginner skier. But it’s really difficult for her to tell you that. The 30-year-old Livingston resident has difficulty communicating due to her disability. She skis in the Eagle Mount program
once a week for eight weeks each winter.

To be an Eagle Mount volunteer you must participate in a weekend on-hill training session in early January. There is a sit ski training session and a stand skills training session. Volunteers work in teams of two with one Eagle Mount participant. Bridger Bowl, Big Sky and Moonlight all donate daily ski passes to the volunteers.

Eagle Mount began to take form in the fall of 1982 in Bozeman. The concept began as a family dream for General Robert C. Mathis, USAF (ret.) and his wife Greta. They wanted “to create a place where persons of all ages with disabilities could experience and share what an able-bodied person might take for granted.”

They thought it would be best to start small, teaching 20-30 participants alpine and Nordic skiing, but 94 people turned out that very first season and the dream took off faster than they expected. Soon people with cerebral palsy, visual and hearing impairments, developmental disabilities, amputations, and spinal cord injuries were on waiting lists because they, too, wanted to ski.

Now there are over 160 skiers and more than 300 volunteers
in the ski program alone. And Eagle Mount is not just about skiing anymore. Their facilities include a horseback riding stable, a therapy pool, a climbing wall, accessible gardens, and more. And in the summer, Eagle Mount brings the Big Sky Kids camps for children with cancer to Big Sky, where service groups, businesses, individuals and families contribute to making a great Montana experience for these special children.

After almost 30 years, Eagle Mount has really made a difference, not only in the lives of people with disabilities who get to ski or take part in other sports, but also in the life of our whole community. Next year, you can look for me back on the slopes with Virginia!

photo: Eagle Mount student, Mathew, gets ready to
use his bi-skier with volunteers Pepe and Carol.