There don’t seem to be a ton of positives about having a disability. For me, life often feels like I’m on the outside looking inside. With many challenges surrounding physical tasks. It can be challenging to even feel included. Last year I was struggling with the desire to ski more frequently. The amount of physical challenges involved in preparing to ski felt overwhelming. From the parking, to getting all of the gear organized and put on, to carrying my skies up to the lodge. Each task, whether preparing to ski, or preparing to drive back down the mountain, had its difficulties. These tasks seem challenging for people who are typically developed. For me, with cerebral palsy, and struggles in physical tasks, became almost more work than it was worth. The little thought inside my mind, convincing me to stick with the challenge, was the joy. Skiing has brought me happiness during the winter. The brightness of the snow helps pass the grey, rainy days we get in the Seattle area. And the off chance of skiing in the sun, well that feels really hard to beat. However, the struggle persisted with the obstacles mentioned. Even parking with a car on either side of mine, in close proximity, made it difficult to maneuver. Something would probably have to change. In order for me to ski on my own.
Last year, during the ski season of 2022. I was determined to at least try skiing once by myself. Wondering if I could manage all of the physical challenges involved. The plan was to ski in the middle of the week. Tuesday or Wednesday felt like they would be the least crowded of days. My hope was, the less crowded days would provide the most space to maneuver. Another tactic I thought to employ was arriving early. The theory being, if I arrive early on a weekday morning, I might be able to get a good parking space. Something closer to the lodge and there might be less people early. The arrival time would help me feel less rushed with less crowd around the entire place. Hopefully, helping me take my time in getting all the gear situated. The close parking would help shorten the walk up to the lodge. Even though, there remained no good plan I had found to avoid the stairs. Those steps leading up to the main area of Stevens would remain a struggle. While those steps remained a pretty deterring challenge in the 2022 season, I managed to meet the other challenges. Arriving early helped me park closer. Even though parking close to other cars made getting prepared more difficult, it didn’t become unbearable. As far as the steps were concerned, I tried taking it slow. The biggest bummer was the task of descending them to end my day of skiing. I didn’t feel like I could keep on going. My other option might be to park in a place where I could avoid the stairs. But, that would lead to a more challenging walk. Probably not a permanent solution.
There was a sadness to the idea of failing to find a good way around the steps. I had made a couple trips and knew continuing to use the stairs or hike a distance into the lodge wouldn’t work well. Over time, it would lead me to avoid driving up to ski. I didn’t want this to be my end result. After going up a couple times and finding it comfortable to ski by myself. It felt frustrating to think the challenge in getting to the lodge would keep me from skiing. In essence, there had to be a way for cerebral palsy not to hold me back. My brain continued working on thinking of something that might work as a solution. When a possible solution came into mind. My handicap pass might change my entire thought process. The idea carried me onto the website of Stevens Pass. Wondering if there was such a thing as handicap parking for a ski resort. Looking through all of the parking information on their website. I found there to be interesting tidbits about parking at the resorts. Lots I didn’t know existed and rules I had never taken into consideration. Then, I came across the reason for my search. In one of the lots I hadn’t parked in before, they had handicap parking. The knowledge felt like it had the ability to change my entire skiing experience. But, parking in these spaces still required an experience before feeling like my hobby could be rejuvenated. The other concern was figuring out just where these spots were located. I had never parked in their vicinity before finding the information.
The handicap spots I found were located across the street from where I had parked. There happened to be a foot bridge crossing the main highway. A bridge I had noticed over the years of going up to Stevens for skiing. However, I thought the foot bridge was for the parking lot located just across the street from the one I used. Meaning that crossing the foot bridge required hiking up a pretty substantially long looking ramp, just to walk across the bridge. The ramp seemed more trouble that the stairs would have been. Probably not on my way up the ramp, but trying to decent the ramp at days’ end. When I would be tired and the path could be icy or snow covered. Thinking about the prospective didn’t sound of a ringing endorsement inside the mind. So, I had avoided parking on that side of the highway, instead opting for the stairs, which continued to be a challenge. In looking over the Stevens Pass website, I found something new. The parking on the opposite side of the highway was more than the lot I could see. There was an additional lot located up a slight incline and around a corner. The incline, which I had never seen before, went right past the foot bridge. Giving the foot bridge an entrance about in the middle of the incline. Well, that was also about the spot where the handicap parking spaces were located.
I can still recall the first-time parking in one of the handicap spaces. They are located about twenty feet from the entrance of the foot bridge. Just across the small road leading up to another parking lot. There are about four spaces there and the cars are encouraged to pull in at an angle. I have only seen the handicap spaces completely occupied one time, the Sunday afternoon prior to MLK Day. Otherwise, there have been countless times when my car and one other occupy the section. The infrequent use of the spaces means added space around the exterior of the car. Providing a more relaxed environment to retrieve items from the car and prepare for the ski day, or drive home. A large factor in reducing the stress of spending time on the mountain as someone disabled. The walk from the handicap parking space to the lodge was another game changer. Gone were the stairs to navigate or snow covered slopes to provide challenge in both directions. The twenty foot walk to the foot bridge and the bridge itself were flat. With the end of the bridge connecting seamlessly at the top of the stairs I had climbed in past ski days. The path from my car to the lodge was now flat and much easier to walk. I felt the emotion of walking into the ski resort with more comfort. But, I wondered what it would be like to end my day of skiing.
After the ski day was through, I ventured back across the walking bridge. Thankful I wasn’t forced to descend the hill of snow bordering the stairs. With my ski boots on, walking down the stairs to the parking lot was beyond my ability. Causing me too often fret about finding a good path back down to the car. And when you are tired from skiing, the challenge can be even more daunting. On this day, with my car in the handicap space, that feeling of anxiety wasn’t part of my ski day. The feeling of gratitude swept over me, as I took my first steps onto the bridge. The walk back to my car mirrored the walk from the car. A very light decline in the bridge, but nothing really of note. The next overwhelming feeling of comfort greeted me when arriving at the car. There wasn’t a car on either side to cause concern. No reason to worry about bumping my skies or polls into a car around me while preparing to drive home. No anxiety around having space to open one of the doors and place my things inside. There was plenty of room to move about void of the concern about bumping into other people or their car. As I enjoyed the breathing room to load up my car without anxiety, my view on skiing began changing. It was safe to say that finding the handicap parking changed everything.
I had more energy throughout the entire day of skiing. Parking in the handicap space made the day of skiing more easily managed. In the previous parking spaces, I would be exhausted by the time I arrived back at the car. The fatigue brought about from skiing, but also managing the challenge of preparing to ski, getting my gear on, and the difficult journey up to the lodge. Then, following my day of skiing, taking on the task of making my way back to the car, and loading the car for my drive back down the mountain. It felt like the going and coming from the car involved more challenge than the skiing. Add to that, the unpredictability of where I might be asked to park. The further away from the lodge my parking space might be, the more challenging the ski day. It wasn’t going to be sustainable for me to ski on a consistent basis. However, parking in one of the handicap spaces changed all of these factors. Making everything surrounding my day on the slopes, much easier to manage. The added predictability found me going up to ski weekly, to end the season of 2022. While, providing me with the confidence needed to buy a season pass for this winter of 2023. I would have had no idea how much a handicap space could change an experience, until I found the courage to embrace the opportunity.