Bill Goldstein was terrified the day he took his first lesson in adaptive skiing at Eldora Mountain Resort. He had moved from New York City to Colorado for skiing, only to lose his left leg soon after the move due to a diabetic infection. Despite his initial fears, his passion for skiing was renewed through Ignite Adaptive Sports at Eldora Mountain Resort.
“My first day at Ignite was the first day I was part of the disabled community,” Goldstein said. “It was like, ‘Wow, I’m one of them.’ It really gave me a much deeper connection to other disabled individuals and their families. Now that I’m a lead instructor, my prosthetic is the best prop I could ever have. It’s really become my life’s work. Losing my leg turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me because it put me in a position to help others.”
Ignite Adaptive Sports was the brainchild of two University of Colorado students with a heart for helping people with disabilities, Nancy Kalinski and Alison Robinson. It started in 1975 as the Eldora Handicapped Recreation Program with a van, 10 disabled CU students and seven instructors. Renamed in 2010, Ignite served nearly 300 adaptive athletes with physical and cognitive disabilities this past season, operating out of two cramped mobile office trailers.
Now, with a significant investment by Eldora’s parent company, Utah-based Powdr Corp., work has begun to construct a 12,000-square-foot building next to the beginner hill that will house Ignite and Eldora’s children’s ski school. Officials are hoping it will be ready for use in October of 2024. Eldora has been a strong partner with Ignite over the years.
“We went from a van to a little box that they set up on the mountain to hold our stuff, to a small shelter, to a second shelter,” said Tom Kissinger, president of Ignite’s board of directors. “Then a shelter burned down and they built a new one for us. We’ve been continuing to grow to our current evolution, which is going to be the new building.”
It will be a game-changer for Ignite, an all-volunteer non-profit that serves people with disabilities across the Front Range.
“Our buildings are temporary,” Kissinger said. “They’ve been here for more than 25 years and they’re falling apart. We have to do a lot of maintenance, and when the wind blows at Eldora — which is a normal state of affairs — it’s a challenge. The buildings are falling down, so they need to be replaced. Secondly, we’re at the base of the mountain, so it’s on soft ground. Without a foundation under the building, they’re sinking. The third thing is the bathrooms – they were a disaster. They weren’t set up for the adaptive community. They were temporary buildings.”
Eldora’s general manager and president, Brent Tregaskis, declined to reveal how much Powdr is spending on the building except to say it’s a “multimillion-dollar project” and that most of the funding is coming from Powdr.
“These guys (Ignite) raised a significant amount of money to get it started, and paid for a lot of the permitting to get it off the ground,” Tresgaskis said. “The majority of the construction is going to be funded by Powdr. It’s costing us a lot of money, but Powdr really felt it was the right thing to do for the adaptive community.”
Powdr owns eight other ski areas including Copper Mountain. Ignite will be housed on the ground floor of the new building, while the children’s ski school with a food and beverage operation will occupy the second floor. A fringe benefit of adaptive athletes and able-bodied children using the same building will be having young people see what life can be like for people with disabilities and how they rise above their limitations.
“The adaptive community will use the restaurant, they’ll intermingle with the able-bodied kids,” Tresgaskis said. “There’s a lot to be said for that. That’s inclusion. The way we’ve been, it’s been separate.”
A half-day lesson for Ignite students costs $75 and comes with a lift ticket. Scholarships are available for those who cannot afford that. Lessons are free for military veterans with disabilities.
Goldstein, whose love of skiing is as noticeable as his sharp New York accent, came to Colorado to attend CU and graduated in 1988. He went back to New York for two decades, always knowing he’d return someday for the skiing. He did that about 15 years ago, but two or three years later he started having trouble with his leg. After it was amputated, one of 10 surgeries he endured, he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to ski again. Ignite showed him he could.
“At first you’re worried like, ‘How am I going to get by with one leg?’” Goldstein said. “The embarrassment, the fear, the upheaval of your life. Then you get to Ignite, and you realize your disability is small and insignificant in comparison to others, and (the worry) goes away in about five minutes. And it never came back.”