Brian Guido, a ski coach for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Adaptive Steep and Deep Camp, and Dennis Walburn, an adaptive skier, remember the mid-February 2019 camp well. Close to 80 inches of snow fell that week.
“It was right on the edge of my ability,” Walburn says. “It all turned out okay. Well… except for that one time when I hit the tree. My coach really had to dig me out of that one.”
Guido also chuckled at the memory. “That camp was big for a lot of our adaptive skiers,” he says. “Those conditions were tough—fun, but tough. There was plenty of storytelling at the bar during that camp.”
Guido and Walburn share many passions. They both love to ski and believe Jackson is the biggest and best place to do so. They also share a love of community and a thirst for the challenge of the mountains. What they don’t share is how they stand on a pair of skis. Guido is an able-bodied skier who skis with two boots, two skis, and two poles. Walburn, on the other hand, is a left leg amputee. He sports two skis with a bar that connects the tips and his poles have small skis at the end that act as outriggers.
Walburn lost his leg to a roadside bomb when he was in the military. Already a skier, it took him a mere six months post-injury to start the journey as an adaptive athlete. He visited Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado through a military service program for disabled veterans, and a buddy of his developed a mono-board for him to use. That evolved into two skis with the tip and tail connected, and then two skis with just the tips connected.
“That set-up gave me a lot more freedom,” Walburn says. “I could actually snowplow and use my legs separately.” Last winter, Walburn spent a week with Adaptive Adventures at Grand Targhee Resort, and then he was invited to join Jackson’s Steep and Deep Camp, where he met Guido.
Guido first became involved with adaptive skiing in Breckenridge as well. “I was fascinated by the adaptive community and the gear,” he says. “Coaching in the adaptive program was such a different way to interact.” A job opportunity brought Guido and his wife to Jackson last winter, and he soon became involved with the local adaptive program.
For Walburn, utilizing adaptations to ski post-injury brought a sense of normalcy and helped him develop skills to overcome difficult situations. “When I ski at higher levels, it helps me be calm in other challenging situations,” he says. He also sees the support of the group as pivotal. “There are adaptive and able-bodied skiers working through uncomfortable situations together,” Walburn says. “We are all assessing the terrain, looking for the route choice, getting talked through the movements—it’s all about the confidence.”
Guido sees the same benefits, often through the rapport and trust that develop between the coach and the student. “I do a lot of anxiety training, helping the skier find and manage calmness,” he says.
For athlete and coach alike, at the end of the day it is all about overcoming obstacles and finding joy in the sensation of skiing, as well as sharing the adventure of being out on the snow in the mountains.