Peter Mandler: The Founder’s History of WAS

Wasatch Adaptive Sports was created in November 1977. At that time, there were very few programs and activities for people with disabilities in Utah. We realized a family with a child with a disability or an adult with a disability had very little funding if any for recreational sports programs or equipment due to being on a fixed income, fixed budget, and facing huge out of pocket medical costs. Accordingly, most considered skiing and other recreational sports programs out of reach. With my background in sociology and social work and as a certified ski instructor, we decided to create one of the first winter sports program in Utah through the Snowbird Ski School. My focus was to create a program for a child or adult from a low socioeconomic background that would never be able to afford the experience.  I felt that a person with a disability should receive the exact same quality of instruction as the person paying for a ski school lesson and thus aimed to hire all professional certified instructors for the program.

In order to create such a program, we needed to raise significant funds to cover costs including instructional labor. One of my lessons in the early 1980’s was referred to me by Junior Bounous, our Ski School Director. My philosophy at that time was to teach people with a disability, which did not include a person with a temporary sports injury. This individual suffered a knee injury resulting from being thrown from a horse.  I told him I was unable to teach him because of this, however he wouldn’t take no for an answer and convinced me to take him out for a week by promising to give me advice on setting up a nonprofit. We spent the week three-track skiing all over the mountain. At the end of the week, he told me that we needed to apply for 501c3 nonprofit status, gave me instructions on how to proceed with this process, and wrote me a check for $10,000 to kick off the program! Snowbird continued to provide tremendous support by contributing the funding to hire an attorney to set up the 501c3. We received our nonprofit status in September 1983.

Once the program was off the ground, the organization began to really take shape.  From the start, all of our instructors were trained through the P.S.I.A. Alpine Technical and Teaching Manuals.  Our winter programming grew to touch many lives each year.  With this success and the realization that the need we were seeing extended year-round, we expanded into summer activities for people with disabilities including adaptive biking, fishing, orienteering, hiking and camping. We also added year-round bowling.

In the mid 1980’s I sat down with Steve Young, the future Hall of Fame quarterback and founder of the Forever Young Foundation, who came to me with great interest in supporting the program.  Together, we decided to continue to move in the direction of promoting the program to individuals from low socio-economic backgrounds because we felt this population would benefit the most from program participation. From that point on we focused on raising funding for scholarships through our annual event the Steve Young Ski Classic.  Steve and the Forever Young Foundation remain one of WAS’s largest supporters.

Steve’s partnership was only one of the many community relationships that helped the nonprofit to really take off.  Our student base increased in the 1990’s and into the 2000’s through collaborations with Primary Children’s Medical Center, Shriners Hospitals for Children, University of Utah Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department, Intermountain Health Care and numerous other rehabilitation facilities whose practitioners continue to actively refer patients to WAS for the many physical and mental health benefits associated with program participation.  In 2010, we partnered with the George E. Wahlen Department of Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center to create an interactive Veterans Program which remains an important facet of WAS’s programming.

Wasatch Adaptive Sports continues to thrive today more than ever, and we have seen a 15-20 percent increase in program participation every year for the last four years so that now we are serving hundreds of students through thousands of lessons annually. A huge portion of the increase has been in individuals with traumatic brain injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, and cerebral palsy. Today, as in the past 40 years, 95 percent of our lessons are on full scholarship.  I am humbled that the idea I had back in 1977 has flourished into such an amazing organization.  None of this would have been possible without the help of our generous supporters, a dedicated and passionate executive and management team, our professional sports instructors and dedicated volunteers.  Please consider supporting our 40 for 40 Campaign which celebrates WAS’s 40 years of service to the adaptive community by raising $40,000 in support of the organization.  Your donation will insure that WAS can continue to provide life-changing programming for many years to come!

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Wasatch Adaptive Sports
Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort
9385 S, Snowbird Center Dr.
Snowbird, Utah, 84092-9000

Phone: (801) 933-2188

Fax: (801) 935-8338

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