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Muffy Davis Cup Allows Skiers to ‘Ski in Someone Else’s Shoes’
Friday, March 17, 2023


Dressed as a 6-foot-tall orange carrot, the greens flowing behind his head, Rick Bruder stood out among the skiers enjoying the sunshine Sunday at Dollar Mountain.

“My job is to stay ahead of the three bunnies chasing me,” he said, nodding towards Rick Emsiek, Aaron Hill and Mike Gilman dressed as white rabbits. “Our team is three bunnies and a carrot.”

Staying ahead was not going to be as easy as it normally would have been for Bruder, though. He was tasked with skiing on one ski, using outrigger poles that had tiny skis at the bottom to help him steer his way around turns like an amputee would do.

The occasion was the inaugural Muffy Davis Cup, a fundraiser for Higher Ground Sun Valley, which provides adaptive skiing at Sun Valley Resort for youth and adults with disabilities.

Seven teams of four skiers, each paired with a disabled VIP skier like Muffy Davis, turned out for the event. And all got a chance to experience what it was like skiing with a disability, either skiing on one ski as Bruder was doing, in a monoski or donning goggles that had been blacked out or partially taped over to show what it was like to ski with a visual impairment.

“It’s a chance to ski in someone else’s shoes,” said Tony Price, who was on John French’s Devil Dogs team, derived from the name Germans gave Marines because they kept coming at them amidst machine gun fire.

The event was conceived by Paralympic medalist Muffy Davis, who won several medals skiing in a monoski, a chair mounted on a ski.

“I’ve wanted to do this type of event for a long time, although I certainly didn’t intend for it to be named after me,” said Davis, who was paralyzed in a ski training accident at 16. “I was an administrator for the Jimmy Heuga fundraiser (inspired by an Olympic medalist whose career was ended by multiple sclerosis). That event challenged skiers to rack up as much vertical as they could. People are always asking about a chance to try out the adaptive equipment so this is an opportunity for them to do so.”

Skiers spent the morning learning how to ski through their assigned challenges. Then they had a fun race in the afternoon on Quarter Dollar for the chance to win silver trophy cups.

“This is very similar to real skiing but you need more rotation,” said Paul Willis, who skied on one ski with outriggers. “You still have the flexing, edging, staying in the athletic stance, balance. But you end up initiating your turn from the hip. I think being able to do something like this makes you a better skier.”

Kayla Chaffey, an instructor with Higher Ground showed Bruder how to ski on two skis with outriggers. Four tracking, as it’s called, is something someone with limited leg strength might do.

“Open the door with your outrigger to initiate the turn,” she said as she showed Bruder how to push the outrigger in the direction she wanted to turn. “Then ski around it.”

Those who donned blackout goggles were led up and down the stairs and down the hallways of Dollar Mountain Lodge before they ever put on skis and tried skiing blind.

“He’s a good guide but I really find myself feeling for things,” said Tony Price of his experience. “I find my tactile senses, like my feet and hands are much stronger with my eyesight impaired.”

Higher Ground staff always assess skiers as soon as they meet them, looking to see whether they’re cautious or confident, said Kristin Emerson, a Higher Ground instructor who has worked with students from the Idaho State School for the Deaf and Blind.

“Some are completely blind; others may have some peripheral sight,” she added. “We may ski with bamboo poles with some; we talk others through it. I think it’s a pretty powerful experience for people to be able to try this. We’ve already gotten a couple new volunteers from it.”

Out on the course the new monoskiers took a few spills but made it to the bottom and thumbed a ride on the chairlift for another go at it. Guides for the blind skied them through the race gates by feeding them a steady stream of verbal instructions.

“It’s incredible,” said Victoria Rossin, who tried skiing blind. “You think you’re moving, then you’re not. I work on the ski patrol on Dollar Mountain so I’ve probably skied this run a thousand times. But it’s amazing how changing one little thing—in this case, my ability to see—makes for such a different experience. It’s challenging.”

DL Evans Bank sponsored the event. Others supporting the event included Isabel Neidorf’s family whose own Heart of the Brain foundation raises money for cancer research. Isabel was 4 when she was diagnosed with a rare, inoperable brain tumor in 2003.

She has endured 3,000 seizures since, which have caused physical, developmental and cognitive delays. Now 24, she earned a certificate in Learning and Life Skills from a two-year college program at UCLA and now helps her father in his office.

“When she was young, she never wanted to go anywhere,” said Isabel’s father Michael Neidorf. “When she finally said she wanted to start skiing, we found Higher Ground. Isabel said she only wanted to ski the Magic Carpet. But by day two she was skiing Quarter Dollar and in 2013 she skied Upper Limelight on Baldy. Her achievement is amazing, and it never would have happened without Higher Ground and their amazing instructors who all made her feel comfortable and loved.”

Neidorf said he is still blown away by the confidence his daughter gained from learning to ski.

“I can’t tell you how much this organization has meant to us,” he added. “Higher Ground is truly an amazing organization. It’s not just about getting up on the slopes but it’s also about encouraging children and adults: You can do this. And watching all these people learn today how difficult it is to do what these adults and children do—it was amazing.”

Higher Ground will have given a thousand ski lessons by the end of the season, said Maggie Johnson, adaptive sports coordinator.  It still has a paralympic youth camp, a weekend with the Idaho State School and Blind and an all-female veterans camp that includes an athlete who is attempting to climb the Seven Summits before it moves into such summer activities as flyfishing, golf and handcycling.

“We have 10 new instructors among our 20 instructors and we’ve been full on this year,” she added. “It feels like the busiest season ever.”

FASTEST TIME and MOST MONEY RAISED: The Devil Dogs with Mike Penrose, John French, Tony Price and Paul Willis.

HIGHEST TEAM TIME: Flying Hawaiians, comprised of Elle Lucas, Annie DeAngelo, Nick Steriden and Daniela Stokes.

BEST DRESSED: Three Bunnies and a Carrot comprised of Rick Emsier, Aaron Hill, Rick Bruder and Mike Gilman.

BEST WRECK: Meghan Myrick

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