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Marc Mast Got Inventive with Adaptive Skiing
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Friday, December 8, 2023
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Marc Mast seems quiet and unassuming.

But this Sun Valley ski instructor has been a force to be reckoned with when it comes to helping the disabled find joy in skiing.  He’s worked with wounded warriors, and he’s worked with 11 skiers who went on to compete with the U.S. Paralympic Ski Team.

He was honored for his work Thursday night as he was inducted into the Sun Valley Winter Sports Hall of Fame, alongside ice dancer Judy Blumberg, alpine ski racer Jonna Mendes, Sun Valley Suns hockey player and coach John “Cub” Burke and Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation ski racer Heather Flood Daves.

Mast was a carpenter working in the Lake Tahoe area when a founder of Achieve Tahoe adaptive ski program invited him to a teaching clinic.

“I was an avid skier, but I needed to do something more than just ski every day,” said Mast. So, I started teaching all over the north shore of Tahoe. I became supervisor of the program at Alpine Meadows after four or five years and then started training instructors at ski areas around the country through Disabled Sports USA.”

Sun Valley’s Muffy Davis, a student at Stanford University, traveled to Alpine Meadows to see if Mast could help her ski again. Paralyzed in a ski training accident at 16, she had tried to ski using a monoski, which resembles a chair on one ski. But one attempt after another had failed.

“Monoskis were in their infancy then and having a bad fit in a chair is like having a bad fitting ski boot,” Mast said.

Mast put his carpentry know-how to work custom fitting Davis’s monoski, and the young woman went on a tear, making the U.S. Paralympic Ski Team, medaling at the 1998 Paralympics in Nagano and the 2022 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and winning a coveted World Cup Championship in women’s monoskiing.

“Imagine you’re sitting on a beach ball with a ski underneath it. That’s what it’s like,” he said. “Then, imagine you’re skiing the same downhill course that the Olympic racers skied at 70 miles per hour. That was what it was like for Muffy racing in the Paralympics.”

At Davis’s suggestion, Mast contacted Sun Valley Ski School Director Rainier Kolb, and in 1992 Kolb hired Mast to start an adaptive ski program with part of the cost supplemented by fundraising.

 “About 95 percent of the instructors we used were professional instructors,” Mast said. “Just because someone’s disabled doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get professional lessons.”

Mast started Sun Valley Adaptive Sports in 1995 as the adaptive program transitioned out of the ski school. When it became Higher Ground, he left to found the Wood River Ability Program (WRAP). And in 2002 he began coaching national Paralympic biathlon and Nordic skiers.

“I saw one-armed Willie Stewart, who was on the U.S. Paralympic Nordic team, here doing a camp. When coach Jon Kreamelmeyer told me they had no recruitment process, I suggested we do a camp here and recruit athletes for the team.”

A lot of the recruits were wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan. They came to Sun Valley after Sun Valley acupuncturist Joan Scheingraber, a coach with the U.S. Paralympic Nordic Team, establish a conduit with Brooke Army Medical Center in Sant Antonio, Texas.

In 2009, Mast was in Texas when he spotted Andy Soule, who had lost his legs when a roadside bomb exploded next to his Humvee in Afghanistan, doing a long-distance hand-cycle bike race. Mast invited him to a Nordic ski development camp in February 2006 and taught him to ski on a sit-ski, which involves pushing oneself on poles while sitting on a seat attached to a pair of skis.

A year later Soule became the first U.S. athlete to win an Olympic or Paralympic medal in biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting. He would go on to win fists full of Paralympic medals.

Mast introduced Sun Valley Nordic skier Jake Adicoff to Paralympic coaches, and Adicoff has since won several Paralympic medals as a blind skier. More recently, Mast helped Jesse Keefe get set up so he could ski efficiently using a prosthesis after Keefe’s lower leg was amputated due to an ankle deformity.

“One of my prize students was Elitsa Storey. She comes from a big family of skiers and her dad was trying to teach her how to ski wearing her prosthesis, and they were getting nowhere. I put her on one ski with outriggers for ski poles. At 10 she started skiing with the Sun Valley Skie Education Foundation—I think she was their first full-time adaptive skier. And she ended up skiing in two Paralympics in Torino and Vancouver.”

Mast also had a hand in getting the 15K Half-Boulder started. The Paralympic team had done the full 34-kilometer course from Galena lodge to SNRA headquarters the year before. But the following year Kreamelmeyer asked if it could be shortened because he didn’t want his athletes burning themselves out three weeks before the World Championships.

“The Half-Boulder gets about 250 racers every year and people love it. And we always have between six and 15 adaptive athletes—athletes using sit skis, single and double amputees, those with spina bifida, the visually impaired,” said Mast.

When not training athletes, Mast has been working on a line of adaptive skis he calls Wraptors, using grants from the Veterans Administration and Nelson Foundation. The Nordic sit skis can be adjusted to a skier’s height and weight. They have leg extensions for longer legs, and amputees can take the foot plates off if they wish. The seats can also be tipped or even removed for those with high spinal cord injuries.

“When you have a clinic with six or eight sit skiers, they all need something different. We needed equipment that could be custom fit so we don’t need to have 20 different sit skis on hand,” said Mast.

Looking back, Mast said he would have never guessed he would spend more than 40 years of his life working with adaptive skiing.

“I’m pretty proud of my accomplishments—starting an adaptive program in Sun Valley, coaching on the national clinic team. And it’s surreal—and a real honor—to be in the Sun Valley Winter Sports Hall of Fame alongside Averell Harriman and skiers like Chuck Ferries and Dick Dorworth.”


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