Cardrona is a large family-friendly skifield nestled in the mountains between Queenstown and Wanaka. Skiing and snowboarding are usually seen as sports for the affluent, the athletic and the able. But the adaptive snow sports programme, which has existed there for many years, ensures people with physical or intellectual disabilities can experience the joy of snow sports.
As a keen skier for most of his 57 years, Kevin (Kev) Harris uses his expertise in the snow to help others. He has been a volunteer in the adaptive programme for the last eight winters.
Kev’s a man of few words, and lives in Wanaka with his wife, his two children having flown the nest. He won’t tell you this himself, but he has made a huge difference to people’s lives.
“He’s amazing,” says Cardrona’s adaptive programme coordinator, Jane Stevens. “Kev has this down-to-earth attitude that makes people comfortable, and he’s built up great relationships with the skiers over time.
“We do develop a really good rapport with our regulars,” says Kev. “Hugh’s a good example.”
Hugh Brown is 28 and lives in Dunedin. He likes skiing, swimming and horse riding – and he has Down syndrome. For the last 12 years Hugh has been coming to the adaptive programme.
While Hugh loves to ski, says Kev, he’s getting slower with time, so he’s trying out a sit-ski to see if it makes things easier. Kev straps Hugh into a small bucket seat attached to a specially designed ski underneath.
“Are you nervous?” he asks. A defiant shake of the head says no.
Sit-skiing is a team effort. Hugh is in charge of the outriggers, which Kev instructs him to use like ski poles, while Kev skis behind him, holding tethers attached to the sit-ski. These allow Kev to help Hugh turn, stop and avoid obstacles while he is learning. Eventually Hugh should be able to ski without help.
“Are you comfortable Hugh? All you’re missing there is a TV.”
“And a beer!” Hugh retorts.
The first run is over in a few minutes. Kev is impressed.
“You’re not bad are you? Better than some of the volunteers when they first try, actually.”
“Ha!” says Hugh, pleased with himself.
The pair continues to tease each other. It’s clear they enjoy each other’s company.
The adaptive programme at Cardrona was made possible through volunteers like Kev.
“I don’t know if it’s the small town factor or what exactly,” Jane says, “but we have fantastic volunteers here. There are a lot of older people with the time and skills to make a difference.”
Kev is as keen as ever, volunteering up Cardrona every weekend and weekdays, too, if he has the time.
”Just last weekend I taught kids whose families never dreamt their children would ever be able to ski,” he says. “It’s all worth it when you see the smiles on the kids' faces.”
This story is part of a series exploring intergenerational relationships. The Connecting the generations series is one way the Mental Health Foundation helps people prepare for a later life that has meaning, purpose and joy.