WEST DOVER — A program allowing a person with any type of disability to get on a ski slope received a push down the hill after a Dan Patrick Show producer donated all his winnings on a sports Jeopardy show.
"When Sports Jeopardy told me to find a charity to play, I started looking in Wilmington and Dover. I've come to love the area, the people, and wanted to do something locally," said Paul Pabst, a producer on Patrick's show for 13 years and a one-year Wilmington homeowner. "I really wanted to win for bragging rights with my coworkers but more so to get a nice check for AbilityPLUS. It was tense at the end of the game, but it all worked out."
Having visited the Mount Snow ski resort regularly since 2000, Pabst said he had seen the group on the mountain and thought it was "a perfect fit." The show appeared on Crackle.com, an online network similar to Hulu.
The most difficult question Pabst was asked was about the most decorated American skier of all time, Julia Mancuso. He got it right but he imagined if it was about women's snowboarding and didn't guess Kelly Clark.
"Everyone at TC's would have crushed me," he said of the Dover restaurant owned and operated by Clark's family.
The non-profit organization known as AbilityPLUS offers adaptive sports programs at Wildcat and Attitash, two Peak Resorts-owned resorts in New Hampshire. But $12,500 of Pabst's $25,000 winnings will go towards equipment and a scholarship fund for Mount Snow's program. His child skis at Mount Snow, where his friend Dave Meeker previously served as marketing and communications manager. The other $12,500 will go to Wayne's Walk Foundation of Stratford, Conn., a non-profit corporation that raises awareness around the dangers of drinking and driving.
"(Meeker) pointed him in our direction," said Linda Walsh, AbilityPLUS Adaptive Sports Mount Snow program director. "That's how he played for AbilityPLUS, which was fantastic for our program."
Meeker said it was "no-brainer" for him to suggest AbilityPLUS when Pabst called looking for a local charity. Not only was the monetary support seen as a benefit but Pabst talking about the organization was also touted. Meeker hopes those who watched the show will research the group and provide additional support.
"I always tried to promote them when I was at Mount Snow," Meeker said. "The viewing party was killer. No one knew the results of the show and Paul (Pabst) was getting beat pretty good going into final Jeopardy. The fact that he was able to pull it off was really incredible. It was really cool."
The Dan Patrick Show recently moved from ESPN to the NBC Sports Network. Patrick also hosts the Sports Jeopardy show on Crackle and Football Night in America on NBC.
"Like Paul (Pabst), I am a homeowner in the valley," said Patrick. "I know Mount Snow well. Very happy that we could help out AbilityPLUS."
Walsh's group helps people with any type of disability access the mountain, including those with autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, physical disabilities and behavioral disorders. Lessons last year reached approximately 300 individuals in 1,650 different private lessons.
A lesson features one lead instructor with as many assistant instructors required. For students using equipment where they must sit down, an instructor may need an assistant for getting the student on and off safely and another assistant to keep the perimeter safe. More instructors may be required for safeguarding the area around students with autism who register fear differently.
"It really varies lesson to lesson," Walsh said. "All of our lessons are totally tailored to the student."
Mount Snow's program has a Special Olympics team, which this season has 40 coaches and 18 athletes training for the Vermont events. The 2016 Winter Games will be held in March at Suicide Six Ski Resort in South Pomfret with sports including alpine skiing cross country skiing, snowshoeing and snowboarding.
Altogether AbilityPLUS at Mount Snow has 275 volunteers coming from all over to lend a hand. Weekends are most busy, with both instructors and participants traveling to the resort from out of state. Approximately 80 lessons are held each weekend with 50 instructors each day.
Regional school programs hitting the slopes mid-week bring children from Windham and Bennington counties.
"Anyone in an adaptive program comes to us," said Walsh. "This year we have 28 kids from six different schools coming. Most volunteers are locals."
This weekend, Dec. 12 and 13, marks the start of lessons for AbilityPLUS. With orientation held in October, training sessions were held weekly afterwards.
Lessons are available seven days a week by reservation only.
"It's an amazing thing," said Walsh.
Pabst said he feels like Mount Snow and the Deerfield Valley are home to him. He has gotten to know a lot of the people there.
"When you see how much joy AbilityPLUS brings to those who would not be able to race down the mountain without the help of its volunteers," he said. "It's a special group that we should all get to know."
His Sports Jeopardy winnings will purchase an approximately $6,000 bi-ski, which is for people with no leg strength.
"This will allow people of all ages and weights to come out and ski with us," said Walsh.
The remaining amount will be put in the program's scholarship program to fund mid-week students' lessons.
"One of the biggest impediments is the cost," said Walsh. "On weekends, there's a different set of people but during the week it's local kids with special needs. Mount Snow charges a fee for the programs that the kids come to. We don't. So I segregate funds for adaptive athletes to come participate in our program so they don't have to pay."
Walsh confirmed costs are "absolutely" kept down for the program as it is run by volunteers. She is the only paid staff member at Mount Snow.
Insurance bears the brunt of programming costs and various types are required. Program fees are based on a sliding scale. They represent approximately a tenth of the cost of a lesson, according to Walsh.
"We never turn anyone away for lack of ability to pay. We underwrite it. That's part of what our funding is all about," she said. "That's what donations are important for."
Volunteers are always being sought.