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The adaptive ambassador

Paul Raymore
Sierra Sun
Photo by Josh Miller/Sierra SunBill Bowness takes on a run at Alpine Meadows.
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Some might call it giving back. But for a man who enjoys teaching skiing as much as he likes free skiing on his own, it’s all gravy as long as he’s out on the mountain.

In nearly every way, Truckee resident Bill Bowness is a remarkable skier. Injured in a car accident at the age of 18, Bowness, now 46, relearned to ski on a monoski at the Tahoe Adaptive Ski School at Alpine Meadows in 1989.

He jokes that over the last 16 years he’s held almost every position one can have at TASS, from student to volunteer to instructor to trainer and supervisor. And throughout that time the only thing to outpace his skills on a monoski is his commitment to sharing his passion for the sport.

A member of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team from 1992 to 1997, Bowness went on to win Paralympic medals in the downhill, super G and slalom. The same competitive instinct that drove him to success on the race course also pushed him to take his teaching to another level.

As an instructor, Bowness has helped many skiers ” disabled and able-bodied alike ” learn to share his view that the mountains are a playground. And in doing so he’s found a way to live “in paradise.”

“My hobby turned into a job, which turned into a lifestyle,” Bowness said of his progression from student to instructor at TASS.

Last year Bowness reached the pinnacle in any instructor’s career with an appointment to the 24-member Professional Ski Instructors of America National Demonstration Team ” an elite group of Alpine, Nordic and snowboard instructors who travel the country giving clinics to other professionals and help set the philosophy for ski and snowboard instruction nationwide.

“It’s a dream job,” Bowness said of the four-year demo team appointment, “not only for the work I do, but also for the potential of opening it up to disabled and adaptive members. It starts off with one person … So my job is just go out and hustle and really work myself to the bone so that in four years time there might be three or four [adaptive] members.”

According to Jim Smith, chair of the PSIA West adaptive committee, having an adaptive skier on the demo team has been a long term-goal of the group:

“It’s been something that we’ve been working towards,” Smith said. “As PSIA is evolving so that we have skiers, snowboarders, tele and adaptive folks all sliding together on the mountain, we’re just hoping to bring them all together. And this was a huge step toward making that happen.”

“More or less, [Bowness] is paving the way for this to be a permanent position,” he said.

Philosophically, what adaptive skiers do on the hill is not very different from able-bodied skiers according to both Smith and Bowness. And with a Level II Alpine certification, Bowness will likely teach as many, if not more, able-bodied clinics during the next four years as adaptive ones.

“Everything I do is going to have its roots in the stand-up world. What you’re doing when you ski isn’t much different than what I do,” Bowness said. “There are little idiosyncrasies about it, there are little subtleties that may be different, but for me to have a good enough knowledge of what a two-planker does out there is really the basis for what I do.”

For Haakon Lang-Ree, program director at TASS, Bowness’ versatility has been a big asset for the adaptive ski school’s students.

“He’s been pretty instrumental on the adaptive side in our region for years and years,” Lang-Ree said, adding that Bowness “can teach or train anything. He’s not limited to monoski.”

As an instructor, supervisor and trainer at TASS, Bowness has been helping to match students with instructors, observe lessons and give clinics on the hill on all topics related to alpine skiing. And now that he has been selected to the demo team, Lang-Ree said he hopes Bowness will continue to be an ambassador for the program at TASS and for adaptive skiing in general.

“It’s a pretty big honor,” Lang-Ree said. “That group of people is the top of the top nationally. So to have him on there is a huge honor. I think it’s kind of bringing the whole adaptive discipline into the spotlight for folks who have never been exposed to it.”

For Bowness, the dream job of teaching with the national demo team will take him away from his home base of Tahoe and the resorts around the area that he knows so well.

Skiing with Bowness at Alpine Meadows is like skiing with any of the other phenomenal locals who call that mountain home. It’s hard to keep up as he leads you from a favorite powder stash to a steep tree run to big open glades where you can let loose. And he’s not adverse to hiking for better lines, which is hard to believe until you spend a day with him on the hill.

Asked why skiing is so special to him, Bowness spoke of freedom.

“I’m an adrenaline junkie: I like speed, I like steeps, I like that feeling of the heart beating fast and the throat kind of tightening and the adrenaline pumping up,” he said. “And there’s a freedom to it ” there’s no way I could get up there in my wheelchair, but in a snow ski, everything that I can see here is mine. It’s my playground.”

Thanks to Bowness and the other volunteers and instructors at the Tahoe Adaptive Ski School, that playground is becoming more and more accessible every day.


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