The athletic talent on display at Copper Mountain runs deep. On any given day at the resort, racers, Woodward enthusiasts and dedicated skiers and riders can be seen cruising the extensive terrain perfecting and progressing their skills. Amongst the expertise, you’ll find a group of superstar competitors from Special Olympics Colorado reaping the spoils of the mountain and training on the same snow as some of the top talents in the world.
Special Olympics Colorado (SOCO) is a sports organization that works to empower people with intellectual disabilities in Colorado through athletic, health and leadership programming. SOCO offers 21 Olympic-type sports to more than 15,000 athletes throughout the state, encouraging athletic growth and personal confidence among its participants.
Through Special Olympics programming, kids and adults throughout Colorado have access to skiing and riding at Copper Mountain during the winter months. The partnership between Copper and Special Olympics began over 30 years ago, and throughout the years, has grown to provide a world-class training ground and competition space for Special Olympics athletes during the winter season.
The successful and supportive affiliation with Special Olympics has inspired Copper Mountain to offer exclusive hill space for athlete training and competition, lift tickets for athletes and volunteers and hosting the organization’s state competition, Winter Games. Winter Games is a two-day event where SOCO athletes come to Copper to race in skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and cross-country events and compete for medals. In 2020, over 200 athletes participated in Winter Games! The event wouldn’t be complete without a parade through Copper’s Center Village, a ski down, the lighting of the cauldron, fireworks and a victory dance, all to celebrate the athletes
“Copper’s always gone above and beyond to make sure that the experience for our athletes’ is the same experience that is offered for any of the events and races that the resort hosts,” said Susan Foege, director of competition for SOCO. “Working with a venue like that is so refreshing. Sometimes we run into challenges and we kind of get pushed aside, but Copper’s been 100 percent behind us and supports us in whatever way they can to help get our athlete’s out on the course and training.”
SOCO has made it a priority to offer their skiing and riding program to athletes all over the state. On training days, Special Olympic team jackets from Summit County, Cherry Creek and other parts of Colorado can be seen lapping the racecourse on the American Flyer run or freeskiing on trails around the mountain. Last year, the organization began offering bus service to athletes in Colorado Springs and rural parts of Southeastern Colorado in order to provide them an equal opportunity to access to the mountains and winter sports.
February 2020’s Winter Games at Copper marked the organizations last major event before the pandemic changed the landscape and created a new set of challenges for the Special Olympics team with the inability to come together. The staff of SOCO knows that training together is invaluable amidst such strange circumstances and has remained top of mind throughout the season.
“It was really challenging for us when everyone was locked down and our teams couldn’t get together,” said Foege. “For our teams, it’s not as easy as moving a workday online. Not all of our athletes have access to computers and the technology so to accommodate the athletes’ that were able, we offered other options like trivia, bingo and other activities online.”
In order to adapt to the current health crisis this season, Copper worked with the Special Olympics crew to provide athletes with two days of training and hill space on Sundays and Wednesdays each week at the resort in both January and February. Copper also hosted a scaled-back Winter Games competition for athletes at the end of February.
“From my perspective, as much as I’ve been itching to run a competition, the fact that we can have our athletes out practicing is huge, because that is the piece they miss the most,” said Foege. “They miss the competitions, but more importantly, they really miss their practices and being with their teammates.”
Copper Mountain prides itself in its ability to provide an unrivaled mountain experience focused on challenging and inspiring skiers and riders of all types, all ages and all ability levels. Copper is honored to partner with Special Olympics and is thrilled to offer a training and competition site for its winter sports athletes!
To learn more about Special Olympics Colorado, its programs and volunteer opportunities, visit specialolympicsco.org.