New England Disabled Sports held its first lessons at Loon Mountain in the winter of 1987-88 under the guidance of Emily Morrison. Six instructors conducted lessons from a small space behind the Ski Patrol offices. With the help of Loon Mountain, its’ maintenance crew, and the creativity of the staff in the rental shop, equipment was adapted to enable students living with disabilities to experience the magic of skiing the mountain. Dr. Bob Harney joined the program in its second year and became instrumental in the evolution and formalization of the program. Inspired by his youngest daughter who is living with a disability, “Dr. Bob,” as he later became known to the community of NEDS, was inspired and determined to further develop a program which would allow his entire family the opportunity to ski together on the mountain. His daughter learned to ski, overcoming the limitations imposed by her disability and to date, she continues as a student at NEDS.
Since 1988, the program more than doubled its participation each year until it exceeded the maximum capacity for the tiny space they first occupied. In 1994-95, the program moved to an 800 square-foot room in the basement of the Governor Adams Lodge at the Loon Mountain Resort. Painted with a can of donated blue paint, this new space became affectionately known as the Blue Room. In this new space, the program continued to grow with the ongoing and invaluable support of Loon Mountain Resort. From 1994 to 2007, White Mountain Adaptive Snow Sports, as the program was then known, established training programs to develop the skills of a growing number of volunteer coaches. These programs, which have been enhanced annually, were based on models used by the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI). With the acquisition of new adaptive equipment, the program broadened the spectrum of disabilities served.
In 2003, summer programing was established to provide year-round adaptive sports; and, the Pre-Adaptive Coach program (PAC) was established to enable high school age volunteers to learn skills to coach students living with disabilities through formal training and assisting experienced, adult, volunteers with lessons. By the end of 2007, the volunteer base expanded to almost 200, and the program became nationally known and respected as one of the premier adaptive sports programs in the United States.
By the 2007-08 season, more than 2,000 lessons were being initiated from the Blue Room. The Board of Directors realized that the program was serving a growing need, and determined that steps should be taken to continue to serve this need, with quality service. In the fall of 2008, a multi-year capital campaign was undertaken to fund construction of a new building, culminating with the completion NEDS current 4,800-square-foot adaptive sports center. Not surprisingly, when it came time to paint the interior, the familiar shade of blue was once again selected.
Drawing on the broad range of professional experience of the program’s volunteers, the Board of Directors established critical committees to form a basis for planned growth, including strategic planning, marketing, human resources, grant writing and fundraising. With the addition of year-round programming and in recognition of the organization’s expanded sphere of influence to greater New England, the program’s name was officially changed to New England Disabled Sports (NEDS) in October 2008. Fittingly, the New England Disabled Sports Center also became the permanent home of the National Disabled Ski Hall of Fame in 2009 and, in 2011, the New England Disabled Sports Center was formally dedicated as the Dr. Bob Harney Adaptive Sports Center.
In 2012, the management of the Bretton Woods Resort proposed a partnership between their adaptive skiing program and New England Disabled Sports. After careful and thorough evaluation, and based on the Board of Directors’ goals of strategic and planned growth, an agreement was struck; and, in the winter of 2012-2013, the remarkable coaches, volunteers and students from Bretton Woods became members of the NEDS community. New England Disabled Sports is now one organization serving two mountains, Loon and Bretton Woods.
The distinctive nature of the organizational calendar, schedule, programming, and the dynamics between the various members of the NEDS community are all essential components of the culture of New England Disabled Sports.