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Methow Valley Nordic Is Providing Camps For Para Skiers With Any Experience Level

by Alex Abrams

Erin Martin finishes a race at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. (Photo by Mark Reis/USOPC)

Betsy Devin-Smith didn’t have any experience coaching Para Nordic skiers when she was contacted a few years ago about working with two Paralympic hopefuls in Erin Martin and Heather Galeotalanza.


BethAnn Chamberlain, a development coach with U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing, knew Devin-Smith was a biathlon coach in the Methow Valley, which is located in northern Washington state.


Chamberlain wondered if Devin-Smith would help train Martin and Galeotalanza, who were working as nurses in Seattle. Devin-Smith agreed to coach the two sit skiers, though she didn’t fully understand at the time what that entailed.


“Erin and Heather, they were the ones that spurred our group on,” said Devin-Smith, a biathlon and Para Nordic skiing coach with the Methow Valley Nordic Ski Educational Foundation. “And we kind of then ran with it, wanting to make sure we have access for all because that’s the kind of community we are.”


Thanks to the influence of Martin, Galeotalanza and a local sit skier named Vadim Kin, Methow Valley Nordic has helped expose more adaptive athletes to cross-country skiing over the past few years.


Methow Valley Nordic hosted its first Para Nordic skiing camp in February, attracting a small group that included both Paralympians and newcomers to the sports.


At the same time, Devin-Smith said it’s becoming more common to see standing and sit skiers navigating the trails that wind their way through the Methow Valley.


Methow Trails, a local nonprofit organization that operates the region’s trail system, offers ski equipment for adaptive athletes.


“I think across the community it’s been very well received, and people really enjoy just being able to share it with more people,” said Pete Leonard, Methow Valley Nordic’s executive director and head coach.


The Methow Valley is considered a popular destination for cross-country skiers, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, because it boasts the largest Nordic ski trail system in North America.


The region has about 130 miles of trails, and skiers can make their way up a mountain and down the other side of it. Devin-Smith said it’s “very conducive” for Para Nordic skiing.


“There’s a valley floor, which (has) lots of gentle, rolling farm-field type terrain and as well as some hillier terrain,” Leonard said. “For the Para Nordic (skiing) in particular, it works well. To get people started, that very gentle terrain is a lot more friendly, I guess, than someplace that’s really steep.”


This past winter, skiers were able to take advantage of ideal conditions in the Methow Valley, as there was snow on the ground from November through the end of March.


In February, Methow Valley Nordic hosted a training camp for Para Nordic skiers in the days leading up to Ski to the Sun, the region’s ski marathon.


The three-day training camp included nine sit and standing skiers, ranging from Martin and three-time Paralympian Sean Halsted to those newcomers who were being introduced to Para Nordic skiing for the first time.


Chamberlain was also in attendance to help provide ski instructions.


“The feedback I got from the camp that was held this last winter was it was an amazing experience across the board for not just the sit skiers but the people who were helping to facilitate the camp, the volunteers and the organizers,” Leonard said. “I think everybody learned a lot and got a lot out of that kind of sharing situation. I know a lot of us were just in awe of the athleticism of the sit skiers.”


Devin-Smith said the training camp was challenging for both beginners and Martin, who made her Winter Paralympic debut at the 2022 Beijing Games.


“It was very successful, and so we’re hoping to grow on that. We’re planning on offering that (camp) again (in 2024) and had a very wide range of abilities from three-time Paralympians to just beginning skiers,” Devin-Smith said. “We all got together and had a good time. It was super fun.”


While Methow Valley Nordic’s ski team includes only able-bodied athletes at the moment, Leonard said the organization has worked to modify local races to make them accessible for Para athletes.


For example, the Ski to the Sun and the Race of the Methow events each have categories for Para Nordic skiers.


“There’s a handful of Para Nordic athletes that are in the state that are coming here several times because we’ve (helped give) them access,” Devin-Smith said. “We’ve helped them along, and so yeah, (we’re) definitely seeing more Para athletes on the trails these days. And I hear that from other people that are out skiing.”


Alex Abrams has written about Olympic and Paralympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to USParaNordicSkiing.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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