Over the last few years, I have spent a lot of time on the lower mountain at Fernie Alpine Resort. Teaching our girls to ski, and re-learning the terrain I grew up on. During this time, I have had the opportunity to see many students in the adaptive ski program. And it is always so amazing to watch! The volunteers and students are so impacted by each session, overcoming barriers and creating freedom, creating the idea of possibility.
This program was begun by Grace Brulotte, a spunky Fernie girl who was determined to bring adaptive skiing to our hill. When she began the program, she put a call out to volunteers - individuals interested in being a part of the vision, who would take the Canadian Adaptive Snowsports Level 1 Instructor Training Course.
This is where Scott Courtemanche comes on the scene. With years experience as a ski patroller, Scott had recently shattered his shoulder mountain biking and as he wasn’t able to wear his pack among other things, had to step back from this role.
“I sat at home one winter, depressed because I couldn’t do what I loved. My girlfriend told me to get off my ass and find something to do. She found the ad for the adaptive ski program in Fernie and said, ‘what about this?’ I have a son with special needs at home, and thought it would be a great way to learn more about how to work with him,” Scott tells me, over a flight at Fernie Brewing Company.
Scott contacted Grace, and when they met they immediately felt a connection. From then on, Scott was on board with the program. “One day, I watched her coming down, and her handlers getting her out of the bucket. I noticed the pain and discomfort on her face. I asked how I could make her more comfortable, and from there we have built a friendship over four years. From an instructor in the program to her instructor to mentor to a friend.”
Having lost a daughter, Scott feels as though she fills this void. “We’ve built a really neat relationship. There’s nothing she can’t talk to me about, and I try to not place judgment on her, ever. Her decisions are her decisions.”
Scott has helped Grace to believe that everything is possible. Which led to her posting a video to Scott’s page, The Edge is Impossible, a documentary about Tony Schmiesing, the first quadriplegic to heli-ski. “When are we doing to do this?” she asked in the post. “I responded, whenever you want if they can do it why can’t we?” Scott and Grace started working a lot closer, “she put a lot of trust into me,” he says, as they tackled Polar Peak, Cat skiing, Heli-Skiing, and SUPing, “and just hanging out and doing things together… it just grew. My family considers her part of their family.” The duo, alongside Kyle Hamilton, created a documentary documenting many of these firsts, called l’mpossible which was shown at the Reel Canadian Film Festival in 2017.
Speaking with Scott, I can see passion and emotion within him, and it is contagious. He tells me about how before meeting Gracie and deciding to become part of the Adaptive Ski Program, he had little regard for the needs of somebody with a disability. “It’s something we often don’t think about until we need it,” he tells me. Adding that we are all TABS - temporary able bodies, all just moments away from a disability. “The reality of it is, we need to choose inclusion and think about the people who are left behind in society. There is no excuse for it, and the social awareness is huge.”
Recently, Scott and Grace were part of a group who led a new project in Fernie - an adaptive trail. Dave and Anita Brunker brought the idea to them and took them out on the trail to see if it was possible. While riding in the Montane area, they realised that it would exclude a lot of people who might not have an e-bike or powered wheelchair. “Why not build an inclusive trail,” they realised, which means adhering to a certain grade and build strategy. They presented the project to the Fernie Trails Alliance, who got behind it. They wrote grants to get the necessary funding, and the trail is currently being built, from the barn on Coal Creek Road to the Montane Hut.
“There are so many people who can’t enjoy Fernie because it’s not inclusive. There are ways we can go about making it inclusive, and we need to talk more about,” Scott says, and lists ways people are limited even when it comes to shopping on Main Street or going out for dinner.
This trail will be a unique addition to Fernie and will attract people to our community. He raises the question, how can we show them that aside from this trail, and the adaptive program, that we welcome everyone?
“My goal personally is to help affect change for people living with a disability,” Scott says. “Grace and I started a non-profit called the Canadian Adaptive Network. We have a Phase 1 Project - a study in the Elk Valley area, to see what is out there that is accessible and what is needed. People in this area with a disability move away, because of what’s not available.” He believes that this is a great opportunity for the Elk Valley, that it can become the central hub for “all things disabilities.”
Choosing to contact Grace that day, four years ago has had a major impact on Scott, changing his life forever. In turn, he has had a positive effect on all those he has had the opportunity to help, to teach, to support and he continues to be an advocate for them and others who have yet to have their voices heard.
“I find that I’m far more aware, and I’m more driven to think of everything. It’s made me a calmer person… a happier person… it makes me a very emotional person, too. For me it’s also improved my relationship with my son, I understand him better.
It’s amazing what I learn through doing care for Grace or skiing with my other students… you learn that their limits are really boundless.”
It’s clear to us that your limits are truly boundless as well, Scott. Thank you so much for all you do, and for bringing much-needed awareness to our community.
1. When did you first arrive in Fernie and what brought you here? Work, and it was 2010 or 11.
2. Who did you first meet in town? Julie Comete and Dave. Julie was the manager at the place I was working.
3. Do you remember your first general impression of Fernie? I want to say, it was kind of a quaint historic impression. I’ve always loved older places like Jackson Hole and Banff, with the iconic view looking out of town.
4. What keeps you here? Everything. There is really not just one or two things, it’s everything about Fernie. They will literally bury me here.
5. Do you have a favourite Fernie memory or pastime? It’s a tie - skiing Polar Peak with Grace and getting first chair with Grace. I’ve gotten first chair before, but I don’t remember any of them but that one.
6. What time of the year do you love most in Fernie, and why? Winter, Christmas… because it’s your typical postcard scene. I’m a romantic at heart, and I like the Rockwell paintings of Christmas and I very much see Fernie like that.
7. Where do you see or hope to see Fernie in five years? I hope to see Fernie setting an example of what an inclusive society truly is.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? I get up every morning, have my coffee, and I head to work. Sometimes I head to work before I have my coffee. During the winter I tend not to work and give an adaptive lesson. I donate on average three times my salary for volunteer hours.
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. I’m actually a very accomplished dancer.
10. Quote to live by: Find the bright spot in your day. Everyday.