WINDHAM, N.Y. – The Adaptive Sports Foundation (ASF) is sad to report the passing of the organization’s founder, Gwen Allard, who passed away peacefully on November 28 at the age of 86.
Allard was born in 1937 and strapped on her first pair of skis when she was just four-years old. A Schenectady native, she was influenced and taught to ski by Frederica Anderson, who quickly became Allard’s role model. In 1964, Anderson gave Allard her first chance at instructing and the rest is history. In the 1970s, Allard founded the Gore Mountain Adaptive Program. She quickly realized that there needed to be a standardized teaching method for instructors to teach individuals with disabilities.
In 1983, Allard became the first Executive Director of the Professional Ski Instructors of America-Eastern Education Foundation (PSIA-EEF). It was in that role and at the direction of the PSIA-EEF Board of Directors, she began a research and development project at Ski Windham on how to teach skiing to people with disabilities. What started as an R&D project quickly became the Ski Windham Adaptive Program (SWAP). The initial program started with Allard as the director, six volunteers, 20 students from the local ARC and a storage shed in the parking lot of Ski Windham. By 1990, SWAP went through a name change, becoming the Disabled Ski Program at Ski Windham, moved into an office inside the base lodge, and grew to having three staff members, 60 volunteer instructors and 800 students. The Disabled Skiing Council (the predecessor to the current ASF Board of Trustees) was also created to help with fundraising and future strategic planning.
Under Allard’s leadership, the Disabled Ski Program at Ski Windham became known as one of the premier education centers for adaptive ski (and later snowboard) instruction on the east coast. The organization continued working with the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA)-Eastern Education Foundation to begin offering training to snow sports schools from other areas that were interested in offering their own adaptive lessons and growing adaptive snow sports throughout the country.
In 1998, the PSIA-Eastern Education Foundation declared their research and development project that began in 1983 a success and decided it was time for the program at Ski Windham to stand on its own. In August of 1999, the Disabled Ski Program at Ski Windham was incorporated as the Adaptive Sports Foundation, becoming its own entity and its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. For the next five years, as the ASF was rapidly outgrowing their space in the main lodge at Ski Windham, Allard worked tirelessly with the members of the ASF’s Board of Trustees and the management of Ski Windham to identify the appropriate location and resources to fulfill her vision of a slope-side, fully accessible center for the students, families and volunteers of the ASF.
In 2004, Allard, with members of the ASF Board of Trustees and management from Ski Windham, put the ceremonial shovel in the ground to start construction on the 8,000 square foot Adaptive Sports Center slope-side to Windham Mountain and kicked off a capital campaign that raised $4 million. In 2005 just as Allard retired from her position with the ASF, the Foundation opened the doors to its new building, rightfully naming it the Gwen Allard Adaptive Sports Center to recognize Allard’s commitment to adaptive sports and her dedication to the ASF after leading the organization from its humble beginnings to what it was in 2005 and what it remains to be today, a pillar in the adaptive sports community.
Along with founding the ASF, Allard began working with Disabled Sports USA (now known as Move United), leading to PSIA/AASI recognition of adaptive sport and training and certifying adaptive teachers in the early 1990’s.
Allard’s passion for expanding adaptive winter sports reached far and wide. Her ability to take her vision and implement it had resorts from all over the country look to her for advising roles on how to best teach and manage adaptive programs. In 1997, Allard was instrumental in the development of the Double H Ranch in Luzerne, N.Y. She generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in donated equipment from the snow sports industry, put together a staff and a legion of volunteers to create a very special place that operated for the sole purpose of bringing joy to children with special needs.
Allard’s service and dedication to helping the disabled community has led to many well-deserved accolades. In 1999 Disabled Sports USA honored her with its Jim Winthers Award for volunteerism. In 2001, she was named to the Adaptive Sports Hall of Fame and a year later PSIA-AASI recognized her with one of the organization’s highest honors, its Educational Excellence Award. In 2015, Allard received the Einar Aas Award for Excellence in Snowsports School Management from the PSIA-AASI Eastern Division.
For her contributions to the adaptive community in New York State, Allard was also honored by President George W. Bush, Governor George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In 2022, Allard was given arguably the highest honor in all of winter sports. She was named to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in recognition for her changing the sport of skiing and shaping it to become more inclusive for those who may have never even thought about hitting the slopes if not for Allard.
When she was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, Allard was asked about the great work that she’s done. “I wouldn’t change a day of it,” she said. “I haven’t met anybody (with a disability) who has failed, they have all given their all, the best that they could, and have been happy with their success. They’ve told me ‘I have always dreamt of this.’”
Even at the age of 85 Allard showed remorse for not being able to get out on the slopes to continue teaching adaptive lessons, but she finds solace in the memories she made for others and herself. “The old body has given out, but that’s okay,” she explained. “Because I’ve got those memories and they do too…they may not have gone to the top of the mountain, but that’s okay. They’ve successfully slid down a ski hill and they’re happy, and I’m happy for them.”
Gwen Allard empowered so many people’s lives during her 60-plus years in the ski industry, and the ASF is proud to continue her message of, “you can do it, there’s no such thing as no”. Her legacy will live on through the thousands of skiers and snowboarders with disabilities that enjoy the slopes every bit as much as she did.
Please watch Gwen’s Tribute Video for when she was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame below: