An Ontario-based volunteer organization has put smiles on the faces of thousands of disabled young people by helping them enjoy an active and full life that includes alpine sports.

The Ontario Track 3 Adaptive Sports Association was launched in 1972 at a Collingwood, Ontario ski hill to assist a small group of young amputees who were eager to try skiing and snowboarding. It has since grown into a provincial registered charity with nine host locations, more than a dozen programs, and regional affiliates in Kitchener and London, Ontario that deliver adaptive ski and snowboard programs to hundreds of disabled kids aged six to 19.

The non-profit charitable group takes its name from the three tracks left in the snow by an amputee skiing with one ski and two outriggers.

For 50 years Track 3 has helped kids with varying physical and cognitive disabilities conquer slope-side challenges and along the way experience the joys found on the hills and trails in ski country.

For many able-bodied youth, physical activities, sports, and recreation have long been key ingredients to engage them in school, keep them healthy and help develop their personal and social lives. Unfortunately, kids with disabilities were often excluded from these critical aspects of life due to lack of programs, instruction, and adaptive equipment.

Things took a dramatic turn for the better with the arrival of Track 3 (formerly the Ontario Track 3 Adaptive Ski Association for the Disabled), which enabled kids with disabilities to become full participants in some of Canada’s healthiest outdoor winter sports with the help of qualified instructors and specially designed winter sports gear.

“Through the magic of snow sports, Track 3 has helped them discover their confidence and develop their physical potential,” says President Paul Rogers. “We are changing lives by enabling our students with the same opportunities and experiences that are available to other children with their schools, families and communities.”

Stories told by parents and the many disabled young people Rogers has met on ski hills and chairlifts paint a picture of the program’s many benefits.

“These kids get to go on school ski trips with their classmates; they aren’t kept behind or left at the bottom of the hill,” he says. “After a day on the slopes they are bursting with pride after enjoying a great outdoor experience. They have something to talk about and be proud of because they were given an equal opportunity to enjoy the joy of movement on the snow.”

In its early years, Track 3 focused mainly on kids with physical disabilities, but over time its programming has been improved and extended to young people with mental health and cognitive challenges. “Our program has helped many overcome and manage the fears they face. Obstacles become challenges and gravity represents an opportunity. Track 3 kids ride the lifts together; they develop self-confidence together; they celebrate each other’s accomplishments and make friendships that last a lifetime.”

The benefits of the program show up in the smiles of participants, their parents, and their family members, says Rogers. “Ou