A racer skis into the finish line during a tethered slalom run at the Special Olympics Front Range Winter Games in Eldora. Credit: Jenna Sampson

When Kohlor Von Eschen ended his run down the giant slalom course at Monday’s Special Olympics event at Eldora ski resort, he made sure to give spectators a big spray of snow to mark his finish. This seemed to be an unspoken side competition among the racers: to see who could make their hard stop whip snow farthest into the crowd. 

“Did that get you?” Onlookers were often questioned. 

Von Eschen’s team of about 12 competitors, ages 13 to 45, is organized by Expand, a City of Boulder-run program offering people with disabilities a way to build community through recreation. The Monday event brought together teams from more than 40 counties across the eastern half of Colorado.

After the regional events this week, a statewide competition at Copper Mountain closes out the season for anyone who participated in regionals. Expand partners with Ignite Adaptive Sports, a nonprofit program based at Eldora, to get people with disabilities out onto the snow. Through this partnership, the Expand team has access to the Eldora course for weekly practice to prepare for the annual competition. 

Finishers of the giant slalom race stand at the podium during the Special Olympics awards ceremony at Eldora’s Indian Peaks Lodge. Credit: Jenna Sampson

“Not all states have a Special Olympics. We are really lucky to have representation here in Colorado,” said Julie Von Eschen, Kohlor’s mom. Kohlor, who is 22 and lives in Boulder, got his start in skiing at age five and has been racing his three brothers down the hill ever since. They push him and provide the support network he needs, explained Julie. In 2020, Kohlor won bronze in the X Games in Aspen, a highlight of his skiing career so far.

The X Games is known for being a stage for world-class athletes to level up their sport. In the 2020 event, Kohlor was paired up with Sarah Hoefflin, a professional skier from Switzerland who won gold in women’s freestyle at the 2018 X Games. In this format, the two participants raced separately against their own peers and then their scores were added together for the final tally. 

At the Eldora event, teams from around the Front Range come together to create a broader community. Racers compete individually in snowboarding, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and alpine skiing, and everyone gets a chance to stand at the podium for applause. Participants who make the basic qualifications get to move on to the statewide competition. 

For someone who is nonverbal like Kohlor, making friends can be hard. According to his mom, without Expand, Kolher might not have much of a community. Although his disabilities are not physical, joining regular programs would risk making him stand out or be treated differently, according to Julie. 

Timo Kaempfen began coaching the team seven years ago, when Kohlor first started competing. He had been working for Expand since after high school and now volunteers up to 15 hours a week for the program. Name the season and he’s out there coaching: skiing in winter, then basketball, then pickleball.

In high school, Kaempfen helped out at the adaptive P.E. program and he says that got him hooked on working with people with disabilities. 

“It’s rewarding to see these guys learn and grow,” he said.  Although the regional event was meaningful for those involved, everyone is most fired up for the state event at Copper Mountain in March. Complete with a torch lighting opening ceremony and ample weekend crowds, the energy is expected to be palpable. But if you’re in the front row at the base of the slalom, just one tip: wear a balaclava.

Jenna Sampson is a freelance journalist in Boulder, Colorado. When not dabbling in boat building or rock climbing you can find her nursing an iced coffee in front of a good book. Email: jsampson@fastmail.com.

Leave a comment

Boulder Reporting Lab comments policy
All comments require an editor's review. BRL reserves the right to delete or turn off comments at any time. Please read our comments policy before commenting.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *