40 years of helping people hit the slopes, trails, bike paths, and mountains

Bringing The Outdoors To Everyone, No Matter The Challenge

Sometimes, one good turn helps make possible a lifetime of service

When Peter Mandler was attending Utah State University in the 1970s, he started working with kids in the Head Start program in Logan, Utah. He’d been teaching skiing at Beaver Mountain, and wanted to take the kids to the slopes. “A lot of the kids in Logan had never been up in the mountains before, even though they lived right next to them,” Mandler said. “So I brought them up, I put baggies on their feet, and let them run down the hill.”

The kids loved it. And for Mandler, it became nothing less than a mission. “I started at Snow Bird in 1973, and in 1977 my boss asked me what direction I wanted to go. I told him I wanted to work with children with what were then called special needs, and that’s how it started. I had quite a few instructors from the Snowbird Mountain School who helped me out.”

“We have an opportunity now to change somebody’s outlook for the rest of their lives”

Mandler (pictured above, with a young student) started Wasatch Adaptive Sports that same year, to provide affordable outdoor recreation and education to children and adults with disabilities, as well as veterans. But the operation really took off in 1982, when Mandler was teaching a client at the Mountain School who, on hearing Mandler’s story, offered to provide seed capital for a nonprofit corporation that didn’t actually exist yet. “We were not a 501(c)3 then, but I gave him a lesson and he gave me a check for $10,000 to kickstart the program and apply for nonprofit status, and that’s really what started us in the direction we’re still going.”

Now, 40 years after founding Wasatch Adaptive Sports, Mandler, who is 68, is stepping down as executive director, though he will remain involved with the board, and will get to do more of what he has always loved: teach. “We train kids in all aspects of outdoor recreation, and in creating independence as much as possible, so they can get out on their own.” Mandler says. “We try to get people out of the house and recreating, and also set up in a social setting so they can meet others with similar issues. We have an opportunity now to change somebody’s outlook for the rest of their lives.”

In 1988, Wasatch got connected with former 49ers quarterback Steve Young. “That’s when the program really started to kick off,” Mandler says. Today, no one is turned away — literally. “Even five or ten dollars can be a lot to join a program,” Mandler says. “There are no barriers whatsoever if you want to get out and recreate, we have scholarships that can accommodate you. We’ve never turned anybody away, ever. We schedule around the needs of our participants. If you want to get out, we can assist you. And we provide such amazing experiences that once they get out, a lot don’t ever want to quit.”

Mandler doesn’t want to quit either. After four decades of such gratifying work, who can blame him? He no doubt would have had the same run even without his early benefactor, but how much more satisfying to know that it was a good turn itself that helped Mandler to achieve a life of good work anyone could be proud of.

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