Adaptive Snow Sports & Challenging Yourself: An Interview With Christina Bruno
Interviews are one of my favourite things to do here at The Snow Chasers. One of the great things about travelling is the interesting people we get to meet. When I am lucky enough to be able to interview someone, I love digging deep, finding out what makes that person tick and how it is that they came to be where they are. I am constantly surprised and blown away by what I discover, and this interview with Christina Bruno is no exception.
I met Christina a few months ago in Queenstown, New Zealand on a freestyle snowboard trip. Christina was one of our fabulous coaches. I noticed immediately her positive energy, vibe and the fact that she did not stop smiling. I knew I had to find out more. Through this interview, I found out that Christina is a total bad ass and kicking some serious goals. I am in so much awe for what she has achieved both personally and professionally, particularly in the adaptive sports field. We need more Christina's in this world.
CHRISTINA AT TAOS SKI VALLEY
Q. YOU’RE CURRENTLY WORKING AS THE ADULT SNOWSPORTS MANAGER AT TAOS SKI VALLEY IN NEW MEXICO. WHAT HAS LED YOU THERE?
I went to school for ski and resort management and outdoor leadership and have always had jobs that kept me outside. I love being outside and sharing that with others. I started volunteering at the Crested Butte adaptive center and realized teaching people with disabilities various outdoor activities was super rewarding.
I moved to Park City through the AmeriCorps program and worked at a year-round adaptive center. There I taught therapeutic horseback riding, skiing, snowboarding, cycling, rock-climbing, and other activities. I spent 5 years working at the National Ability Center before I decided I wanted to move back to a smaller community near a steep mountain. I discovered Taos through friends. After a visit, I saw a need for an adaptive program and decided to move there the next season.
Q. HOW HAS THE ADAPTIVE PROGRAM DEVELOPED IN TAOS SINCE YOU’VE BEEN THERE?
After moving to Taos, I began helping Peter Donahue create a more formal program. Since the first year I came to Taos our program has grown incredibly fast. We have a deep reach into the local community and accommodate many adaptive school children in the weekly school group programs as well as local adults and traveling visitors that have different abilities that may require special equipment or instruction.
We have also expanded into a week-long Not Forgotten Outreach veteran ski appreciation week in January that offers adaptive lessons and mono ski demos to participants. Each year I began taking on more responsibilities at Taos Ski Valley. First I mainly focused on adaptive, then became the adult snowboard manager, and now the adult snowsports manager encompassing all of the adaptive programs, adult alpine and snowboard lessons, the race department, and video department.
Q. THAT’S QUITE AN ACHIEVEMENT! YOU’RE ALSO MAKING SOME GREAT HEADWAY WITH SNOWBOARDING AND ADAPTIVE SPORTS IN NEW ZEALAND. TELL US WHAT YOU’VE BEEN UP TO DOWN UNDER.
I am heavily involved in PSIA-AASI in the United States and just recently became an adaptive snowboard examiner for the American Association of Snowboard Instructors. I have also spent the last two southern hemisphere winters in New Zealand.
Last season I passed my trainers exam and became the first adaptive snowboard examiner for the New Zealand Snowsports Instructors Alliance (NZSIA). I love the creativity of using different equipment and methods involved in teaching people with disabilities and sharing that knowledge with other instructors.
WATCH CHRISTINA TETHERING A BI-SKI
Q. WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE WITH WHAT YOU ARE TRYING TO ACHIEVE IN THE ADAPTIVE SPORTS INDUSTRY?
Adaptive sports is an ever-evolving creative process. I believe one of the challenges is keeping creativity and problem solving as a priority and not putting individuals into a box. Every student is different, the fun challenge is finding the process that will produce the desired outcome, whether it’s through using adaptive equipment, a different teaching style, or coming up with something completely new and different. If we can continue to put the person before the disability and create a culture that teaches to the individual we will continue to progress and grow.
Q. I LOVE YOUR PASSION FOR ADAPTIVE SPORTS AND HOW YOU HELP THOSE WITH DISABILITIES EXPERIENCE OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT A PARTICULAR EXPERIENCE WITH SOMEONE THAT STANDS OUT IN YOUR MIND?
There are so many students and memories I have been lucky to be a part of. One, in particular, will always hold dear to my heart. One of my first adaptive snowboard students had down syndrome. He was in his early twenties. I had him every week for the five seasons at the National Ability Center in Park City. It took me years to get him to link turns on his own, but with repetition, lots of fun and games, and a dedicated practice to muscle memory, we got there.
One of the best parts about our lesson time together was his unfiltered view of the world, it was refreshing, often humorous and endearing.
The first year he would yell “may day” as soon as he was in a straight glide and absolutely panic, unable to concentrate enough to stop himself. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time holding his hands coaxing him down the hill. His humor and positivity always made me look forward to our lesson together.
Q. YOU MANAGE A TEAM OF OVER 150 PEOPLE. WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A GOOD SKI AND SNOWBOARD INSTRUCTOR? WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WANTING TO BECOME AN INSTRUCTOR?
I look for someone with positive energy, willing to lend a hand wherever they can and excited to teach any age and level. The most valuable instructor is one who can teach children, understands the different learning and teaching styles and can adjust accordingly to adults. Instructors tend to forget to look at the student first and forget that adults want to have fun too!
I value the instructor that is excited about learning and improving their own skills and teaching ability. The instructor that is passionate about teaching beginners and creating life-long snow enthusiasts gets the real importance of being a part of the snowsports school. As much as it’s awesome to teach upper-level lessons, I find it more amazing to be a part of someone’s first experience on snow and create a relationship with them allows you to show them all of the mountain and their own abilities.
Q. WHAT ABOUT A FIRST TIME SKIER OR SNOWBOARDER? WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE THEM?
Take a lesson! It may sound like common sense, but often people try it on their own or learn from friends. Please take a lesson, instructors are there to give you the proper steps to success, tailored to you! Don’t put too rigid of expectations on yourself. Focus on having fun, staying safe and learning. Success can be measured in small steps, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be amazing and focus on being outside and having fun. There are many snowsports schools that have first experience packages that encompass multiple days, so that the learning curve is easier.
Q. COULDN'T AGREE WITH YOU MORE! WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON GIRLS ONLY SKI AND SNOWBOARD CAMPS OR LESSONS?
These products are a great way to expose women to the sport or to different components such as freestyle or freeride introduction. I have worked quite a few women’s freestyle camps and women’s weekends and they have been hugely successful in the fact that they are creating a non-threatening environment for women to try something new or share their passion with. The camps where I have worked brought women together that may not have found each other and now they have a group of women to ride with and push each other in a very positive way.
The terrain park can be an intimidating, male dominated space that can become more inviting when you have a group of ladies supporting you. Women are built differently than men, doesn’t mean we can’t shred as hard or harder than our male counterparts, but some things we need to approach differently to be successful. Being in an environment with a coach, instructor, or group of ladies that understands the different mental and physical elements that may affect you as a female rider can be really empowering.
Q. YOU LOVE A BIT OF COMPETITION AND HAVE ENDED UP ON THE PODIUM ON MORE THAN ONE OCCASION. NICE ONE! WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO COMPETE AND WHAT IS IT THAT YOU LOVE ABOUT COMPETING?
I have competed for the last 5 years in the Freeride World Qualifier competitions and have had a couple of second and third place podiums. It’s difficult to find time for myself to train and practice while committed to a full-time job, but I love the challenge of competition, and putting myself on the spot. I can’t deny that I have a competitive edge and am always looking at ways to become a better version of me, so competing in the freeride competitions combines my love of steeps, adventure and self-improvement.
Q. WHAT’S NEXT ON THE COMPETITION SIDE?
I hope to have the time to compete in a few North American Qualifiers this season but my schedule looks a bit crazy already. I will most likely compete in the Crested Butte and Taos 4 Star competitions and will definitely be competing again in New Zealand in their series of Qualifiers. I had so much fun in my first banked slalom competition at Coronet Peak in New Zealand last season (minus the swollen face from a snowball during my run) that I plan on doing the full series of banked slalom events in the Queenstown and Wanaka area.
Q. WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU’RE NOT WORKING OR COMPETING?
My favorite thing to do in my free time is to go backcountry split-boarding, climbing, and mountain biking. Being in the backcountry with friends is my favorite thing ever!! I love the exercise and getting deep into the wilderness to make turns.
Mountaineering is also a huge passion. A few years ago I won a sponsored trip from Sierra Designs to go to Nepal for 2 months. I took an international guide training course and reached the summit of 4 peaks, the highest close to 21,000ft.
A side project I have is working with Custom Cult, a local snowboard company out of Albuquerque who has an online platform to make custom snowboards tailored to your height, weight, and riding style and individualized graphics. My profile is one of the riding styles you can create a custom board around.
Q. WOW THAT’S IMPRESSIVE. YOU SEEM TO LIKE A CHALLENGE, SOME PEOPLE WOULD SEE THAT AS PURE TORTURE. WHAT DRIVES YOU TO TAKE ON THESE EXTREME CHALLENGES?
I think my real love is for adventure and with lots of adventure usually comes some challenge. I love to explore the world and myself, discover my limitations and put myself into new situations. Being outside and moving is when I am in a state of flow, whether it being skinning or climbing up a steep peak I feel one with my environment and that is an amazing place to be.
Q. YOU’RE ALSO AN AVALANCHE AWARENESS EDUCATOR. TELL US ABOUT WHY YOU DECIDED TO TEACH AND WHAT ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO ANYONE CONSIDERING GOING INTO BACK COUNTRY TERRAIN.
Avalanche education has been a passion of mine, especially after losing a close friend in an avalanche. I decided after feeling torn apart after losing my friend, that I wanted to make something positive out of such a heart-breaking experience. I continued higher avalanche education, found a mentor, and then went on to become an educator for the Utah Avalanche Center, spreading avalanche awareness to local community events and schools.
Q. WHAT’S AT THE TOP OF YOUR BUCKET LIST?
- Spend some time at Baldface in British Colombia.
- Continue seeing the world through snowboarding.
- Compete in Europe.
- Summit a peak over 24,00ft.
- Many many powder days with friends.
Q. WHAT OTHER EXCITING THINGS DO YOU HAVE LINED UP?
I recently was awarded a scholarship through the Liz Daley fund and American Alpine Institute. I will be improving my guiding and mountaineering skills through a mountaineering leadership course this May. This course should help me to prepare myself for some big projects I have planned such as traveling to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that will combine both split-boarding and mountaineering.
Q. YOU CHASE WINTER BETWEEN THE USA AND NEW ZEALAND. WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST ABOUT THE USA WHEN YOU’RE AWAY?
My dog Luna, family and friends. New Zealand is such an amazing place I wish my whole family could come with me. My dog Luna is my best buddy, I miss her cuddles and companionship while I am away!
Q. WHAT ABOUT NEW ZEALAND?
I miss the endless mountains and diverse environment and the lifestyle. New Zealand is a very laid back culture that is authentic and centered around the outdoors. I find it increasingly hard to leave my friends from both places!
Q. YOU HAVE A PRETTY HECTIC SCHEDULE. HOW DO YOU STAY GROUNDED AND PREVENT THE OVERWHELM SYNDROME THAT SO MANY OF US FACE TODAY?
I put a huge emphasis on time management. I update my calendar, create daily task and punch lists for both work and personal life and keep long term goals and projects visible. I find it easier to work a crazy schedule if I have a long-term goal in mind. I try to give myself “me” time each day through stretching, doing yoga, playing with my dog, going for a run, cooking a nice healthy meal, enjoying a glass of wine or visiting with a friend. A little bit of these things each week keeps me more productive in less time.
Q. GIVE ME THREE WORDS TO DESCRIBE YOURSELF, OR THREE WORDS THAT PEOPLE WOULD USE TO DESCRIBE YOU.
Caring, Tenacious, Adventurous.
Q. WHERE CAN WE FIND YOU?
I will be leading clinics at our Women’s Weekend at Taos Ski valley Dec 16th-18th and will be coaching the Burton “Snowbroads” Women's camps at the Remarkables.
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