Life on the Spectrum Lived Well on the Nordic Ski Trail

Trevin Hansen loves to go fast. And he lives loud. So that narrows his activities. No movies or quiet concerts. He’s also not a fan of most team sports. Baseball was a bust at an early age; it was too slow. But Nordic skiing, kayaking, biking, hockey (fast and loud!)—now those are the sweet spots.

The Nordic skiing began at age 7, and it wasn’t smooth sailing from the first outing. In fact, his mother Amanda recalls it took a half-dozen tries for Trevin to tolerate it, and even longer before he could head out on skis with his father Jon without standing “like a wet noodle” before falling over—sometimes by accident, but often on purpose—and rolling around in the snow.

Thinking back, she recalls, “The first time he went downhill standing up at age 13 was a GREAT day!  Previously he’d squat down on his skis, which works well and it’s wonderful to see him develop caution, but we knew he was physically capable of standing up to go down the hills.”

Everyone has personal goals when they’re on the trails. At the Mt. Spokane Cross-Country Ski Park, the first challenge for the beginner is to reach Trail Junction One, followed by Junction Two. A ways further is the Nova Hut, a common rest stop appreciated for the warmth of its log stove.

Photo of Trevin Hansen on nordic skis being supported by his father.
Trevin Hansen with father Jon. In the early years, Trevin had trouble standing independently on the skis. // Photo: Amanda Hensen

Not surprisingly, Trevin’s goals don’t necessarily align with the ones others might set. Who needs a snack break or warm up at the Nova Hut? With what Trevin’s mother affectionately calls his “abundant energy,” his usual goal is to race as quickly as possible to Junction 2 and back, with no stopping for photos, please. As Amanda says with understatement, “Waiting is not his strong suit.”

One of the biggest barriers for any Nordic skier in Spokane is getting their gear together and making the one-hour trek up the mountain to the ski park. That was no less the case in the early years for Trevin, Amanda, and Jon. Because of Trevin’s love of skiing as well as the tremendous physical and emotional benefits it offered, the family bought a condo on Mt. Spokane in 2011 when he was 9 and had been skiing for two years.

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Despite his love of skiing, Trevin still has a hard time getting out on the trail some days. Like others with autism, transitions between activities can be difficult. But since he’s rarely sitting still, he usually makes it onto the trail eventually for what he calls his “exercise.”

Overall, Amanda sees Nordic skiing as an excellent way for Trevin to participate in the world outside his sheltered space at home, particularly because he is functionally non-verbal. Being out on the trail is good both for him and for the general public. “His presence is what we like to call ‘autism ambassadorship,’” Amanda says.  “People, given the opportunity to learn through exposure, are generally very understanding of those who experience the world differently, but without that exposure it’s human nature to be leery of the ‘other.’”

Now you can catch Trevin on the trail most weekends, whooping it up and probably speeding past you. Just don’t expect him to stop for a chat. He’s got places to go. And fast. //

Brad Thiessen is an avid runner and Nordic skier. He last wrote about Nordic skiing as cross-training in the December edition.

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