Earlier this month, Santiago Vega completed the first-known disabled ski descent of the Grand Teton with IFMGA guide Mark Smiley via the Ford-Stettner Couloir, one of the 50 Classic Ski Descents on North America. Vega was born with Fibular Hemimelia on his right leg and Poly-syndactyly on right hand. At 5 months old, Santi and his family began traveling from Santiago, Chile to Salt Lake City once a year medical treatment at Shiners Hospital. In Utah, Vega started ski racing at age 14 and competed in the Olympics at age 16 for Chile. Soon after the Sochi Games, Vega fell in love with backcountry skiing and developed a custom prosthetic for ski mountaineering.
Like many skiers, Vega has been enthralled with the idea of skiing the Grand Teton. When he was 7, he became obsessed with the mountain for the first time on a winter road trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. In 2017, Vega climbed the Grand in the summer via the Owen-Spalding route. While climbing, he says all he could think about was that it would be way easier to do it on skis and eventually “slid into Mark’s Instagram DM’s” and asked him to take him.
Shortly after test run down another Teton-area testpiece - the infamous Apocalypse Couloir - early this month (also a first-known disabled descent), Smiley and Vega set out to climb the Grand and made it happen with perfect conditions.
This accomplishment is huge in reframing what being disabled means. As Disabled or Adaptive Athletes we are always questioned about our ability when compared to non-disabled Athletes; always needing to prove ourselves. Sharing narratives like the First Disabled Descent of the Grand can help break down those stigmas with our world and empower the Disability community to gain more visibility in being human especially when we are provided access to resources and opportunities to finding our own summits in life.
– Vasu Sojitra
Having a chance to be part of an accomplishment like this does not come around very often. I was super impressed with Santi's drive, performance and humility throughout the entire journey. Before going for the Grand, we skied another steep technical couloir in the Tetons, Apocalypse Couloir, together to get to know each other a little better. He did great on that, despite pretty tough snow conditions, so that made me stoked to try the Grand. On the Grand, both up and down, there were a few times I had to remind myself he was missing his lower leg.
– Mark Smiley
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