People & Places

Vermont Conversation: Vasu Sojitra on breaking barriers in backcountry skiing

University of Vermont graduate and adaptive skiing pioneer Vasu Sojitra made the first disabled descent of Denali, the highest peak in North America. Photo by Max Lowe

The Vermont Conversation with David Goodman is a VTDigger podcast that features in-depth interviews on local and national issues with politicians, activists, artists, changemakers and citizens who are making a difference. Listen below, and subscribe on Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts or Spotify to hear more.

Vasu Sojitra was an undergraduate at the University of Vermont and wanted to join his friends to go backcountry skiing. But he faced a challenge: Sojitra only has one leg. At the age of 9 months, his right leg was amputated following a serious blood infection. So Sojitra and his friends attached a snowshoe to ski poles to enable him to backcountry ski. Sojitra graduated UVM in 2013, and his pursuits as an adaptive athlete became the subject of a 2014 film, Out On A Limb.

Sojitra has continued to break barriers as an adaptive athlete as well as an advocate for racial justice and inclusion. He climbed the Grand Teton, and in 2021, he and fellow adaptive skier Pete McAfee did the first disabled descent of Denali, the highest peak in North America. The excursion was featured in the latest Warren Miller ski film.

Sojitra is also the first adaptive athlete for The North Face and is a co-founder of Inclusive Outdoors Project.

“I try to pride myself in having a disability,” said Sojitra, who grew up in Connecticut and India and now lives in Bozeman, Montana. “I don't think the word ‘disabled’ is a bad thing. I think it's the lack of access that we have and the lack of opportunities that disabled folks have when it comes to living a life around well-being. And that's just why I'm very much prideful of having a disability. … Once we start normalizing and representing disabled people in mainstream media, in leadership in all of these spaces, then people are going to start realizing that disability is not a bad thing.”

Sojitra hopes that his "firsts" in the outdoor world create space for people of color and people with disabilities.

“As a person of color with a disability, [I’m] trying to really just showcase this is what humans look like. … We are out here, and we're having fun, just like the majority that some in these spaces are.”

He said he intends to “keep expanding this narrative around what it means to be disabled in the outdoors, what it means to be a person of color in the outdoors.”

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David Goodman

About David

David Goodman is an award-winning journalist and the author of a dozen books, including four New York Times bestsellers that he co-authored with his sister, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman. His work has appeared in Mother Jones, New York Times, Outside, Boston Globe and other publications. He is the host of The Vermont Conversation, a VTDigger podcast featuring in-depth interviews about local and national topics. The Vermont Conversation is also an hour-long weekly radio program that can be heard on Wednesday at 1 p.m. on WDEV/Radio Vermont.

Email: [email protected]

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