One-on-One with the National Ability Center's New CEO

Kevin Stickelman is ready to take on the challenges and opportunities of steering one of Park City's most successful non-profits.

By Michaela Wagner August 22, 2018

Kevin Stickelman takes over as the interim CEO at the National Ability Center. Stickelman brings 20 years of ski industry experience and, as an amputee himself, a strong personal connection to the non-profit's mission.

The National Ability Center (NAC) has been on a whirlwind ride the last few years and with the upcoming groundbreaking for an expanded facility, the Park City non-profit is showing no signs of slowing down. As it heads into the next chapter, however, the organization is switching up their leadership with Kevin Stickelman, former NAC Chief Operating Officer, stepping in as the interim CEO.

Stickelman takes the reigns from Gail Barille, who helmed the NAC for eight years of unprecedented growth. Under her watch, the NAC's annual participant base grew 96% and fostered a partnership with Splore (another Utah-based adaptive recreation non-profit). "It was an incredible opportunity to work with a committed team of volunteers, staff and supporters to make an impact for people of all abilities within our community, across the nation and around the globe,” said Barille of her time with the NAC.

With 20 years of experience in the ski industry and outdoor recreation management, plus a lifetime recreating as an amputee, Stickelman is well-poised to fill the leadership role. Originally from Kansas, Stickelman fueled his career with a love of the outdoors and skiing, picking up professional certifications from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and Professional Ski Instructors Association while serving at a number of ski areas, including Mt. Bachelor, Moonlight Basin, Angel Fire, Park City Mountain, and Snow Creek.

We caught up with Stickelman to find out a little bit more about him and how he plans to carry the NAC legacy into the future.  

When did you first become an adaptive athlete? 

I learned how to ski in the Midwest at Snow Creek in western Missouri where they had an adaptive ski program taught by volunteers. I was on a 5th grade field trip and it was my first time strapping on a pair of skis. Over the years, I kept taking lessons and just fell in love with the sport, even doing some volunteer teaching and ski patrolling. Eventually, that's what brought me out West. 

Kevin Stickelmen (right) at the NAC's Float N' Feast event.

Do you have any favorite experiences in the years you've been part of the ski industry and the adaptive recreation world?

There are so many, but one of the highlights of my time in the ski business happened when I was working  at Angel Fire. I had the chance to work with the company Freedom Innovations on developing a special ski foot. It was really cool collaborating with designers and manufactures on something that allows skiers on prosthetics to get a better, more responsive, and energy-efficient foot to put on their leg for skiing. 

What brought you to Park City and the NAC in particular?

I actually first came out to Park City back in 1999 to take a year off after finishing school, so I could be a ski bum before jumping into real life. But I caught the bug and started working in the ski business, here and everywhere else. I had been serving as the President/General Manger of the Lee Canyon ski area in Nevada when I switched tracks and returned two and a half years ago to be part of the NAC. As an amputee, there's a really big connection to the mission of this organization. 

As you step into this role at the NAC, what are you most excited about? And what are your goals for the organization?

I'm really excited about working with our incredibly talented staff, both the paid employees and volunteers. We're in the top one percent of what we do in North America, maybe even in the world with the type of lessons and number of people that we serve. We have a lot of resources and I think the next chapter is stepping into a bigger leadership role in the field, sharing our work beyond Park City and Salt Lake City. Even with all the things we're doing, we're still just barely scratching the surface. 

Are there any specific challenges and opportunities you think the NAC is facing as they move forward?

I think, like all non-profits, one of our biggest challenges is funding from grants, partnerships, and so forth in order to make sure our staff has the resources to get out there and do what they do best -- namely, programming, education, and recreation. One way we're doing that is through our $15 million Capital Campaign that's allowing us to break ground and build more space for training, conferences, and seminars. The improvements are going to help us bring more people to Park City to learn to do what we do, whether it's non-profits, schools, or corporations. We're going to be able to provide people with the resources and skills to create exceptional experiences for people with disabilities. 

If the NAC were a person, how would you describe them?

Despite all the growing we've done, we're still in our 20s. The NAC is pretty young and scrappy and we're still trying to set out on what's going to be an even bigger journey than what we've accomplished so far. 

Since recreation was one of your biggest draws to the area, where can you be found during your free time? 

Besides skiing, I do a lot of backpacking, hiking, flying-fishing, and rafting. The entire state is a playground for me, but I have to say I'm particularly fond of the Uintas and getting down south to Moab. I prefer to be off the beaten path. Recreation has always been important to me and I've always done it with a prosthetic leg so I'm excited I'll be able to share that passion with people I work with every day at the NAC.

The NAC is constantly at work providing programming, opportunities, and events for people of all abilities. Some of their upcoming endeavors include the annual Summit Challenge on August 25, Senior Takeover Day on September 8, and the MOFO Ride on September 29. If you'd like to get more involved by volunteering, check out the Volunteer Orientations on August 28 and September 10.

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