Casey Coates communicates with his eyes.
On a recent brisk and sunny Monday morning, Casey's eyes bounced around in their sockets in excited anticipation.
Casey can't speak. But his eyes said it all: He couldn't wait to ski.
Casey is one of more than a dozen developmentally challenged children from Butte who spent the day cruising down the slopes at Discovery Ski Area recently. The ski program, started more than 20 years ago, continues to help mentally and physcally challenged children develop a sense of independence and - more importantly - have fun.
Casey's mother, Patsy Coates, helps strap him in a specially designed "sit ski." The 18-year-old suffers from a rare syndrome called cri du chat (French for cry of the cat). He was born with the genetic disorder that severely diminishes his muscular and mental development.
But Patsy said her son is fully able to enjoy skiing.
"You can read it in his eyes - the excitement in his eyes," she said. "He talks a lot with his eyes."
The sit ski looks somewhat like a small sled, with one long ski in the middle and two smaller skis that jut out on the sides for support similar to training wheels.
Two volunteers assist getting Casey and his sit ski on the chairlift, and then ski down the slope with him while holding tow lines.
The thrill in his face is obvious.
"He loves it the faster they go," Patsy Coates said. "The faster they go, the more he laughs. When they (skiers) wipe out, he laughs even more."
There were many smiles on the faces of children who are often so deeply buried within their various disabilities that smiles rarely surface.
Susie Hogart, the special education director at the Emerson School, said this ski program brings more than just fun and joy.
"It gives them a feeling of much needed independence," she said.
Hogart has directed the ski program for more than 20 years. Children with disabilities between the ages of 8 and 18 have been coming out to Discovery Ski Area near Anaconda to learn to ski with the help of many volunteers.
While Hogart said the skill level among the children is low, they gradually develop into better skiers.
Roben Berryman, who has been Hogart's loyal volunteer since the program's inception, has witnessed more than just skill levels improve in this program.
Her son, Cal, 16, was a completely different skier when he started a few years ago. She recalls how he would hold on to the ski instructor "for dear life" as he went down the hill, and would never get on the lift without an instructor with him.
One day, that all changed.
"I was assisting another child, when I looked over and saw Cal getting on the ski lift all by himself," Berryman said. "He got tired of waiting for the ski instructor."
On this day, Cal was unstoppable. He skis down the slope and gets right back on the lift for another run. He didn't bother to take a break.
"I think it gives him a sense of freedom," his proud mother said.
Many of these skiers will participate in the upcoming winter games of the Special Olympics. Special Olympics coordinator Ryan Stosich said the games are Feb. 14 and will include alpine, slalom and free-style skiing. He said the ski
program really helps the special skiers prepare.
"This is a really good event," Stosich said. "With a lot of patience, they do fine."
Stosich said the ski program could always use more volunteers. For details, call him at 533-2969.
Reporter John Grant Emeigh may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.