Beyond the Frontlines: Paralympian Santi Vega

PARK CITY, Utah — Santi Vega doesn’t sit still for long, no matter the season. Whether he’s chasing winters from Park City to Chile or remembering that he is a mountain climber as well as a mountain biker and river rafter in the summers. Vega is goal-driven and is currently trying to become the first International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA)-certified guide.

Vega was born in Chile and grew up flying back and forth to Park City and the Salt Lake City area for surgeries and prosthetics for a rare congenital condition called fibular hemimelia, causing his right leg to never fully develop. His mother was a ski racer and taught him how to ski in more of a racing style.

Throughout his time in Utah and with Shriners Hospital, Vega learned about and attended Camp Un-Limb-ited, an outdoor sports and activities camp for Shriners patients with limb loss or limb deficiency. One of the instructors at the camp also happened to be a coach for the National Ability Center’s (NAC) ski racing team.

“[Coach] mentioned that I could race. My mom being a racer, she always taught me to ski like a ski racer. He suggested that I should start training. Begrudgingly, I accepted I didn’t want to race much but we started coming to train at the NAC and that’s when I started really hanging out more in Park City, spending winters here training with the NAC,” said Vega.

Eventually, he was accepted to the University of Utah and officially relocated to Utah. And after all that begrudging training, Vega competed for Chile in the 2014 Sochi Winter Paralympics at age 16 and the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Paralympics at 20 in men’s slalom and giant slalom.

Although he competed for Team Chile in the Paralympics, he trained with his NAC peers and was coached by Erik Leirfallom.

“Park City has always been a second home, more than a second home. It’s a place that I always come back to.”

Now, he and his wife, a Park City elementary school teacher, live in the Millcreek area. He is still involved with the NAC, acting as a “yes man,” stepping in and volunteering wherever necessary.

“I still have really good friends within the NAC, from the ski team, Coach Erik, my old teammates I still hang out with. This spring I’ve been skiing at least once a week in Park City with my old racing buddies and people from the NAC.”

When he retired from ski racing, he admittedly swore off ski resorts for a while. Vega has been a backcountry ski and mountaineering guide on and off since he was 16.

“IFMGA is the highest level of guidance certifications that the one can have globally,” he said. “That’s where I’m putting most of my energy in the winters and I’ve also been really passionate about teaching advanced courses to people with disabilities. We put up the first-ever all adaptive avalanche rescue course in Park City this past winter.”

His goal is for this course to be held annually and “creating a framework for other guiding outfitters to take on disabled skiers and without preconceptions and our notions of discrimination.”

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