After five years of riding the slopes, this winter Aidden Collings learned how to stand up on skis.

Collings, 11, tends to have his own way of doing things. Part of that is his personality, he’s a habit-kind-of-guy and digs in if someone challenges that. Part of that is because he was born with autism.

He can swipe his iPad to a button that announces his birthday, age and home address. He has options for sharing his emotions, too, but he doesn’t really need them.

He shows you he’s happy when he skips, or rocks his head back and forth with a grin and releases a high-pitch yell. As his dad says, “He talks a lot. It’s just in his own language most of the time.”

Like many Montanans, Collings likes spending time on a mountain with his ski buds. His main crew is Eagle Mount, which gives people with disabilities a way to play outside.

Collings’ ski partner with Eagle Mount is Trevor Olson. Olson said when he met Collings three years ago at Bridger Bowl, his bio said he rode in a sit ski.

“I was kind of curious why, he was perfectly mobile. But I just kind of went with it the first year,” Olson said.

Their second year together, Olson started trying to “pretend” to put boots on Collings, who would respond with the classic deadweight technique mixed in with some yelling.

Collings’ mom Judy said it was easiest to be OK with him in a chair. When it was time for ski lessons, he knew to go in the front door of Eagle Mount’s hut at Bridger and to head to one of the sit skis in the room.

“And well, he’s stubborn,” she said.

But this year, a new person entered Collings’ ski community, his teacher Christy Todd at Chief Joseph Middle School. She decided it was time for Collings to use his legs.

“I wanted him to feel the same rush that everyone else gets when they’re cutting the powder,” she said.

Todd started with Collings in the classroom. They watched short clips of a Tyrannosaurus stomping through the woods. Then they would put on their ski boots and stomp like a dinosaur through the classroom. At first, he would spend two minutes in the boots a day. Then they’d stretch the time out.

They upgraded to watching videos of Collings’ sister skiing, she’d wave toward the camera and take turns saying hi to her parents and her brother.

“He could see someone he could relate to skiing,” Todd said.

The first time Collings went down a hill in skis this winter, he yelled and laughed.

With his skis tethered and strapped into a harness with ropes that led to Olson’s hands, Collings graduated from a hill to the bunny slope and eventually from green starter runs to the next level.

For the first time in three years of skiing together, Olson heard Collings use words he recognized as they made their way down the mountain, back to the chairlift and up again.

When he’s skiing, you see Collings’ joy as he waves his hands and scrunches his fingers. You see his nerves as he reaches out for his ski instructor’s arm. And you see his pride when he smiles as Olson leans away and says, “You got it, Aidden.”

Collings’ dad Michael said if you asked his son tomorrow which he would rather use, he may point toward a sit ski before asking for his boots. But now he has both options.

“Skiing is more work for him, but it’s more reward too,” Michael said.

Todd said she wanted Collings to ski because there’s no reason he can’t. She said it’s part of the Bozeman experience, and one she didn’t want Collings to miss.

“He gets that adrenaline rush we all get, and it shows him, he can do what’s hard,” she said. “And more important, others can see he can do it.”

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at or at 406-582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

Katheryn Houghton is the city government and health reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.