Luke Paliocha in the Maine Adaptive lodge at Sunday River. Rose Lincoln

NEWRY — When Luke Paliocha was 14 , he skied at Sunday River with Gould Academy. He remembered a time when the coach asked if he had done Top Gun, a double black diamond. He lied, “yes, twice a day, every day. There were all these high school girls watching me, so anything they asked me if I could do, I said, ‘yes, of course I can.'”

He looked down the trail. It was all moguls, a solid sheet of ice. “I thought, ‘what did you do?, why do you do this to yourself?’ I’m picking my way down. I felt like a cat on the edge of a swimming pool, with my claws out, I don’t want to go in.  I’m terrified. It’s like pinballs going over the moguls. I’m about as stiff as the tin man with no oil. My knees aren’t bending. Everything’s chattering. I’ve got to check to see if my fillings are still attached to my mouth … But I’m still standing.  I’m sure I looked terrible. Like a paper bag in a hurricane.

“I got going too fast and all of a sudden there was no snow under my skis. I was off the ground. I looked down and was like, uh oh. It’s like the Wylie Coyote when he looks back and he waves, goodbye … I thought, ‘you can’t fall, everybody is watching … I leaned forward until I was almost touching my toes with my nose and I landed. It felt like a self-destruct. My knees go into my chin … I stopped as hard as I could. I made it… I felt it for a few days… I felt like an old man but I didn’t let them see that.”

While he wasn’t the first disabled student at Gould, Paliocha was likely the first with cerebral palsy. “I didn’t come [to them] with a manual,” he said.

Luba Lowery and Carl Burnett were Paralympic champions who attended Gould, too. Said Paliocha, “They were my heroes going in. I was trying to follow in their footsteps. I’m not quite as athletic as them. I just wanted to hold my own. At the end of my four years, I got a sportsmanship award. I was proud of that, because the only time I ever placed when I was on the Gould team was if someone fell down. I wasn’t as fast,” said Paliocha.

Maine Adaptive


It’s St. Patrick’s Day and pretty much everyone in the Maine Adaptive Ski Lodge at Sunday River is wearing a strand of green shamrock beads given to them by Paliocha, who is wearing about 10 strands, along with head-to-foot lime green ski gear. “My skis are green, too.” he says.

Known as ‘Cool Hand Luke,’ Paliocha has been skiing at Sunday River since he was six and while he does not know everyone, they all seem to know him. He jokes that the ski patrol has a wanted poster with his face on it. When he broke his foot a few years ago and the sled came, he asked the patrol if they were all finally saying, “we’ve been trying to get him for 25 years … We wanted him dead or alive and now we’ve finally got him.”

Paliocha skis three or four times a week. He remembers following his friends into the woods once with his wide-berth, outriggers, “I was doing the gorilla thing, just grabbing trees.”  Another time he was in big trouble with his father for lowering his mask and almost getting frostbitten when skiing in -20 degree weather.

And many times he’s been late returning to the lodge with a student in tow. Yet, of Maine Adaptive and Sunday River, he says, “It’s different than anywhere else. This is home for me. It’s a sense of freedom when you get out on the hill, but when you come in the lodge we’re a big family … it’s like a family reunion.

“If I come on the weekend I have to be first chair,” said Paliocha. He gets to the parking lot by 7:15, boots-up in the car and is in the lift line at 7:35 for the 8 a.m. start. “There’s a pattern, there’s a science to it,” he says.

On a recent day, Paliocha skis White Heat, a double black diamond. It’s his first run of the day, but he says he’s slower now that he’s “getting older.”


“If I do it – I do it slow. I’ve got the knees of a 90-year-old. I’ve got the back of an 80-year-old and the brain of a four or five year old … If you average it all together, with 31, my age, I’m in my mid-50’s.”

On the chairlift, Paliocha talks to everyone. “Even shy people if you poke them, ‘hey what’s your name?’ will talk to me. … I’ve gotten some donations on the lift,” he admits.

His goal, this year, is to collect $5,ooo (he has $3,700 so far) for Maine Adaptive’s Ski-a-Thon, back for its 35th year on April 2, after a three-year COVID hiatus.

“Luke’s Lucky Skiers,” Paliocha’s ski-a-thon team, has three out of five original members from 25 years ago. This year the 40 teams have 10 members each as they try to grow back from more robust earlier years.

“Essentially, it’s a big party. It’s to celebrate what we do. It’s a fundraiser … you go out and free ski with all your friends. Wear the beads. bring your costumes and t-shirts. Some teams go all out and wear bright flashy costumes. I’ve seen people in bear costumes, dressed as bananas and beer. It’s so much fun,” said Paliocha.



About 13 years ago, Paliocha became an instructor at Maine Adaptive. “I still am a participant … I’m still learning to ski … I’m always trying to get better at it,” he said.

A few weeks ago he was teaching a skateboarder, who had lost his leg a couple of years ago. “He’s a real athlete,” said Paliocha. He uses a prosthetic leg while skateboarding, but was going to learn to ski on one leg with the outriggers. “He was totally freaked out, ‘I can’t do this,'” he said to Paliocha.

“You have to get people to understand that a lot of their fear is in their head,” he explained. To his student, he said, “‘that ski is your skateboard.’ The outriggers are now your second leg. You divide the weight that you put on your second leg on each outrigger 50/50. That was an epiphany for him,” said Paliocha.

There’s this joke, “Do you know how to tell when someone is a ski instructor? They’ll tell you.” He counters, “If they are a good instructor they will learn at least as much as they teach.” His philosophy is that he is his student’s ski buddy who is trying to make skiing easier for them and not jam in too much learning at once.

Paliocha does not have siblings,  “Just dogs. Gus and Vinnie. There’s a big age difference. Vinnie is probably a little like me. I am sure the younger dog asks him, ‘can you do this? can you jump over this log?’ … After he does it, he’ll be feeling it for the next few days … I’m a little like that old dog,” he said.

Luke Paliocha, 31, has been skiing at Sunday River since he was six Rose Lincoln

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