Challenge Mountain Adds Occupational Therapy Doctorate Holder to Team

Program Expansion Leads to New Hire:
Claire Hague is Challenge Mountain’s First Associate Program Director

Challenge Mountain’s adaptive programming has grown over the years to include year-round activities, hosting participants from across the region and State. With growth comes the need for expanded roles and positions to support the small army of staff and volunteers who operate as a “boots on the ground” unit tasked with organizing and facilitating Challenge Mountain’s four-season programs.

Claire Hague, OTD, has recently been named Challenge Mountain’s first associate program director. Her position supports year-round programming from adaptive skiing to nature and arts-focused activities for participants with cognitive, physical and developmental disabilities. Her role combines collaborative planning, best practices learned from her OT education, and on-site interventional strategies. The Harbor Springs native and graduate of Western Michigan University spent a 16-week internship with Challenge Mountain, beginning in January 2023. As an avid sportsperson and adaptive specialist, Hague found the relationship to be a good fit, and the organization was thrilled with the connection.

New Associate Program Director, Claire Hague, assists participants during the 2023 snow season as part of her WMU Doctoral Capstone project.

Excerpts from Claire’s Doctoral Capstone Project Report

“Like many, my passion for skiing attracted me to the organization [Challenge Mountain]. Though I’ve loved every second of being on the slopes, it’s the people who have made a profound impact. I’ve learned that it’s more than just about providing access to skiing, it’s about instilling self-determination.

Self-determination theory is frequently used in clinical psychology research. According to Ryan & Deci, it refers to one’s ability to make choices and take control of one’s life (2000). The field of OT coins it as being an agent of one’s own change – a primary decision maker in all life’s choices (Cole & Tufano, 2020, p. 158). For individuals with disabilities, it’s especially important that their freedom to choose is validated. From my time at Challenge Mountain, I can attest that the staff, volunteers, and board members are dedicated to enhancing self-determination.

There are 3 requirements that facilitate self-determination: competence, autonomy, and relatedness (Brown, 2011). Challenge Mountain fosters these conditions through providing instruction that facilitates competence, autonomy to choose from a variety of activities, and a culture of relatedness so that participants can share experiences with their peers and family.

By integrating these principles into their adaptive recreation programs, Challenge Mountain creates an environment for individuals to forge their own path to mastery in their desired activity. Whether it’s choosing to put on ski boots for the first time, try a new activity, or simply experience wind in their face from a ski run, Challenge Mountain embraces the individual choices that ultimately lead to self-determination in other areas of life.

In summary, my experience with Challenge Mountain has opened my eyes to the endless opportunities that can arise when you allow individuals with disabilities a chance to choose their own adventure. I’ve discovered that hope can be found anywhere – and a ski hill should not be overlooked.”

“Claire brought a level of education and training to our staff that we’ve been looking for since we began focusing on expanding our year-round adaptive programs,” explains Program Director Linda Armstrong. “Plus, she connected with every member of the staff and every volunteer.” Perhaps more important, “Claire had an immediate rapport with our participants and their families. Her enthusiasm was infectious!”

The Occupational Therapy Doctorate is a three-year program with classroom, clinical and on-site learning which goes well beyond the hands-on therapies common to occupational science. Advanced training includes applied theory, independent quantitative research, clinical leadership strategies, client advocacy, policymaking, and management. The OTD is for the professional working at both the clinical and administrative levels.

Hague’s internship with Challenge Mountain was part of her Capstone project, a student-designed real-world experience with research applications. “The project really sold us on her abilities, and we were very excited that she accepted our offer,” shares Executive Director Elizabeth Gertz. “Her new position will surely lead to positive growth across the organization as it goes forward.”



Challenge Mountain is a non-profit 501c3 organization with Tax ID 38-2563815.

Started in 1984, Challenge Mountain removes barriers and supports social inclusion through adaptive recreation for children, youth and adults living with physical and cognitive disabilities. Activities include adaptive skiing and biking, nature and cultural activities, art programs, equine therapy and numerous other life-enriching programs.