Innovation, What We're Made Of

What We’re Made Of: Higher Ground

In 1999 the Higher Ground organization began right here in Sun Valley, Idaho with a goal of using recreational therapy for people with cognitive, physical, and developmental disabilities, as well as active-duty military members and veterans. The extraordinary beauty, recreational possibilities and a community that believes that people of all abilities should be able to experience the healing powers of the mountains made Sun Valley an ideal incubator to bring this therapy to fruition. When they first started, it was just about teaching locals with disabilities how to use adaptive skis but their programming has since grown to include so much more. Today, locations for Higher Ground have expanded to the surf of Los Angeles—home to over 300,000 veterans—and  the hiking trails of western New York, home to another one of the largest veteran populations in the country. Using top recreational therapists and mental health professionals, Higher Ground strives to give people of all abilities a better life, bridging the gap between disability and belonging. 

Higher Ground Sun Valley
photo courtesy Higher Ground


Higher Ground offers two types of programming; one for recreation and one for military.

Recreational therapy is defined by the American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA) and National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) as a systematic process that utilizes recreation and other activity-based interventions to address the assessed needs of individuals with illnesses and/or disabling conditions, as a means to psychological and physical health, recovery and well-being.

While physical therapy is beneficial for mobility and occupational therapy for work and daily living, recreational therapy is an opportunity to have fun and participate in activities that can help people feel like themselves again. Higher Ground excels in providing adaptive skiing instruction for those with disabilities, as well as summer recreation like camp, field trips, off-road hand cycling, and adaptive road cycling. A weekly members-only club is also available for weekly fitness for local adults with disabilities.

Members of the military make up a large portion of Higher Ground’s participants. 22 million veterans live in the U.S.; 22 commit suicide every day and 1 in 3 suffers from depression, anxiety or other mental health challenges. Many soldiers face difficulties upon returning home from combat like post-traumatic stress, homelessness, and traumatic brain injuries. Recreational therapy can help empower veterans and help transition them in a tumultuous time in their lives. Research of Higher Ground participants has shown an increased sense of camaraderie, improved attentiveness and sleep quality, increased confidence, and decreased depression and anxiety.

The Higher Ground Military Program provides week-long programs for active-duty and veterans both pre- and post- 9/11. Spouses or other supporters are invited to participate as well, talking, listening and forming new bonds. Higher Ground also commits to three years of follow-up support involving check-ins and encouragement.


In addition to year-long events like film screenings and BBQs, Higher Ground holds an annual fundraiser, the Hero’s Journey Gala, every summer. The event annually draws sold-out crowds of more than 500 philanthropists, both local and otherwise. The event celebrates the nation’s heroes and raises funds towards it programming. 

Higher Ground Sun valley
photo courtesy Higher Ground

Get Involved

There are two great ways that you can get involved with Higher Ground: donating or volunteering. Gifts of all kinds are welcome from annual donations to planned giving to gifts In Memory of In Honor of and more; 87 cents of every dollar goes directly into their programs!

Volunteers are always welcome to help on the slopes to an afternoon hike; there are opportunities for all types! 

Partners and sponsors are also welcome. Head over to for more information.

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