12 May 2008

All About Adaptive Skiing, Part One

I have been fortunate enough to volunteer at three different adaptive skiing programs. Similar programs exist at ski resorts all over the world. When I tell people about what we do as adaptive skiers and instructors, they are almost always very surprised. I thought I would share some info about adaptive skiing and my perspective on it.

Skiing is my thing. I didn't learn to ski until I was nearly 18 years old. Most expert skiers I meet started skiing before they started kindergarten. I definitely caught up now and would consider myself an expert skier.

Why skiing? Skiing is awesome! Communing with nature out in the snow and the cold is truly a magical experience. The silence of huge snowy trees will fill you with awe. And the skiing itself is incredible. It really does feel like flying. In my opinion, there is no sensation that can compare to gliding down a deep slope through waist-deep fresh powder snow.
I once skied all weekend with a first grade boy seated in a bi-ski. He had cerebral palsy and he could only say about 50 words. He spent the entire weekend on the slopes screaming "WOOOOO-HOOOOO!" with a huge grin on his face. He was so loud that people ahead of us were stopping to turn and smile at him as he went by. When we would stop at the bottom he would shout, "More! Fastah! Gooooo higha!" So I think the feeling is universal.
For me the feeling of freedom that flying down a snowy slope provides is very valuable. It has been my observation that for kids with mobility impairments (and often adults too), screaming down the hill as fast as their instructor will allow them is nothing short of a magical experience. Lots of kids get wrapped up in cotton and treated like a china doll, so the opportunity to fly (and to crash in the cold soft snow) is really special. Even if the family ski trip only happens once a year, for many kids that is the best day of the year.

What is adaptive skiing? Adaptive skiing is skiing, sometimes with specialized equipment, for people with disabilities who cannot ski using regular equipment or regular instruction techniques. Adaptive skiers ski using a regular technique, or ski on one leg, or while seated, or using a ski-mounted walker, to name a few adaptive technologies. Adaptive snowboarding is a new sport that is rapidly being developed as well.

Who can ski? Almost anyone can ski. I have seen a five-year-old girl lugging an oxygen tank skiing. I have seen a sixty-year-0ld man with severe spastic quad cerebral palsy skiing. Many children with autism and cognitive impairments enjoy specialized instruction to match their learning needs at adaptive ski schools. Some examples of disabilities adaptive skiers might have: cerebral palsy, spina bifida, paraplegia, quadriplegia, muscular dystrophy, amputation, autism, cognitive impairment, Down syndrome, behavioral disorder, epilepsy, tracheostomy, colostomy, g-tube, cerebral shunt, visual impairment, and hearing impairment. Adaptive skiers range in age from 5 to 75. Just about the only people who can't ski are those with fragile bones or who otherwise need to avoid falling (maybe osteogenesis imperfecta or osteoporosis, for example).

Coming soon:
Part Two: How do you ski? All about adaptive skiing equipment and techniques.
How do you teach/volunteer? The roles of the instructor/volunteer in adaptive skiing.
Where can you ski? I'm planning a comprehensive list of adaptive skiing programs in the US. Maybe later, the world!

Image: Paralympic gold medalist and all-around super-stud paraplegic athlete Chris Waddell tears it up on a mono-ski. Source.


william Peace said...

Sarah, this is a great post. I am new to adaptive skiing and just finished my first full season using a dual ski. While I am not yet independent I am well on my way. The volunteers I have worked with at Vermont Adaptive and at Loon Mountain in NH are great people and fun to learn with. I find it interesting to read about the experiences of the volunteers. I sure hope you continue to do this. When I was paralyzed 30 years ago adaptive ski equipment was primitive at best. Thanks to my niece who is the program co-ordinator at Sugar Bush for Vermont Adaptive I am now an avid skier and kayaker. The point is volunteers such as yourself at adaptive programs are changing lives for the better. It is not just about skiing but the feeling of freedom of equality on the slopes that is not found in every day life. I look forward to reading more on your blog!

william Peace said...

One more point: a list of adaptive ski centers would be amazingly helpful. I look forward to reading such a post.

Sarah Heacox said...

Thanks for the kind words, William! You are greatly encouraging. I have more posts on adaptive skiing in the works.

william Peace said...

Sarah, No need to thank me for the kind words. I wish I could clone people such as yourself who understand the meaning and difference involved in living a life with a disability. As you know the problems are more social than they are practical. By the way, I prefer Bill and my email address is wjpeace@optonline.net. One more point, did you see the article in the NY Times sport section today about Josh George?

Dynah said...

Thanks for the comment on my blog. Your post makes me miss skiing...can't wait for next winter! I want to try a monoski net year, I hope that works out.

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