20 May 2008

All About Adaptive Skiing, Part Two: How Do You Ski?

In Part One of All About Adaptive Skiing, I explained the who, what, and why of adaptive skiing, skiing technique, equipment, and instruction for people with physical or cognitive disabilities. In part two, I'll address the how. How do you ski?

I'll break it down starting with the basics.
Two-trackers: A typical ski setup is, as most people know, a pair of stiff plastic boots and two long skis. Two-trackers usually carry poles, but may not for various reasons. Poles aren't necessary at all, and in fact ski instructors often don't use poles. An adaptive skier might use this setup if they have only a cognitive disability, or a minor physical disability. Some people with single leg amputations use the typical setup, and for others it doesn't work at all.
Someone with a cognitive disability, for instance Down syndrome or autism, uses a typical skiing technique but benefits from adaptive skiing more than from typical ski school lessons. This is simply because adaptive skiing instructors have the knowledge to adapt their lessons to accommodate whatever learning challenges the skiers have.

Other two-trackers include hearing and visually impaired skiers. Deaf skiers sometimes wear a bright orange vest that says "Deaf Skier," or something similar, and visually impaired skiers almost always wear a vest that says "Blind Skier." Blind skiers ski with sighted guides who physically or verbally guide them as they ski. I once passed a line of ten blind skiers blazing down a run, led by one sighted skier. They were all singing "California Dreaming" to let the person above them know where to go with an audible cue.
You might hear the typical set-up called two-tracking, so named because each ski forms one track in the snow as you ski. Which brings us to

Three-trackers: A skier with a single leg amputation, or with use of only one leg, might be a "three-tracker," skiing on one ski only. Instead of poles, a three-tracker carries two outriggers, one in each hand. An outrigger looks like a crutch with a little tiny ski on the bottom. It can be used to glide like a ski, or the ski part can be pulled up and used as a brake. In this way, it's like the skier has three skis to help support balance and turning. I can three-track at an intermediate level, but it makes my skiing foot REALLY tired. I think three-tracking is a lot of fun!

Four-trackers: Four-trackers ski on two skis and ALSO carry two outriggers. Skiers with disabilities that affect their legs are sometimes four-trackers. For instance, someone with cerebral palsy who walks with canes or crutches might be a four-track skier. In the photo, a man with two prosthetic legs is four-tracking. Another variation is skiing with a cool walker that is mounted on skis. The skier holds the walker for support as they ski. A skier who might not be able to four-track may have more success in a

Mono-Ski: The mono-ski is really the Ferrari of adaptive skiing technology. It goes the fastest and is the most maneuverable. If you see a seated adaptive skier burning down the slopes at your local mountain, she is mostly likely a mono-skier. The typical mono-ski user has a disability that affects his lower limbs but has good trunk control, arm control, and reflexes, for example high or low paraplegia, cerebral palsy, or double leg amputation.
(Don't confuse this with another type of mono-ski, much beloved of Frenchmen in goofy snowsuits! That mono-ski looks like a great fat ski that you strap both your feet into.)
An adaptive mono-ski looks like a bucket seat and foot rest mounted on one long ski. It has a spring suspension to protect the skier from bumps. The bucket seat pushes the skier forward into a very dynamic position. A mono-skier holds short outriggers which she uses to balance and turn.
The mono-ski is difficult for some people to master, so let me introduce you to the

Bi-Ski: I have to confess that the bi-ski is my favorite of all the adaptive skiing disciplines. When I volunteer, I usually help out on a bi-ski lesson. The bi-ski has a bucket seat and foot rest, which are mounted on two specially-made skis. The magic of the bi-ski is this: as the bi-ski tips to one side, the skis actuate independently and cause the ski to carve, which makes the ski turn! In the photo you can see that the skier is leaning to the left, causing the two skis to tip up on their left edges. A bi-ski can be turned by the skier leaning to one side. A careful bi-skier can even turn the ski by inclining his head to one side or the other. The typical bi-skier has cerebral palsy, high-level paraplegia, or quadriplegia. Some bi-skiers hold outriggers to balance themselves. Other bi-skiers, who can't hold outriggers, might use fixed riggers. Fixed riggers are simply outriggers that are mounted to the sides of the bi-ski. They reduce the chance of the bi-ski tipping over and they help someone with limited mobility have more independence from the instructor on the slopes.

That sums it up for the most commonly used equipment and technique for adaptive skiing. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment! There are a handful of other devices, like the adaptive snowboard, sit-ski, and dual-ski, which are either being phased out or are not used commonly. I might do a post on those in the future. Stay tuned for Part 3 and Part 4: A list of adaptive skiing programs and some reflections on becoming an adaptive skiing volunteer.

Images: 1. A cute little boy in ski racing gear and helmet is bent over on his skis with his poles tucked back for speed. 2. A man missing his right leg just above the knee skis on his left leg. He holds two poles with small skis on the ends. 3. A man with two prosthetic legs skis with two poles with small skis on the ends. His instructor skis behind watching him. 4. Side view of a man in heavy jacket and pants seated in a bucket seat mounted on a ski. He steadies himself with his handheld outriggers. 5. A woman in pink sits in a bi-ski smiling. She has tipped it way over to the side for an aggressive turn and she is reaching her outriggers out on the snow.

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