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Do you want to learn to ski? You can, no matter your disability.
There are hundreds and hundreds of disabled skiers flying down ski hills and mountains across the country. Experienced skiers make it look easy as they swoosh and cut their way through powdery (and sometimes not so powdery) snow. While it takes some practice to refine your technique, you too can be schussing down a hill the same day you begin your adaptive skiing lessons.
GETTING STARTED The first thing you need to do to learn how to ski is to locate a program in your area. Disabled Sports USA has chapters with adaptive ski programs nationwide. Visit http://www.disabledsportsusa.org/chapters/ and search for a skiing program near you. If there isn’t a chapter in your area, call the nearest ski hill and ask if they have an adaptive program.
Once you’ve located an adaptive program, call and ask questions about any physical concerns you might have, the accessibility of the ski area, and the type of skiing available to you based on your disability. Tell them you have never been on skis before. Don’t be shy. Ski instruction is just that – teaching you how to ski.
When you call to book a lesson, the person taking the information should explain the registration process, tell you if you need to fill out forms in advance, and give you the cost (many progams have scholarships to assist those in need of financial aid) and length of lesson. If not, then be sure to ask so you will have no surprises once you get to the ski hill.
As with any high level of activity, the night before get your rest and be sure to drink plenty of fluids. Amputees and others with disabilities sometimes have other health conditions. Make sure you don’t vary from what your doctor prescribes in terms of medicine, hydration, and nutrition.
YOUR FIRST LESSON
When arriving for your first lesson, wear layers of non-cotton winter clothes and use sunblock. Bring a water bottle, a snack, and a positive attitude! Arrive 30 minutes early so that you can fill out the registration paperwork and sign forms. Call the ski school if you are going to be late. You will meet your instructors and there will be an assessment during which they will ask you about your mobility level and watch you move, other sports you may do, your strength, flexibility, areas of weakness and endurance in order to match you with the best equipment. You will set goals for your lesson that match your desires and what the instructor knows about the area and conditions of the day. You will be required to wear a helmet during your lesson. Your lesson will start on the flat snow with skills and drills. Lessons typically last from 1.5-3 hours. Parents or caregivers will be given a time to meet back following the lesson. You’re a beginner, so don’t be embarrassed if you don’t get the hang of it right away or need to be shown something again. It’s OK to ask questions. Have fun!
METHODS OF SKIING Depending on your level of disability, there are several ways you can ski using different types of adaptive equipment.
Four-track skiing is an ideal technique for persons with a wide variety of disabilities, including double amputees, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, stroke, head trauma, paraplegia, and polio. An individual with two legs and arms, natural or prosthetic, who is capable of standing independently or with the aid of outriggers, could ski four-track using two skis with two hand-held outriggers for balance/support, giving the skier four points of contact with the snow. Outriggers are metal forearm crutches with ski tips on the ends, some having adjustable brakes to aid with balance if necessary.
In addition to outriggers, ski stabilizers or tip clamps (ski bras) are used for lateral stability if needed. A tip clamp can also allow a student’s strong side to help control the weaker side. The design of tip clamps allows the skis to stay in a wedge or parallel position while skiing.
The snow slider is another form of four-track skiing for those with more severe balance issues. Skis are mounted to the metal frame making it something like a walker with skis. The skier uses their own boots and skis, and is aided by instructors on either side.
Three-track skiing is stand-up skiing using one full-size ski and two handheld outriggers for balance/support, giving the skier three points of contact with the snow. Individuals with above-knee amputations and single limb weakness typically use this method of skiing. It also can be suitable for those with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, post-polio syndrome, arthritis, spina bifida, spinal cord injury, and traumatic brain injury. Three-track skiing requires strong leg and arm strength and may not be for those who have weakness in their remaining limbs.
Two-track skiing is suitable for any skier who stands on two skis and does not require outriggers. The skier can stand and maintain balance while in motion, although adaptive equipment (tethers, spacers, ski bras, etc.) may be used to aid in leg strength. Two track skiing is best suited to students with developmental and cognitive disabilities, mild cerebral palsy, visual impairment, hearing impairment, traumatic brain injury, Fragile X Syndrome, epilepsy, Friedreich’s Ataxia, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, and spina bifida.
There are many below-knee amputees who can ski using the two-track methods thanks to advancements in prosthetics (carbon fiber, durable systems and sockets, improved suspension) that make it possible. However, not every prosthetic knee can withstand the forces of alpine skiing, so a skier should consult with their prosthetist first to determine the best type of components for their intended activity.
Mono-ski and bi-ski: Anyone who cannot ski standing can use a technique called sit-skiing, using a mono-ski or a bi-ski.
Mono-skiing utilizes a bucket style seat with a single ski underneath it. An individual uses handheld outriggers for balance, requiring strong arms and good core strength and trunk balance. Individuals who have lower limb impairments and reasonable trunk stability and balance use mono-skis. Those with brain trauma, post-polio syndrome, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, spinal cord injuries and double amputees are good candidates for mono-skiing.
Bi-skiing utilizes a bucket style seat with two skis underneath it. The bi-ski is designed for those who use a wheelchair or have difficulty walking even when assisted by crutches, canes or walkers. The typical candidate for the bi-ski would be an individual with a mid- to high-level spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, amputees, or other severe balance impairments.
A bi-ski can be skied independently like a mono-ski using the same type of handheld outriggers or can be skied with the assistance of an instructor using fixed outriggers and tethers (reins attached to the back of the bi-ski). Skiers turn by either moving their head and shoulders or by using handheld outriggers. A bi-ski can be a choice for a new sit-down skier before moving on to the mono-ski, depending on the shared goals of the skier and instructor.
Visual Impairment (VI) is not a barrier to fun on the slopes. Skiers learn to ski with the assistance of a specifically trained guide. For first-time VI skiers, the guide skis first, but facing backwards to the student; students with peripheral vision can be guided from the side. A guide can also call out instructions from behind the skier. The key is for the student and guide to determine the best method of communication before the lessons begin.
Disabled Sports USA (http://www.disabledsportsusa.org/)