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Skiing with a disability
Wednesday March 17, 2010 - Email this article to a friend

With the Paralympics under way in Vancouver PlanetSKI decided to see what it is like learning to use a sit-ski out on the slopes. There's also the small business of getting to, and round, a ski resort. James Cove reports.

As the sit-ski fell over again, with me firmly strapped inside, I groaned.  Not so much because I had failed to make a turn again, but more because I had to push myself up with my arms and then get myself back up the hill.

It was very hard work on my arms, but I was determined to do it without help.

"The first turn was excellent and then you sort of went all over the place and tried too hard. You lent over instead of moving your head and letting your body put the ski on its edge," said my coach Fiona Young who is the chief executive of Disability Snowsport UK.

Getting into a sit-ski and then being strapped in is an interesting experience.

My first attempt was easy as I was in one with 2 skis underneath for stability and an instructor behind who controlled the device for me.

The easy bitThe easy bitIt was though very odd to lose my independence and freedom of movement.

In this sit-ski all I needed to do was sit back, lean into the turn and trust my instructor.  It was great fun and for someone used to being in a wheelchair I could only begin to imagine the sense of speed, freedom and excitement it must give them.

It was a buzz.

However soon I was in a sit-ski with just one ski underneath and special poles with small skis on the end, called riggers, to control my speed, line and stability.

Now it was up to me.

Fiona Young gave me expert advice though it required some nerve to set off downhill, even though it was a fairly flat slope.

The theory is easy.

You simply move your head left or right and the body follows this movement to tilt the sit-ski onto its edge and then you rotate the little skis on the end of the poles and round you come.

The turn then slows you down and dictates the direction you go in.  The trouble is what I tended to do was lean into the turn and then bingo, over I went.

After several attempts I managed one turn and then after a few more I managed to put 2 linked turns together before crashing over.

I had an enormous sense of achievement.  I though was on a basic nursery slope.

Hard work just to get to the slopesHard work just to get to the slopesFor many people with a disability simply getting to and moving round a ski resort is a Herculean task.  The airports are fine and even the planes as they are designed for wheelchair use, but most tour operator busses are not.

Ski resorts were designed for able bodied people so many hotels, chalets and apartments are unusable.

Then there is getting to the slopes, getting on a lift and imagine if it is icy or snowing too.

However all this is not putting people off. Quite the opposite.

"An increasing number of people with a disability are taking up skiing; some used to be skiers before an injury while many others are taking it up for the first time," says Young.

I asked her the obvious question; "What is it like for people with a disability to ski and what do they get out of it?"

Her answer was interesting.

'Several years ago I taught a man with cerebral palsy and who was severely handicapped. The first time he came down he screamed in terror.  When I asked if he wanted to have another go he blinked the answer yes to me.  He screamed again coming down but it was a different type of scream.  It was one of excitement.  Later when I asked him about skiing he typed out an answer with his toes on the touch pad he used to communicate and he told me that in all his 36 years he had never experienced speed and the rush of wind on his face.  It was the most unique experience for him; terrifying at first and then totally exhilarating."

For me it was a humbling experience to try out a sit-ski and later that day as I skied around back on my own 2 skis I appreciated and enjoyed it all the more.

For an other PlanetSKI story about skiing with a disability and video then check out this link.

For further information about Disability Snowsport UK see here.

The tour operator Crystal is working closely with the organisation to raise its profile and provide help for people with a disability who wish to give skiing a go.

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