With winter here and the ski season having just about begun we thought it would be seasonal to look around and present a beginner’s guide to disabled skiing. There are now only ninety-nine days to go until the Sochi Winter Paralympics so snowsport fever is likely to take hold in the next hundred days or so. So even if you’re not too keen now, you may well be come March.
The great thing about skiing is that it’s something of a leveler for able bodied and less able people. When everybody’s falling over, everybody’s equal! Skiing is also generally a pretty accessible activity. With able bodied skiers equally hamstrung by stairs once they don their skis, you can be sure that, at least out on the slopes, you’re guaranteed that there will be a step free environment.
Considering that skiing tends to be thought of as quite an exclusive activity, it’s surprisingly accessible. In particular, people who used to ski when they were able bodied may be pleasantly surprised by the options available to them.
Who Can Ski?
Absolutely anyone should be able to ski in one form or another!
There are so many different ways to get involved in skiing or snowsports. Activities come in all manner of varieties, such as snowboarding, progression from intermediate to advanced skiing, Free-styling, Extreme snow-sports, off-piste – from back-country to ski touring, cross country skiing, ski jeering (behind a horse), dog-sledging – the list goes on!
With different types of adaptive equipment and coaches trained to assist less able skiers, everyone should be able to have a go at skiing. How much you can do yourself depends on the nature, severity or medical issues of a particular disability, additional need or life-challenging illness or trauma but in principle you can participate on dry slopes and mountains. In some cases skiers may need to be guided by a coach or assistant but in one form or another, everybody should be able to participate.
What equipment do you use?
The equipment you need is loosely based on what disability you have but the most important thing is to work out what it most comfortable for any one individual’s needs. There are different types of adaptive skis which are all designed for different forms of disability:
- Three-track – predominantly used by skiers with one leg, skiers use one ski and two outriggers (outriggers are forearm crutches with ski tips mounted to the base) for balance.
- Four-track – for people with disabilities including cerebral palsy, post polio, spina bifidia, athrogryposis, muscular distrophy, multiple sclerosis, congential defect or traumatic injury. Very similar to three-track but skiers use two skis rather than one (often held together with a bungee cord or metal ski bra) along with two outriggers or a walker.
- Monoski – designed for low level paraplegics and people with conditions affecting their legs (i.e. normally for people who use wheelchairs in day to day life). A moulded seat is attached to a single ski and requires balance and strength. Can be used instead of Four-track skis if preferred.
Bi Ski – also for people who need to sit, but a bit more like a sledge still than a Monoski. You use outriggers – held if you have good arm use, or attached to act like stabilisers on a bicycle – to aid with balance. The bi-ski is moved by transferring body weight from side to side and speed can be controlled by an instructor holding tethers. Disabilities able to use a bi-ski include cerebral palsy, brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, muscular distrophy, spina bifida, spinal cord injuries, multiple amputations.
- Tandemski or Sit Skis – are combined ski equipment which allow a less able skier to attach themselves to somebody with more experience. Like the Bi Ski or Monoski the user sits and somebody skis behind them and guides them downhill. This means that anyone can join in as long as there’s an experienced skier to guide them. There’s also a newer version of the Tandemski called a Tandem Flex which is more comfortable and smoother to ride.
Where can you ski?
If your new to skiing and looking to learn the basics before you dash over to the Alps then there are lots of UK based indoor or outdoor ski centres where you can go. Disability Snowsport UK, a charity looking to help all people hit the slopes, have put together a list of these with all the relevant contact details.
Another good place to look, especially for those who have more experience from able bodied skiing, is The Ski 2 Freedom Foundation’s website. It’s a great resource for finding out about how and where you can ski based on your individual situation.
They’ve found accessible ski resorts across the world and categorised them based on the different disabilities they are suitable for. Covering all different aspects of disability – mobility, visual or hearing impairments, autism, Down’s syndrome, learning difficulties and more – whatever your situation they seem to have a detailed way of helping you solve any potential problems.
They have started to compile a Ski & Mountain Activity guide to help you search for a resort which will suit your needs. You can select the country you want to go to and then refine the search based on disability or you can search their whole range based on only disability. This is a great tool but as it is still rather new there are perhaps less options available than one would hope. As it’s still in a rather embryonic stage, it might be better to search based on your disability which is also an option on the left hand side of their website.
How much does it cost?
It’s very hard to guess effectively how much a skiing trip to a resort would cost as there are far too many variables involved (location, transport, hotel, number of people etc). However, we can provide the prices for lessons with DSUK. It’s probably a good idea to check that you actually enjoy skiing before rushing off to a resort. A one hour long private lesson for one person costs £50 (£40 for members). There is a sliding scale for group lessons starting with a lesson for two at £70 (members, £60). These prices apply to stand-up skiers only. Sit-down skiers need have one-to-one tuition.
Membership costs £36 per year and offers lots of discounts on lessons and equipment as well as helping to support the charity.