2017 Update: Below is our round up of Accessible Ski-ing in Europe and beyond, a chance to get away from Xmas preparations?! However, as an update we wanted to feature a place included in Barrier Free Travel, a scheme established by The German Tourist Office, you can visit the DKB-Ski sport-HALLE in Oberhof, Thuringia, Germany. It’s
‘Germany’s first indoor ski run. At a constant temperature of minus four degrees Celsius, its two-kilometre cross-country ski trail over varying terrain provides perfect skiing conditions for recreational and professional skiers alike — and also caters for Paralympic disciplines’.
If you want a less energetic pastime and you are wanting to prepare for Dec. 25th, there’s always the Xmas Markets in Germany especially the one in Wolfsburg where you can stay at the uber-accessible Ritz Carlton winner of Best European Venue at the BBS Awards.
Read on for more accessible ski ideas.
Although published last year here are a few places you should still try if you want to ski.
Everybody falls over. When people ski for the first time, regardless of physical ability, they’re going to fall over. In this respect it’s been said that skiing and other snow sports are something of a leveller for able bodied and less able people. And with the wide range of adapted skiing equipment now available, enjoying the slopes should be possible for everyone.
In fact, the skiing itself is the easy bit. After all, by its nature skiing is an entirely step free activity and with adapted skis, sledges and more there are ways for everyone to ski. In some cases skiers may need to be guided by a coach or assistant but in one form or another (which is more expensive and more likely at less accessible resorts), everybody should be able to participate. The bigger problem these days is finding somewhere with accessible facilities when you’re off and transferring onto the slopes. The real problems come with transferring to ski lifts, knowing where to leave your wheelchair and accessing other areas of the resort, particularly (inevitably) the toilets.
There is still a huge disparity between resorts with some being well adapted for disabled skiers and others still woefully behind the times. At the better and more inclusive resorts, sponsors subsidise the high cost of the equipment, which is free to skiers if booked with a lesson. At the worst resorts, little or nothing has been done for disabled visitors at all. We’ve found that the most highly recommended resorts tend to be those in the French Alps and resorts in Canada and the USA which are known as the best for access.
For most of our British readers France is the easiest and most cost-effective option as well as being a leader in accessibility. With 150 ski schools, France, leads Europe in the number of ski schools trained in handiski, the general term used in France for specialist equipment for disabled skiers, so it seems to be the best place to start looking for an accessible resort.
The one place that seems to keep coming up, when you look for accessible skiing, is La Plagne. The adaptive equipment that they have on offer is at the forefront of new technologies as are their facilities. Their latest development is the Vertiski – a medical support that enables you to stand upright and is currently unique to La Plagne. Furthermore, all residences and shopping areas are equipped with ramps, all public toilets are adapted and all the gondolas, chair lifts and drag lifts have been adapted for people using adaptive equipment. It’s one of the best ski resorts for disabled skiers in the Alps, if not the world. Stay at the Hotel Terra Nova where wheelchair accessible twin and double rooms are available on request.
Another good resort in France is Avoriaz and the Residence Saskia Falaise hotel. It features on Go Ski’s list of the ten best ski resorts for disabled skiers (worth checking out if you want to find more locations) and has instructors and equipment for skiers with reduced mobility. It is one of the three Alpine resorts originally featured in an adaptive-skiing programme for skiers with physical disabilities, organised by the tour operator Erna Low in the nineties. Since then more resorts have become more accessible and Erna Low now offers more options for less able skiers but Avoriaz has had a head start and presumably kept ahead of other competition.
Outside of France, another European option is the alpine Austrian Schladming resort, south of Salzburg ( winner of the 2012 European City of Access). The resort boasts a friendly, English speaking disabled ski centre where they help out with assistance and some equipment. There are adapted gondolas to get around and ski lift operators recognise when people are using adaptive skiing equipment and will slow the lifts down accordingly. Two hotels come recommended to us in the shape of the modern three star Hotel AQI and the four star superior Schwaigerhof hotel. Both have wheelchair accessible facilities.
Further afield is Whistler, the famous Canadian skiing resort. It was the home of the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic games so you’d expect a great level of accessibility (although based on word from Sochi hosting the Paralympics is not necessarily a precursor to brilliant access). If the huge amount of positive feedback is to be believed those expectations are met if not exceeded. The resort’s shops, bars, restaurants, hotels etc have been made easy for everyone to use no matter their physical ability. The Whistler Adaptive Sports Program is top notch and extensive, also offering a range of other sports. The Whistler village Crystal Lodge comes particularly recommended for disabled skiers but there should be a range of options in what was so recently the Paralympic village.
Hopefully, this has given a flavour of the best accessible resorts to go to, but if you want to plan further, the best thing to do is speak to an expert. Ski 2 Freedom is a charity which provides access to comprehensive information on snow-sport and mountain activities for individuals, groups, families and carers from across the globe. The best thing to do is take a look at their website and then to get in touch with them. They’re also putting together a Directory of Information on disability skiing, snowboarding and other disability winter activities available in the mountains which is worth checking out before you contact them.
Finally, another good website for finding somewhere accessible to stay is Crystal Ski, where they have a selection of accessible recommendations. They plan skiing packages and their Crystal Adaptive programme offers holidays for skiers with special needs at a range of accessible resorts and accommodation across Europe and the United States.
Skiing has come a long way in terms of access on the slopes. There is still a way to go for even the best of resorts before they can claim to be 100% accessible off the slopes but there should be no reason that, with planning and a carefully selected resort and accommodation, anyone shouldn’t be able to hit the slopes and go skiing this winter!