Everyone who has to live life in a wheelchair knows exactly what I mean when I say that snow can be a serious pain in the butt. With that said, winter wasn’t exactly a season that I looked forward to, until now.
This past weekend I went to Wintergreen Ski Resort for the first time since I got hurt. Now I wasn’t exactly a skier before I got hurt. Actually I kind of stunk. But, I had heard a lot of great things about their adaptable skiing program and decided to check it out for myself. I must say it was AMAZING!
There are a number of different adaptive skis that are available at Wintergreen Adaptive Sports (WAS). For those who have enough leg strength to walk, they have some skis that are able to support you as you stand. For those with visual disabilities, there are skis that allow an instructor to steer for you. And for those of us who use a wheelchair, there are both biskis and monoskis which are basically a bucket type seat that is mounted onto either one or two skis. The one you use is usually dependent upon skill level and/or injury. Because I am an incomplete paraplegic and have regained quite a bit of core, the instructors and I decided that I was strong enough to get into a monoski right away. The fitting process took a while but this step was only needed during the first session. They made sure that I fit snug inside the bucket and that the bucket was placed in exactly the right place over the ski so that I could maintain my balance myself. They also had to fit me for outriggers which are basically mini skis on poles that allowed me to steer and help balance myself while skiing. After all of this, we were finally able to get out on the snow.
I had four people working with me out on the snow. One person was behind me and had me on a tether, one was skiing next to me , and the other two people were my security detail making sure that no crazy out of control skiers/snowboarders decided to come crashing in my direction. I first started on a fairly flat surface so that I could learn to keep my balance on the snow. One of the instructors would give me a push and I would ski in a straight line toward another instructor. They had me ski a longer distance each time and then started taking me up the hill. They then taught me how to do a J-turn which is the basic turn for skiing and is how we para-skiers control our speed. After I had mastered that, it was time to hit the slopes.
At first one of the instructors held my ski and “drove” to show me how he wanted me to maneuver on the slopes. Then he let me out on the tether. I was finally able to see how it was to ski on my own. I’m not going to lie, it was tough, but once I started to get the hang of it, it was a blast! The ski lift was also an interesting experience. First we had to put the monoski into lift position which basically put the bucket into a higher position so it’s easier for the ski lift to get underneath the bucket. Two instructors got on both sides of my monoski and they lifted the monoski so that the ski lift seat slid right under the bucket of the monoski. They then had a strap that they wrapped around the ski lift seat for extra safety. When we got off the ski lift, they gave the monoski a little push and the instructor guided me to a stop on a flat surface.
The second day I got to WAS they had my monoski ready to go, for the most part. There were a few adjustments that we had to make, but then we took straight to the slopes. We were able to make adjustments the entire session that made skiing more and more comfortable and natural. By the end of the day, I was really happy with how I felt in the monoski. There is still a lot of improvement to be had, but I’d say that this weekend was incredibly productive.
Learning a new sport is always more enjoyable when you have amazing instructors, and WAS is chalked full of them. All of my instructors were absolutely incredible. After only a few minutes on the snow, they knew that I was taking to skiing very quickly and that they could push me to do more. They also knew that I was fairly competitive and was a student who wanted to get good at the sport. The speed that I moved through the program was a lot faster than most, but the instructors are great at going at a speed that you are comfortable with.
So no matter what your disability, I encourage you to get out to Wintergreen Adaptive Sports and take a stab at skiing. To sign up, just go to the Wintergreen Adaptive Sports website (www.wintergreenadaptivesports.org/was-ski-program/ ) and click Sign Up which will take you to their application. A scheduler will call you to set up a session. Then all you have to do is show up and, most importantly, HAVE FUN!
-Sportable Athlete, Sarah Gilbert