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  • "Yes I can!" Adaptive Skiing

    by Vicki Bancroft

    Photo courtesy Winter Park Resort Kids are born to have fun and play. It's a simple fact of life. But if you’re a kid born with a disability - or an accident leaves you disabled - it can be hard to play, especially on snow. When your balance is off, or muscles don’t work too well, simple pastimes like playing ball or riding a bike - never mind sliding on snow - become major challenges.

    But there’s good news. Adaptive skiing programs function nationwide, allowing kids to get on the snow and ski with the help of specially designed equipment and really special people.

    Here’s how it works.

    Basically, the equipment offers two ways to ski - you either sit down or stand up.

    If you sit down, you use a "sit-ski" which is sort of like a sled on skis. It has a molded seat to hold you securely and a horizontal bar to hold on to, if you can. The seat is attached to two skis that are side by side and two outrigger smaller skis. The sit-ski is tethered to the adaptive ski instructors who control the speed and direction.

    Sam is a twelve-year old, born with cerebral palsy. Although he is able to walk using crutches, he doesn’t have the balance or muscle control needed to ski upright. He is able to ski, using a sit-ski. His father gets to ski with Sam alongside the instructors.

    "I never imagined Sam would ever ski, so I gave it up for a long time. I just stopped skiing," shared Sam’s dad. "When we learned about the program at Waterville Valley, I still had my doubts, but as soon as I saw the look on my son’s face, I knew we could do this. I went out and bought myself some new skis for the first time in years.”

    Kids who have better control of their arms than their legs, can advance to using outrigger ski poles. They can steer on the snow by themselves much more reliably than those who rely on the tethering.

    Tom was injured in a snowmobile accident several years ago and was left paralyzed from the waist down. Being a paraplegic, he developed excellent upper body strength which enabled him to use a sit-ski independently.

    "I knew I couldn’t stay off the snow, so I just learned a different way to ski. Most of my friends can’t keep up with me anymore." Tom gleamed.

    Those with the ability to stand and walk can often ski in the traditional standing position with just a few modifications.

    Jared was born with Down Syndrome, a genetic condition that results in global developmental delays including speech and cognitive deficits. He had been involved in swimming from a young age and had developed good motor skills. His family became interested in adaptive skiing for Jared when his younger brother expressed an interest in snowboarding.

    "We decided to give it a try for both the boys," his mother shared. "Jared found his balance fairly quickly on skis using outrigger poles for extra support. He spent a lot of time on a fairly level surface getting his confidence, but soon he was able to go up a small hill with the instructors."

    Skiing brings a family together in a way that few other recreational pursuits do. Similarly, the entire family benefits when a special needs child can be involved in adaptive recreational activities. These children often lack self confidence and self esteem. Participation in adaptive skiing and similar programs can offer the child a sense of accomplishment they’ve perhaps never felt before.

    Sam has been skiing in the adaptive program for four years now. When asked what he thinks about it, his answer is direct. "It’s fun . . . I like it because it’s fun to ski."

    Adaptive skiing programs are plentiful throughout the United States and offer services to adults as well as children. In addition to skiing, many programs offer snowboarding and Nordic skiing, plus a host of summer activities. Volunteers join with professional staff to offer an experience that benefits all parties involved. As stated in the mission statement of Maine Handicapped Skiing, "our staff and volunteers are committed to providing professional instruction in a comfortable and supportive atmosphere to create a caring community and a fun experience for all participants (athletes, volunteers and staff)."

    When it comes to adaptive skiing programs, everybody wins. That's a very special event indeed.

    To Get More Information

    A complete list of ski areas offering adaptive programs can be found at the National Ski Areas Association website,; click on "Ski Area Information" and then find "Adaptive Programs" in the drop-down menu. Other resources include:

  • Adaptive Ski Program at Snowshoe (WV) Mountain;
  • Adaptive Sports Foundation at Windham Mountain;
  • Adaptive Ski Program New Mexico;
  • Disabled Sports USA Far West / The Tahoe Adaptive Ski School;
  • Maine Handicapped Skiing;
  • National Sports Center for the Disabled at Winter Park Resort;
  • New England Handicapped Sports Association;
  • SKIFORALL Foundation (Bellevue, WA);

    ......Vicki Bancroft is a physical therapist, freelance writer and contributor to the New Bedford (MA) Standard-Times ski journalist and mother of two who lives in Massachusetts.

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