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Adaptive skiing

While many of us think of winter sports as extreme, having a disability is no barrier to experiencing the thrill of hitting the slopes. As anybody who has witnessed the Winter Paralympics on television will know, it’s possible to enjoy the speed, skill and excitement of skiing – and you don’t have to be an expert to take part, either.

What is adaptive skiing?

Adaptive skiing enables disabled skiers to participate in the sport by making use of specially-designed equipment. The sport has its roots in the aftermath of the Second World War. Injured veterans going through rehabilitative processes responded well to being able to take to the slopes, and from here adaptive skiing has expanded to be inclusive for skiers of all ages and abilities. By law, public ski areas are required to accommodate those with disabilities who want to take to the slopes.

Adaptive skiing was initially restricted to amputees, but in the late 1960’s Jean Eymore – a former ski instructor who had lost his eyesight – started a skiing program in Aspen dedicated to blind skiers. From here, the concept of adaptive skiing has grown to encompass people with all types of disability.

Why consider adaptive skiing?

Sport is a great way to boost stamina, increase fitness and improve mental health. Adaptive skiing can be a therapeutic, caring experience which helps individuals with disabilities to enjoy an adventure and bond over the challenges posed by the slopes. Like traditional skiing, there are runs for sportspeople of all different skill levels, from first-timers to experts. Who knows – the Paralympics could be calling, and you’d never even know until you tried!

Who can get involved with adaptive skiing?

Individuals with brain injuries, visual impairments, hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, post-polio syndrome and a variety of other disabilities take to various slopes around the world every year.

The equipment used by adaptive skiers can vary depending on their disability, but most resorts which cater for disabled participants will have the requisite safety gear in place to allow all visitors to enjoy the slopes.

Adaptive skiing programs across the UK and Europe are on the increase – and with advances in equipment, it’s fast becoming one of the most popular ways to get outside, enjoy exercise and have fun. It allows those who might otherwise be left behind when family and friends go skiing to join in by using a series of rail-like devices, tethers and ski-bottomed crutches to take part.

Adaptive skiing: the disciplines

There are eight types of discipline, as follows:

  • Visually impaired – guides are available for the blind and are generally supplied at no extra charge.
  • Mono ski – a single ski for amputees which can be used in conjunction with ski crutches.
  • Bi-ski – for those with trunk or lower extremity weaknesses, a sit-down “bi-ski” allows for those with balance impairment to experience the thrill of downhill skiing.
  • Developmental – a mixture of various disciplines
  • 3-track – skiers who stand on two skis but require tethering for additional leg strength make use of the 3-track discipline. This method is favoured by those with cerebral palsy, arthritis and spina bifida
  • 4-track – similar 3-track skiing, although the 4-track discipline makes use of extra support.
  • Ski bike – the latest adaptive equipment is quite similar to a bicycle, only it makes use of skis instead of wheels. It’s the perfect cross between sit-down and stand-up skiing.
  • Snowboarding – it’s possible to snowboard with a disability – for those who require leg tethering, this can be a more enjoyable means of experiencing winter sports.

Most people will be able to comfortably navigate the slopes via one of these disciplines, regardless of their personal circumstance or disability. Blindness, deafness, amputations, paraplegia, quadriplegia and cognitive defects are no barrier to skiing. If you’re unsure of which method might be best suited to your requirements, it may be possible to try one or more out at your resort before settling on what works for you.

Youth, disability and skiing

Age, like disability, is no barrier when it comes to skiing. There are several sports camps worldwide which are dedicated to training young persons with disabilities how to ski. Most of these camps are family-oriented with a focus on fun, friendship and personal development.

Dedicated adaptive skiing resorts

While the majority of resorts cater to adaptive skiers, there are also a number of dedicated resorts which feature adapted accommodation, wheelchair accessibility, ski schools for adaptive skiers, special assistance from the airport and easy access to the resort.

Because adaptive skiing is growing in popularity, the demand for resorts across the world is on the increase. Whether you’re considering a trip to the French Alps, an excursion to Norway or a transatlantic trip to the US or Canada, it’s easy to find resorts that cater to the requirements for the able-bodied and disabled alike.

There are even dedicated adaptive skiing schools in the UK where newcomers can learn the basics before heading overseas to enjoy the slopes. If you’re already considering an adaptive skiing holiday, why not take out some travel insurance with Fish Insurance for additional peace of mind?

Getting the logistics right

If you’re a thrill-seeker, you might be tempted to head straight for the fastest, most dangerous runs – but adaptive skiing is no different to standard skiing. It makes perfect sense to get some practice in (and to heed the words of your instructor) before tackling anything challenging.

Once you’ve got a hang of the basics, you’ll wonder why you never considered winter sports before – the adrenaline of careening down the steep slopes and taking in the occasional “high air” during jumps and ramps provides an exhilaration like no other.

The perfect bonding exercise

What better way to make new friends and to bond with existing ones than to take to the slopes? Of course, it’s not all about the skiing – the fresh air taken in and the calories burned while skiing are notorious for helping to work up an appetite, and taking to a traditional restaurant on your resort can be a further way to add enjoyment and team-building to an already enjoyable day. Skiing isn’t about ability (or disability) – it’s about having fun, enjoying the outdoors and trying out new experiences.

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