Adaptive skiing: how to get started

Top 10 Tips for Getting Back Into Skiing in the UK

For those of you wanting to get into (or back into) skiing here are my top tips for you (particularly for those based in the UK):

  1. Get in touch with Disability Snowsport UK – they run some great trips for people with a range of disabilities.
  2. DSUK also operate at the indoor ski slopes around the UK where they offer lessons to skiers with disabilities. It’s a great place to start before committing to a trip abroad.
  3. There are a few ski plexes around the UK. My favourite is called Chel-ski which is in central London. They have a team of fantastic instructors and are experienced with adaptive skiing. My experience here improved my skiing no end!
  4. Work on general fitness before getting started skiing – pulled muscles are not fun and you’ll be using muscle groups you don’t necessarily use normally.
  5. Ski kit is expensive so don’t rush out to get all the best gear at first – often you can rent everything first, so figure out if it’s the sport for you and what equipment you need. Likewise, lots can be picked up secondhand – most of my race skis were bought second hand!
  6. Be prepared to put some time in before you get the hang of it, adaptive skiing can be tricky!
  7. There is a race of adaptive equipment and it’s not a case of ‘one size fits all’ so be prepared to try a few different types of equipment if you can to find out what works for you.
  8. Back Up run ski courses, so if you have a spinal cord injury (of any level) and are based in the UK, give them a shout!
  9. There are many adaptive ski schools all over the world – either search online or give us a holler and we’ll try and advise. Beth knows lots of them in the USA and I know some in Europe.
  10. Maybe an obvious one but snow is cold! Layers are essential.

My first ski season to the USA

I’ve just got back to the UK after spending just under three months in the USA. This was my fourth time coming out there so it’s no longer a big deal for me. The first time I came out was only a few years after my injury and was quite a big step for me at the time. The prospect of staying in a not entirely accessible accommodation, alone, without knowing many people in the town was intimidating. But I wanted to do it as a personal challenge to push out of my comfort zone and move forward with my life. Back when I was learning how to ski, I spent so much of my time falling over on the hill, and consequently felt achy and sore basically all the time, which made life a struggle! But the trip clearly worked because I’ve been coming back every year since. And it sure is nice not to be feeling sore all the time anymore!
Me fallen over in a monoski
How I spent a lot of my time during my first season!

Winter Park and the NSCD

Winter Park is a fantastic destination for people with disabilities to go skiing, either on a long or short-term basis. The NSCD (National Sports Center for the Disabled) is a great place for adaptive skiing (it also has other sporting opportunities in the summer like rafting and horse-riding). This is where I learnt how to ski after my spinal cord injury when I came out with charity, Back Up, which was an absolutely transformative experience for me. It’s great for those just starting out to get lessons. The NSCD now offer the Bridge Program, suitable for those who are wanting to advance their skills or move into ski racing. And it has the world-famous competition programme which has a range of abilities, from those just starting out, to two-time gold medalists such as Kiwi, Adam Hall who has spina bifida and just won a gold medal in slalom in PyeongChang.

Some organisations that offer adaptive skiing

The NSCD caters for a vast range of disabilities too long to list. They have a great attitude about being inclusive and adapting people to get out on the mountain. It is a very inspiring place to be. This season I was on the hill when I met a man who was a triple amputee and was learning how to ski with the NSCD – he was absolutely amazing and I really enjoyed taking some turns with him. It is a place like no other!

The NSCD relies on a huge number of volunteers to take skiers out, as well as instructors. Some of the volunteers have been involved with the organisation for years and really know their stuff. They are passionate about the NSCD and it has often changed their lives as well as that of the participants. I know, for me, I owe a huge amount of gratitude to the instructors and volunteers for getting me going particularly in that first season. Jane Sowerby, founder of the amazing Access Adventures was very instrumental in this for me and is a brilliant instructor. Anyone wanting to get involved in some adaptive adventures including skiing, waterskiing/ wakeboarding, kitesurfing as well as downhill mountain biking, check their website  out: accessadventures.co.uk. As mentioned above, Disability Snowsport, are a great place to start and Ski 2 Freedom are a great online resource for more information about adaptive skiing.

Me with my instructor, Jane, during my first season
Jane showing me the ropes (as well as a huge amount of patience!)

Winter Park is very accessible for people with disabilities because, partly thanks to the ADA bus, it’s possible to stay there without a car and be able to get around town. It’s a fantastic service where people with a disability can call the bus and can be picked up and taken wherever they need to go within the valley. It’s basically a chauffeur service! I’ve found there are definitely some perks to having a disability – especially with regards to travelling! And this service definitely makes skiing for people with disabilities more accessible, as it’s often a problem getting around a ski resort, unless you have a car.

Why Colorado?

Colorado is obviously a long way to travel from the UK and it’s a real shame there isn’t a similar set-up closer to home. There is definitely a demand for it and people often ask if there’s anything in Europe. Perhaps someday there will be a similar centre set up there but for now, it’s definitely a hub for ski-lovers with a disability, which people return to year on year. Having been going there to train for a few years now I definitely see many of the same faces each year.

For the last few years, I’ve been out there when Back Up have sent a group out there, which is an amazing experience to be a part of. Seeing people go through what I went through when I did the same in 2012 is remarkable. Back Up have just announced, after not running their skiing course this year, that it will be back next year so that is definitely something to celebrate! It’s great to see more people get the ski bug!

The NSCD team of athletes and former athletes and coaches
The NSCD run a fundraising race every year called the Wells Fargo Cup which involves current and past athletes

Other people on the mountain

Once independent at skiing, Winter Park is a great place to be because people are accustomed to seeing adaptive skiers out on the mountain. The ‘lifties’ are great and people are mostly happy to help out if need be. I remember the first time I went out skiing completely alone during my first season and how liberating it felt! I’m okay with picking myself up provided the terrain is steep enough but it’s another story on the flats. So if I’m alone and need help, I’ll flag someone down and 99% of the time they’re happy to help. The town has some of the nicest and kindest people I’ve come across – I don’t know whether it’s the American thing, coming from London where strangers rarely interact with each other, or just being in the mountains that makes people so great!

Different types of skiing

This year I had an absolute blast freeskiing as I decided to move away from ski racing. I explored more of the mountain than I ever have, skied some trees (which I love and am determined to do more of in the future and improve my confidence with it) and made a breakthrough with skiing powder! Having an injury level of T3/4 means I have no core which makes balancing quite difficult anyway. Combine that with a foot of powder and that really throws your balance! Heavy snow often grabs your outriggers which makes it more challenging.

The fact that it is possible to ski the whole mountain, independently, was one of the things that attracted me to adaptive skiing in the first place. I loved that I could leave my wheelchair by the chairlift and go and explore the mountain, eventually, completely independently. It’s completely liberating and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

It is one of the things I love about sit skiing and what drew me to it in the first place

This year I was able to remember how much enjoyment and freedom skiing gave me. With skiing gates, I spent so much time getting my technique right and focusing on my line, that I held back from going fast even when freeskiing. This season I definitely found my need for speed!

 

Me skiing on a powder day

If you can, try it!

After sustaining my spinal cord injury and having the opportunity to go away and learn how to ski in a sit ski with Back Up it has really changed my life. It provided a freedom and challenge that I was missing after becoming paralysed. There are opportunities both in the UK and abroad to go skiing. It can be a costly business so I would recommend giving it a go on home soil first, but it’s also an amazing experience, and one that I will keep doing for as long as I’m able to!

Beth and I are pretty knowledgeable about adaptive skiing so do comment below and ask us any questions. If we don’t know the answer we’ll be able to point you in the direction of someone who can!
Me raising my right arm and outrigger whilst in several feet of fresh snow in my monoski
Is deception so bad? Some success in the deep powder, some not so much…!

 

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