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Skiing With Disabilities - Adaptive Ski Programs Make It Happen

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Skiing With Disabilities - Adaptive Ski Programs Make It Happen

Adaptive Skiing

Courtesy National Sports Center for the Disabled

Why Sports for People with Disabilities

Much that is included in adaptive sports programs has evolved from efforts to make disabled veterans enjoy a style of living as close to what these veterans had before their injuries. In the aftermath of WWII, it suddenly became apparent to veteran organizations that medicines and surgical skills had developed to the point where a large number of veterans were surviving battlefield injuries and loss of limbs that, in past wars, had meant certain death.

Much was done by organizations in government and others such as the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) to push for training the returning wounded veteran for gainful employment and offer the best medical services possible. However, it wasn’t until the Vietnam War that it was fully realized by rehabilitation specialists that these wounded soldiers were young men who, before their sacrifice, had cherished their involvement in sports and sorely missed not being able to reengage in their hobbies. The medical profession realized that to give these vets the confidence in the ability to carry on a life worth living they had to make their sports available to them again - in a whole new way.

In 1967, a group of disabled Vietnam veterans started what was then called the National Amputee Skiers Association. This organization eventually evolved to cover all sports, was opened to anyone with a permanent disability and became Disabled Sports USA (DS/USA) in 1994. Today DS/USA has more than 80 chapters nationwide, serving 60,000 people annually. Most all adaptive sports programs available today are affiliated the national DS/USA.

Adaptive Skiing

Much attention has been focused on adaptive skiing recently. This is mainly due to exposure relating to the Wounded Warrior Project which, through a partnership between Disabled Sports USA, provides year round sports programs for severely wounded service members from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and the Global War on Terrorism.

One of these DS/USA chapters is Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports (VASS). VASS runs winter sports programs at Pico Mountain and Sugarbush Mountain Resort in Vermont for individuals with all types of disabilities - physical, mental, or cognitive. The organization has instructors and volunteers trained to offer instruction in sit down equipment skiing, three and four point skiing, and has guides for blind skiing. According to Erin P. Fernandez, Executive Director, VASS has a roster of nearly 400 volunteers serving people with disabilities ranging from young kids to seniors over 80. In the winter the program accommodates over 1,000 skier visits, serving clients who use sit down equipment, who need blind-guided skiing and 3 or 4 point stand-up skiers.

Getting Fitted in the Bi-Ski

One of the most important things to understand about any adaptive ski program, according to Director Fernandez is that it is, indeed, a Learn To Ski program. Just as surely as the lesson programs available to able-bodied skiers are there to improve skiing technique and make skiing more enjoyable the same is the goal of adaptive ski programs. To get a feel of what it is like to learn a new way to ski, Erin offered me the services of volunteer Kevin Rice and Pico Mountain VASS Program Director Donna Stanley, to give me a ski lesson in use of the bi-ski.

In the Photo Gallery, you can see the setup of the bi-ski and the mono-ski for sit down skiers and also Kevin holding outriggers for 3 and 4 point skiing. I used a bi-ski - two skis and two sets of edges to turn with - because it is more user friendly for novices.

Kevin and Donna fitted me into the molded poly seat and with sheets of foam padding customized the fit to be secure and yet not too tight. This fitting into the bi-ski is in itself a process requiring practice because the skier may have limited or no feeling. As a result, care must be taken not to over tighten straps or underpad the seat. The handheld outriggers were first adjusted for length and then I had to be schooled in the releasing and locking mechanism to move the outrigger ski from a poling position to a flat skiing position. With that done we moved to the chairlift.

Next Page: The Adaptive Skiing Experience

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