Growing up, I went skiing with my family a few times each year. Skiing in Northern Wisconsin is not for the faint of heart, since winter temperatures were never warm and sometimes even below zero. I’m not sure if it was the cold, the expense, my schedule (gymnastics season was in winter), or my own physical/psychological limitations, but I never became more than a mediocre skier. After high school, living on the west coast put me in proximity to actual mountains, but – without a car – even a few hours is an impossible distance, so I never graduated from mediocrity. I loved the adventure of it – especially when trying to keep up with my brothers or Ted – but my sense of adventure was always stronger than my technique. Still, that spirit and that foundation served me well when trying to learn to sit ski.
As my MS progressed, the loss of mobility wreaked havoc with my sense of identity and place in the world. Who was I, if not an adventurous and active do-er? After years of asking this question without answer, I discovered Outdoors For All , a local non-profit organization offering adaptive outdoor activities. I have since tried some of their summer sports – kayaking, water skiing, and biking – but I started with their most famous program – alpine skiing.
Christmas Day 2016 (video by Ingrid, while skiing!)
With two skis underneath, it is much more stable than a monoski. Their design allows you to be connected to someone via a tether, so that he/she can assist you with turning and stopping. Because my muscles can fatigue before I do, I rely on that backup assistance to help me out when I can no long initiate my own turns or stops. Unfortunately, most biskis are difficult to impossible to self-load, requiring reliance on two able-bodied skiers to help you on and off of the chair lift. I started with a Mountain Man biski, but I soon switched to a Bi-Unique (I think they fit better for those of us with hips). I have also tried a HOC and a Tessier: both of these are high-performance machines – they turn on a dime, requiring less effort to steer, stop, and load. In addition, they have shock absorbers, which is a life-saver when going over bumps and moguls with only your spine to absorb the shock.
I started out at Summit West at Snoqualmie Pass in WA (about 45 minutes from Seattle). The lodge is quite accessible, but the skiing is limited. If I could more easily go between the different parts of Summit (East, Central, West, Alpental), there would be plenty of good runs available, but I think that the connections between the ski areas are tricky (relatively flat or lengthy) and not all of the lodges are wheelchair accessible.
|Mt Rainier at Crystal Mountain
In recent years, I’ve mainly been skiing at Stevens Pass (about 2 hours from Seattle). Two of the lodges at Stevens have ground floor access and an elevator (which has never been out of service, in my experience), allowing access to the restrooms, chairlift area, cafeteria, and bar/restaurants. Stevens Pass offers a free companion/guide lift ticket for sit skiers. The top of the Tye Mill chair lift has a fantastic view of the Cascades.
A friend told me that Mt Bachelor has a good adaptive skiing program, so I hope to try that later this year. The jury is still out on whether Mt Hood and Mt Baker would be good sit-ski possibilities. I know that some of the ski resorts in Colorado and Utah have adaptive ski programs, as do many of the Canadian ski resorts in British Columbia.
My favorite place to ski so far is Revelstoke, in British Columbia. They have over 1 mile of vertical, with long, fun, relatively uncrowded ski runs and an adaptive ski program with extremely reasonable prices and the most incredible staff. They allowed Ted to tether me and provided a great mountain guide/lifter, who we ended up skiing with all of the time. They helped me get my wheelchair and sit ski up the gondola in the morning and back down at the end of the day. The lifties were familiar with loading/unloading sit skis on chairlifts. I hope to go back again later this year.
(they don't only come in bright yellow!)
A second recommendation is a “turtle” or neck gaiter. Because sit skis put you so close to the snow, a lot of turns result in snow spraying directly into your face. To avoid finishing each run with a frozen, snowy face, I recommend a turtle or balaclava that covers your neck and can be pulled up to cover your lower face as well. Finally, I would recommend the warmest possible boots and gloves, reinforced with hand and toe warmers. Wind can be brutal on the chair lift or at the top of a run. Your feet are strapped in and don’t move. Breathability is less of an issue than heat retention. In addition, many people with spinal cord injuries have difficulties with temperature regulation.
Many of the resorts provide volunteers, instructors, and/or rental equipment through their ski schools or a local non-profit organization. If you own or can rent your own equipment, you are not limited to ski resorts with adaptive ski programs. In that case, you should look for resorts with wide blue runs (unless you’re really good, of course), chairlifts that take at least three people (you and a lifter on each side), and staff that either has experience with sit skis or a positive attitude about making it work. And, if you even happen to be in the Pacific Northwest and want to go skiing (either standing or sitting), let me know!