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Skiing and Snowmobiling
Adapted skiing took off with the invention of the "sit-ski" and the "mono-ski," benefiting both snow- and water-skiers. Outdoor enthusiasts with disabilities of all types, from paraplegia to blindness, can glide swiftly over fresh snow right alongside their non-disabled peers. Their accomplishments are many, ranging from the recreational level to professional competition.
Several types of skiing are possible, with plenty of new adaptive equipment available to make it do-able. Depending on your interests and physical ability, choose from Alpine (downhill) skiing, Nordic (cross-country), sit-skiing or mono-skiing, or two-, three- and four-track skiing. Each option has its own unique features that should be considered prior to selection. These include snow skirts, roll bars, backrests, cushioning, safety straps and tethering ropes.
The Buddy system employs a second skier or guide to assist a disabled skier in negotiating a ski slope or trail. Used initially with visually impaired or blind skiers, the concept has been extended to programs for the deaf and mentally impaired. This system involves a 50-50 relationship between guide and skier, with the guide assuming a great deal of responsibility for the safety of the disabled skier. Communication is key to navigating a skier who in many cases may have poor balance, rigid and uncoordinated movements, and a poor sense of speed.
One of the largest categories of disabled skiers is those who "three-track," or use one ski and two outriggers. Outriggers are an adapted version of a forearm crutch and a shortened ski or mini-ski. Outriggers provide extra balance and steering maneuverability that a standard ski pole doesn't. They are height-adjustable and convert to walking crutches. Three-trackers usually are single-leg amputees or have some type of hemiplegic impairment. Hemiplegics can also use an additional adaptive support for a weak leg.
Four-track skiing is virtually the same as three-track except the skier uses the second ski. The purpose and use of the outrigger remains the same.
A common problem for beginning skiers, both disabled and nondisabled, is keeping the two skis separate and straight, parallel to one another. The solution is a ski bra, consisting of two metal pieces that attach to the front ski tips. When the two pieces are attached, the ski bra prevents the skier from crossing tips.
Sit-skiing involves the use of a sled, with or without a ski attached. This concept originated in Norway and was introduced in the United States in 1979. Sit-skiing opened up skiing to thousands of people with severe lower extremity impairments. All initial instruction on sit-skis should be done by a certified instructor who is using a tether. Sit-skiers are not allowed to ski untethered until they pass certification tests.
For those of us who would rather not take on high slopes, there is also Nordic (cross-country) sit-skiing, which has gained greater popularity since bi-ski pulls became available. Given the type of sit-ski used, the skier's choice of poles or steering/brake equipment may vary. Options include standard and shortened ski poles, outriggers, standard poles taped together, short ice-picks, and even brass knuckles with or without a supportive wrist.
The introduction of the mono-ski and the bi-ski has dramatically changed the nature of sit-skiing. The connection of the seat to a single or double ski by means of a complex suspension system has taken the skier off the ground with speeds approaching 70 mph!
Special ski equipment for amputees is available in a wide variety of terminal devices and lower extremity prostheses, such as the All-Terrain Ski Terminal Device that holds ski poles and has a quick disconnect feature. It is manufactured by Therapeutic Recreation Systems (TRS). Many more manufacturers make terminal devices and prosthetics for sports.
Two-track skiing is stand-up skiing without the use of any outriggers. Three-track skiing provides 3 points of contact with one being an outrigger. Four track skiing uses 2 outriggers.
This Adaptive Skiing Resort Guide describe the various types of adaptive skiing and the programs at 3 resorts: Jackson Hole, Winter Park and Whistler. If you are considering adaptive skiing, take a look at this informational site.
Snowmobiling is an easy and very accessible way of taking in the great outdoors and crisp winter air. The general features of snowmobiles are similar to wheelchairs: Seat height, hand-controls and no foot pedals or foot-activated controls make snowmobiling very inviting to individuals with mobility impairments.
Selection of equipment is based on an individual's specific disability. Good upper- body strength and reliable hand control are essential for safe use of any snowmobile. Snowmobiles should never be operated by individuals under the influence of alcohol or by anyone younger than 16. Equipment modifications can include the attachment of looped rubber tubing to the foot platform to maintain the lower extremities in the proper position. Layered clothing for individuals with poor or limited circulation in the lower extremities is advised. Anyone interested in this activity should consult local dealers for suggestions on equipment selection and assistance making modifications.