Living with multiple sclerosis, Learning to make the world accessible, Loving life with all of its challenges

Adventures Accessible Lifestyle Health & Fitness

Adaptive Ski – Hitting the Slopes with Accessible Ski and Ride Programs

Adapt. If there’s one thing living with living with progressive multiple sclerosis teaches you, it’s how to adapt. Because while your body may change your ability to do the things you’ve always done, your mind still wants to do them. When Dre’s MS hit a point where he could no longer strap on the skis and hit the Colorado slopes he loves so much, it was a pretty devastating blow. Fortunately, we found the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center’s (BOEC) Adaptive Ski and Ride Program, and that made a day on slopes not just a possibility, but a reality.

Growing up in Colorado, adaptive ski and and ride programs are something I’d heard about, but hadn’t really thought about in connection with Dre’s MS. When we first came to the realization that his balance and mobility were affected to the point where he could no longer independently ski, his first thought was that he would have to give up skiing. It didn’t occur to us at that time that he would be a candidate for an adaptive program. Then we saw a news story on a former Olympic skier who suffered from MS. Using a sit ski at a local adaptive program, the skiier was back on the slopes. We knew we had to give it a try and boy are we are glad we did.

Click on the video below to watch some of the fun on the slopes with BOEC

So What’s Adaptive Ski?

The beauty of adaptive ski and ride programs is that they are exactly that. There’s no one way to describe exactly how adaptive ski works because it’s unique to each individual’s needs. Whether a person suffers from a neuro-muscular disease like Dre, a physical handicap, loss of limb, cognitive handicap, sight or hearing impairment… whatever it may be, BOEC figures out which adaptation will make for the best day out on the slopes.

On this, our second trip with BOEC, Dre opted for the sit ski. There is a modification  the program used on our first trip two years ago that allowed him to do a standing ski, but since it had been a while, he stuck with the sit ski this time around.

Sit Skis in the BOEC

For the sit ski, each participant gets a guide and a volunteer to assist them. The guide is an employee of BOEC and skis behind the sit ski with two straps that help guide and control the sled as it goes down the hill. The volunteer follows behind and assists with helping get the sit ski on and off the lift. For the record, every person we’ve worked with in the adaptive ski and ride program is an incredible individual, dedicated to making sure their love of the slopes is accessible to everybody.

Just because you’re sitting doesn’t mean you’re not skiing

We were paired up with Robby and John, an outstanding duo with incredible energy, fun attitudes and a lot of smiles. On top of that, boy can they ski. John, a veteran volunteer for the program, explained to me he gets to be the lifter because he has a good back. Robby, who’s been with the program around five years, was in charge of controlling the sled. His top priority was to make sure Dre got the day on the slopes he wanted. This came across with their first conversation.

Cruising down the hill in the sit ski

Robby: “What kind of skiing did you like to do before your MS?”

Dre: “Bumps.”

Robby: “So you wanna do some bumps?”

Dre: “Sure!”

Robby: “All right. Let’s find some bumps.”

For those of you who aren’t avid skiers, bumps are moguls and typically hit by relatively advanced skiers. Robby’s attitude pretty much sums up what the BOEC makes you feel when you’re in their program. They’re not skiing with disabled participants, they’re skiing with perfectly able people who need an adaption to make the slopes accessible. And this attitude makes for a pretty good feeling.

Our two guides also ensured that I was able to ride the chair lift with them so I could enjoy a day on the slopes with my husband. As anyone in a relationship with someone with a disability knows, being able to do the things you’ve always loved to do with your spouse is good for both of your souls.

Don’t worry, you’ll get the full ski or ride experience

After a couple of warm up runs to help get Dre used to the sled and get a rhythm between the two of them, they definitely had their chemistry down. Dre wanted to go fast, and Robby made sure he did. They found that hill with the bumps, and Robby’s only warning was, “be prepared, we might tip over.” The only thing slowing them down was having to stop and wait for me to catch up on my snow board.

This is not saying that Robby was ever unsafe or careless. Safety and ensuring an injury free day is a top priority for sure. But it’s also nice to know for a former black diamond skier, life on the slopes is not now subjected to being put in bubble wrap and riding beginner runs all day. If you ride moguls you know the bumps come with falls, and that’s part of the fun.

View from the top! Heading down the mountain with Keystone in the background.

If a skier or rider wants to go slower and stay on some easier runs, that’s what the guide will give them. But if they want to relive the thrill of bouncing through a mogul field or gliding down a more difficult run, that’s still available.

And don’t be fooled that because you’re in a sit ski you’re simply along for the ride. The steering on the ski is done from the rider, by turning and shifting their body. This is a pretty big workout for the core and back muscles. By the end of the day Dre’s core was burning, but he was also smiling ear to ear.

A few things to think about

Prior to booking with BOEC or any other adaptive ski and ride program, you will want to do some research on accommodations for your particular needs. Of course, checking with your doctor to ensure you’re up for the physical activity is always a good idea. There is paperwork you’ll need to fill out on your condition and medical history as well as waivers to sign. Going over all of this prior to your visit will save time and help your guide know as much information as possible. This also gives you an idea of considerations to keep in mind when taking a day on the slopes.

Calling ahead to find out the best places to park or drop off a skier will also be helpful, particularly if you’re headed up during busy ski times. Also, if BOEC isn’t close for you, look around. There are many different programs depending on your location, region and preferences.

Adapt – Don’t Stop

Whether a disability takes over slowly or comes on suddenly, one of the biggest challenges is recognizing life is still out there to live. It may require some adaptations and a little help from new friends, but a day on the slopes with your spouse is not a thing of the past, thanks to programs like BOEC adaptive ski and ride.

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