For a very long time I though that I would never be able to ski. Sometimes my friends left for winter break and I even didn’t question myself about if I wanted to go with them or not. I was so wrong! We can have a disability and ski!
Franck told me about sit ski some years ago when we lived in Lyon, near the French Alps. I didn’t really paid attention to it. But this year I decided to change my life and above all to dare!
We are in Taupo for two weeks. This is a really nice city in the center of the north island located one hour and a half drive from a ski resort. That is the perfect opportunity. I don’t think twice, I borrow some ski clothes from our hosts and let’s go to Whakapapa Resort in Mount Ruapehu! On Thursday 11th of august I am on the road, ready to enjoy my first ski lesson. I can’t wait to try it! It is crazy : I will drop my wheelchair to go skiing on a volcano in New Zealand!
There are two resorts in Mount Ruapehu but only Whakapapa offers adaptive lessons for disabled people, including people with a visual impairment. In Whakapapa two instructors who followed a specific training to give individuals lessons of adaptive ski. I meet Carlota, my Spanish instructor, who do ski seasons in Spain and in New Zealand because of the opposite seasons in the north and south hemispheres.
Adaptive ski lessons: learning to ski with a handicap
First stage: to set up myself in the sit ski. The sit-ski is a seat which rests on suspensions. Under those, there is one or two skis. We call them uniski or dualski. As for me, I will use a dualski because this is the easiest way to start. When I am sitting on it I need someone to make to stable it, to hold it. The shell is very tight around the thighs and waist. My body is really well maintained. There is no way to escape ! After that, I get these kind of little skis to hold. They are some kind of sticks with little skis at the bottom. First I have to attach them around my arms, the same way as we do with crutches. Then I need to adjust the backrest in order to form a 90° angle with my legs and body. This is much more confortable and, above all, it is easier to ski because the arms and the little skis must go forward if I want to be able to guide myself in every direction.
Ok, Now I’m ready. First step: I have to find my balance without moving. I just need to find my balance by myself using my « little skis » on the ground. Also I have to succeed to lean without falling. I find it easy. Carlotta explain to me how I can move forward and go backwards on a flat area. To do that I use the « little skis » which end with a piece of sheet metal and I stick them in the snow. OMG! The first time I almost didn’t move! I felt like I was stuck. The sit ski seemed so heavy. Fortunately after 5 minutes I succeeded to do it.
Now I know how to handle my sit ski without moving. The next step is to learn how to go down the slope. Carlotta is attached to my sit ski with a strap and an assistance bar. She guide me during the first descent and I do nothing. The point is to make me feel the sledging. During the next descents I learn how to turn left and right. To do that I need to lean in the direction I want to go. Basically It’s the same as when you drive a motorbike. I also have to use then « little skis » and to lean them on their sides to steer the sit ski. A bit like ordinary skiers. Doing it on my left side it’s easy whereas it’s more difficult on my right side. My 2 hours lesson is already finished. That was really cool even if, at this point, I still doubt that I will be able to ski by myself one day and to go with Franck on the slopes. I really want to do some sit ski again and to continue to learn how to do it. It does feel a bit overwhelming at first since learning sit ski is more difficult than regular ski. I decide to book 4 more hours of lessons with Carlota on the next Tuesday: two in the morning and two in the afternoon. Franck will be with us the afternoon to learn how to help me , especially to get on the ski lift.
The next Tuesday I’m back in Mount Ruapehu. Let’s go for another skiing day! So excited! Franck take the morning to go skiing alone all around the mount while I am working on my shifts, especially in the right. Like I am a right-handed person it might seems weird that this is more difficult to do this movement on the right. In fact it is easy to explain that : I use my walking stick with my right arm. Consequently this arm is far more muscled and has more resistance. So it’s more hard to learn a new body move. I am doing it better but it is not very smooth yet.
After a sunny lunch I start a new session but this time Franck stay with Carlota and I. As soon as I go through the first descent this is the revelation. I don’t know what happened but I suddenly get it. I do a series of bends on each side very easily. For the rest of the class Franck learn how to lean the sit ski backrest and how to help me getting on the the ski lift. As for me, I learn how to brake. To do this I use the pieces of sheet metal at the end of my « little skis ». The difficulty is that a sit ski move really fast. Faster than a « normal » ski so using these to brake it not always the best solution. When I go really fast the best way to slow the sit ski down is to slow down step by step doing bends one after another. I think I easily get it because, without knowing it, I have already done it during the previous descents. Carlota made a good job! Now I can ski alone! Carlota stays behind me but she doesn’t guide me anymore. She doesn’t hold the sit ski any longer. I am autonomous, I will be able to ski with Franck! The last thing I need to learn is to get on a ski lift by myself and to practise on harder slopes. But to achieve that I don’t need more lessons.
This day was perfect. I felt so happy. Now I know I can ski. I am glad and proud that I achieved a new challenge. Right now I just want to go back there on the volcano and ski again! So I you have a disability but you want to try it do not hesitate. Go for it, it is awesome!
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