Winter can be fun if you get out and enjoy this time of year! Downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, sled hockey, or even curling are some of the activities that can be enjoyed during cold weather.
Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding
Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding is really fun once you have learned how. Today you can see many disabled skiers skiing down ski hills and mountains across the country. Experienced skiers make it look easy but this takes time and practice but the good news is that you too can be schussing down a hill the same day you begin your adaptive skiing lessons. Snowboarding is a newer sport so it may take a bit more research to find a program that offers instruction. More detailed information is on the Disabled Sports USA website.
How to get started? The first thing is to locate a program in your area. Disabled Sports USA has chapters with adaptive ski programs nationwide. Visit their locations page and search for a skiing program near you. If there isn’t a program close to you, call the nearest ski hill and ask if they have an adaptive program. Once you’ve located an adaptive program, call and ask questions about the accessibility of the ski area, and the type of skiing available to you based on your disability. Tell them you have never been on skis before but don’t worry, instructors love to teach you how to ski!
What adaptive equipment is needed? Depending on your level of disability, there are several ways you can downhill ski using different types of adaptive equipment. This is rented or loaned by the program you go to.
Four-track skiing is stand up skiing with outriggers used for support and/or balance. Persons with leg weakness due to spina bifida, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, stroke, head trauma, paraplegia, or polio are candidates. Amputees also use this method while wearing their prosthetic legs. The outriggers have ski tips on the end of a metal forearm crutches with ski tips on the ends.
Sometimes ski stabilizers or tip clamps (ski bras) are used for lateral stability if needed. A tip clamp can also allow a student’s strong side to help control the weaker side. The design of tip clamps allows the skis to stay in a wedge or parallel position while skiing.
The snow slider is another form of four-track skiing for those with more severe balance issues. Skis are mounted to the metal frame making it something like a walker with skis. The skier uses their own boots and skis and is aided by instructors on either side.
Three-track skiing is stand-up skiing using one full-size ski and two handheld outriggers for balance/support, giving the skier three points of contact with the snow. Individuals with above-knee amputations and single limb weakness typically use this method of skiing.
Two-track skiing is suitable for any skier who stands and balances on two skis but may need tethers, spacers, and ski bras while in motion. This method is typically used by those with developmental and cognitive disabilities, mild cerebral palsy, visual impairment, hearing impairment, traumatic brain injury, Fragile X Syndrome, epilepsy, Friedreich’s Ataxia, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, or spina bifida.
Cross-country skiing is skiing over a groomed or natural terrain using arms and legs synchronized in a striding, gliding motion that creates a full-body aerobic workout. This sport can be easily adapted for people who have amputations, vision impairment, spinal injuries, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, stroke or a brain injury. It is a low-risk sport, beginner friendly, and low cost compared to downhill skiing.
What does this sport involve? Cross-country skiing requires the skier to use a self-propelled movement by pushing along with arms (and poles) and kicking off with legs (on cross country skis). As you can imagine, this is a huge aerobic workout, which is good for the heart. Stand-up skiers can use this technique once the basics are mastered with the proper equipment/instruction and sit skiers use a special sled propelled by using their arms. There is typically a higher comfort level with cross-country skiing than with alpine because the sport is done at a slower pace, there are fewer people, it costs less and is convenient.
What adaptive equipment is used? Stand up skiers use standard equipment, which can be modified for prostheses or other conditions. Visually-impaired skiers work with a guide who calls directions and warns of obstacles. Sit skis have a seat balanced over a frame with two cross-country skis about 12 inches apart. The skier sits in the seat with legs extended in front, supported by a footrest. Adaptive ski programs would be the place to start for both proper instruction and equipment.
Sled hockey is a sit-down version of ice hockey for players whose disability prevents them from playing stand-up hockey. Just like stand-up hockey, checking and high-speed slap shots are common features of the sport.
How Is It Played? There is little difference in sled hockey and stand-up hockey. The goal is still to put the puck in the net. Sled hockey players use their arms to power themselves around the ice and their hips to move side to side. There are six players for each team – three forwards, two defensemen, and a goalie. Play is on a regulation sized ice rink with standard size nets and puck with the same amount of regulation play time and two able-bodied referees call the game.
Who Can Play? Sled hockey is played by a wide range of players with a variety of mobility limitations: amputees, spinal cord injuries, spina bifida, along with anyone who has a permanent disability that limits participation in stand-up hockey.
What adaptive equipment is used? The sleds have a lightweight aluminum frame that has a custom bucket to sit in and holds the legs and feet, and it is mounted on two skate blades attached under the bucket. The players use two hockey sticks for propulsion, passing, and shooting. The sticks are about 3 feet long and have metal picks on one end for players to propel themselves. Players who have limited grip can have sticks secured to their hands allowing them to play.
Wheelchair curling is a unique sport that can be played by a wide range of ability levels and ages that doesn’t require a huge amount of physical ability, strength, or endurance. It is a stationary sport that is played while using an everyday wheelchair and is basically a combination of shuffleboard and bowling on a unique ice surface.
How is it played? There are very few rule differences between standing and wheelchair curling. The primary difference is that there is no sweeping in wheelchair curling due to the great difficulty for a wheelchair user to propel down the ice and sweep simultaneously. Two teams of four players each slide 42-pound polished granite stones (also called rocks) across a sheet of ice toward a target, called the “house,” at the other end. Each team tries to get more of its stones closer to the center of the house, called the button, than the other team.
Who can play? The World Curling Federation has established classification guidelines and eligibility criteria with focus on individuals who are non-ambulatory so primarily people who have a spinal injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis or double leg amputation and use a wheelchair for their mobility.
What adaptive equipment is used? What is great about wheelchair curling is that it does not require a specialized wheelchair or expensive adaptive equipment. Each athlete plays in his or her own personal wheelchair and uses a telescopic delivery stick to push the stone. What’s even better is that both power and manual wheelchairs are allowed as long as they have secure wheel locks.
References: Much of the information in this blog was extracted from the Disabled Sport USA website