Sports Therapy Spotlight: Adaptive Ski

Living in Maine, we have a lot of friends who ski throughout the winter. I, on the other hand, have only attempted the sport three times in my life – I can see the appeal, but let’s just say that I like to stop when I want. And not, generally, when I’m dumped unceremoniously off the chairlift in a pile of limbs, poles, and skis, causing mayhem and looking like a noob. So there’s that…

Adaptive downhill skiing however, refers to the tailoring of the sport to meet the needs of people with mental, developmental, and physical disabilities, and it originated in the 1940s to meet the needs of veterans returning from World War II. (<-- thanks, internet!)

Adaptive skiing relies on individualized instruction and specialized equipment, which is chosen based on each person’s unique blend of abilities and challenges. In the beginning, instructors make all decisions for the students, managing their speed and directing their trajectories with tethers, harnesses and shared poles.

The equipment divides into two groups - sitting and standing – and all make use of a variety of specialized ski poles for balance called outriggers, which are fitted with small skis at their business ends.

Sitting adaptive skiing - with or without outriggers – 3 methods:

Mono-ski: a molded ski seat fitted atop a single ski
Bi-Ski: a molded ski seat fitted atop a pair of skis
Ski Bike: picture a bike, and replace the wheels with skis (I beseech you - do NOT try this! It’s a certain recipe for disaster! Sorry – did I just type that? Damn you,
internal-monologue-that-somehow-knows-qwertyuiop! *shakes fist*)

Standing adaptive skiing – 5 ways:

Slider: a framework that adjusts to allow standing skiers to rest while balancing their bodies in a forward position (I’m gonna pass on this one too.)
Two Track: leaves 2 tracks in the snow, from 2 skis only
Three Track: leaves 3 tracks, from one ski and 2 outriggers
Four Track: leaves 4 tracks in the snow, from 2 skis and 2 outriggers
Five track: leaves 5 tracks and pink snow in its wake, from a yeti brandishing a sharp wooden skewer pole. I've been a vegetarian since high school, but I hear that human shish kabobs are delicious! Anthony Bourdain did an entire episode on them. Of course, yetis call them "skis kabobs" - because “shish” is obviously an imaginary word.

As in any sport, the goal is to fade out supports and have the athlete function independently. So instructors actively work on helping skiers to hit the slopes on their own, with the minimum amount of equipment. Perhaps there is hope for me yet! ;)


PS To learn more about adaptive ski, check out my recent podcast interview with Alisa Anderson, who runs the adaptive program at Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont. This article here is also a fantastic overview of things to consider before gearing up with kiddos on the spectrum.

PPS We’re kicking off a challenge to fund 5 weeks of half-day ski instruction to a kiddo on the spectrum at Smuggler’s Notch. If your wallet is too tragically fat, please consider slimming it down here, and we thank you! Also, my man Jeff made a special tee for this gig, as you might have noticed by the artwork above – a baby yeti (minus the dreaded ski kabob!) - let me know what you think! :)

Share this post