The upside of going downhill
By Ijeoma Ross
We happened upon skiing almost by accident. Four years ago we had a bad case of cabin fever. Canadian winters are hard with a child in a wheelchair. Going down south or on a cruise was too expensive. Cruising online we happened across Maine Handicapped Skiing (now Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation) based at Sunday River Ski Resort.
We couldn’t believe that our son Deane could go skiing at Maine Adaptive for free (the group offers free lessons to children and adults with physical disabilities). Deane, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, would be taught to ski by volunteers. And we could ski with him. We booked five afternoons and over March Break drove to Sunday River.
The team at Maine Adaptive was amazing. They have an occupation therapist and equipment “doctor” on site who assessed Deane’s strengths and abilities and adjusted and adapted equipment for him. Their building is slopeside so the skiers can get fitted and go right on to the hill.
It is a busy place with volunteers and skiers of all abilities coming and going. Deane and his “team” made up primarily of his father (Mark) and a good friend (Ali), who is a keen skier, were immediately welcomed. Because of their experience, expertise and friendliness, we will be going back for our fourth year in March.
For the first two years, Deane skied in a slider – the front of a walker on skis with arm rests for him to help support his weight while on his own skis. A volunteer would control his speed and direction from behind using straps attached to the slider.
The volunteers were more than willing to teach Mark and Ali how to control the slider. By the end of the second year, the volunteers were there primarily in a teaching role.
Other family members and friends could ski down the hill with Deane - as long as we stayed out of the way!
This past year we switched to a sit ski because Deane had the beginnings of hip dysplagia. Deane was more than happy with the move. Because the sit ski is more stable it can go faster and Deane loves speed. Now I’m working to keep up with him.
For the past two winters, we have also been skiing with the Canadian Association of Disabled Skiing (CADS) at Brimacomb Ski Hill outside of Oshawa.
There are provincial branches of CADS across the country with different ski hills running programs. In total CADS has 1,130 skiers assisted by 1,900 volunteers to participate in recreational and competitive snow skiing and snowboarding.
At Brimacomb, a team of dedicated volunteers take 30 skiers out on the hills for one of three 1.5 hour lessons each Sunday for eight weeks during January and February. All equipment is provided by CADS.
It is a tight-knit group of instructors, volunteers, family members all there to help the skiers get the most out of their time on the hill.
All of the instructors and volunteers must be trained on all of the equipment from sit skis to harnesses for blind skiers and three-track outriggers for leg amputees. Family members are encouraged to take the training so they understand the process. The cost is $110 for participants and $35 for volunteers to cover the insurance.
It was at Brimacomb that Deane first moved into a sit ski. Mark and Ali were trained to drive (holding on to the back bar on the sit ski) and tether (holding a strap while skiing behind as an anchor). In our first year, I found it difficult to keep up with the speed of sit ski.
This year, I have learned to tether and have loved being a crucial part of Deane’s skiing.
There are not many activities that both Deane and his sister Rayne, who is not disabled, can do together. Skiing is one of them. It has become an integral part of our family’s recreation.
On the iPad Deane uses to communicate, he will readily tell you that he likes the chair lifts, the sit ski and going fast. What we thought was just a rash idea to cure cabin fever has become a way of life for all of us.