Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The upside of going downhill


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.


I just loved the photos, we got Oatie Downhill skiing too this well the end of last year. We took lessons with a CADS instructor who taught my husband to bucket ski with Oatie in November and then in January we went on our very first family ski vacation in Kimberley. Our CADS instructor phoned Kimberley to reserve our Bi-Sit Ski and my parents flew in from England and we the 7 of us skied together for the very first time. Oatie loves speed too, and kept on pointing at the black runs... ! LOL! We were like nooo.... you'll have to be an independent skier for that!

I don't know if you found easy availability of the Bi-skis but in Alberta they are scarce and usually specific mountain bound.. so I am thinking about embarking a fundraiser to raise money for adaptive sports equipment, not this year but some time in the future as there would be many things to set up.

Here are some photos of Oatie Skiing


Best Wishes,


P.S Please feel free to follow our blog if you like :)

Mark here - Deane's dad. I just read the post, couldn't agree more. This one-off idea has turned into an awesome way of life for our family. The thrill of rushing down the hill, as a family, is just awesome.

Thanks everyone -- yes Mel, I will check out your blog.

I love your idea of the fundraiser to raise money for adaptive equipment! It would be interesting to know about how Maine Adaptive raises funds to be able to provide its services free to children. Do you know Ijeoma or Mark?

Mark and Ijeoma -- The photos are breathtaking and I love hearing about your family speeding down the hill together. Very cool!

It makes me want to try it with Ben, but I have bad knees and can't ski :(

But maybe D'Arcy could try it and I could be a spectator! :)

Thanks so much for sharing with us!

Mark -- maybe you would like to write a blog for us sometime? Cheers