Veterans Heal Through Adaptive Skiing

Veterans are finding adaptive skiing to be a good way to stay active after injury

By Mary Carol Peterson, OT

Skiing is one of those high adrenaline sports that help people get energized after a life changing accident, injury or disease. There are many adaptive skiing programs in the USA that offer camps and clinics just for veterans. One such program is the Steamboat Springs Adaptive Sports Recreation (STARS). Each year this great program offers the Stars and Stripes Heroes Camps for veterans who are dealing with their injuries incurred while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, including PTSD, limb loss, depression and vision impairment.

The STARS’ military and veteran camps are made possible through grants from Disabled Sports USA. STARS provides one-on-one ski instruction, skis or snowboards plus any adaptive equipment that is needed. All the lodging, food and lift tickets is also included so the only cost out of pocket for the veterans is their transportation to and from Steamboat Springs, Colo. This is true for most of the other veteran focused camps too.

The experience was overwhelmingly positive for all of the fifteen participants who came to the STARS’ Stars and Stripes Camp this year.

Brian Edwards, who has a leg amputation, a visual impairment and balance issues said that snowboarding helped him realize that he needs to keep learning.

“Just because you need to use some adaptive equipment doesn’t mean you can’t do it, because you can and the sky is the limit. This experience helped give me a more positive attitude.”

Edwards’ set up included a snowboard and lots of voice commands from his two experienced STARS instructors.

Nate Harrison says that it felt like he was back out riding his motorcycle which he can’t do anymore due to a visual impairment. “The outriggers felt like my motorcycle handlebars and I could really roll my hips into the turns. Being visually impaired doesn’t stop me and this camp proves that.” His set up included a bi-ski, outriggers and tethers plus two instructors.

Another skier named Kathy Shaw was super excited about her new ability to ski. She was injured by a blast while serving our country as a medic stationed in Afghanistan.

“I was so nervous at first that I nearly fainted but by the second day I was skiing green runs without falling and this camp really increased my self-confidence which will help me at home.”

Depending on your ability level, there are several ways you can downhill ski using different types of adaptive equipment. All the adaptive ski programs have specifically trained instructors who are very familiar with the equipment and techniques for success no matter what challenges you face.

 For stand-up skiing, there are four-track, three-track or two-track methods:

Four-track skiing is stand up skiing using standard skies and outriggers equipped with ski tips on the ends to offer 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.  Sometimes tip clamps are used to help the skis to stay in a wedge or parallel position while skiing.

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 tip clamps 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.

Sit-skiing is a technique used by those who cannot stand and instead use a mono-ski or a bi-ski.

 Mono-skiing utilizes a bucket style seat with a single ski underneath it. The skier uses handheld outriggers for balance, requiring strong arms and good core strength and trunk balance. Individuals. Those with brain trauma, post-polio syndrome, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, lower level spinal cord injuries and double amputees are good candidates for mono-skiing.

Bi-skiing utilizes a bucket style seat with two skis underneath it. The typical candidate for the bi-ski would be an individual with a mid- to high-level spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, amputees, or other severe balance impairments.

A bi-ski is typically skied using outriggers and tethers (reins attached to the back of the bi-ski). Skiers turn by either moving their head and shoulders or by using handheld outriggers. A bi-ski a good choice for a new sit-down skier before moving on to the mono-ski, depending on the shared goals of the skier and instructor.

Visual Impairment (VI) is not a barrier to fun on the slopes. Skiers learn to ski with the assistance of a specifically trained guide. For first-time VI skiers, the guide skis first, but facing backwards to the student; students with peripheral vision can be guided from the side. A guide can also call out instructions from behind the skier. The key is for the student and guide to determine the best method of communication before the lessons begin.

Ski bikes are new on the slope scene and can also be a great alternative to use on the slopes if you have orthopedic or balance issues. They are super easy to use and you can get the feel of skiing while sitting down and it steers like a bike!

Camps to check out include:

Steamboat Adaptive Sports Recreation Stars and Stripes Heroes Camp

Disabled Veteran’s Adventure Ski Week – Telluride Adaptive Sports …

Military Veterans Programs – National Sports Center for the Disabled

Adaptive Adventures Ski & Ride Camps | Adaptive Adventures

Specialty Programs | Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation

National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic

Higher Ground – Achieving New Heights Through Adaptive Sports

Dream Adaptive 

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