Even though Learn to Ski & Ride month is officially over, here in Colorado Ski Country USA, we feel that every month is Learn to Ski & Ride month. (You can put that in needlepoint if you like.) This week we focus on the world of adaptive skiing. Many Ski Country resorts offer programs and lessons for adaptive skiers of all ages, and Winter Park is actually home of the National Sports Center for the Disabled.
Crested Butte is one resort that offers an adaptive sports program and to get some tips on successfully navigating terrain, as well as ways to have an enjoyable outing on the slopes, we tapped an expert and professional out of Crested Butte’s Adaptive Sports Center, Ann Papenfuss.
Below, Ann takes us through some key points for adaptive skiing starting with gear and preparation. She covers basics with some beginner tips and then talks about how to manage the frequent powder days here in Colorado.
Gear & Preparation
The appropriate gear and preparation can lay the groundwork for an awesome mountain vacation. Hereâ€™s how you can start your trip off right.
1. Prepare for the high altitude. Be aware that high altitudes can aggravate some disabilities. Luckily, there are precautions you can take to avoid this problem. First of all, begin drinking plenty of water and getting adequate sleep for a couple of weeks before you leave on your mountain vacation. Secondly, limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol, which can aggravate dehydration and sleep problems. Lastly, take your time travelling to higher altitudes and consider scheduling some time off from skiing or snowboarding if you are planning a long vacation.
2. Invest in some good socks and a moisture-wicking base layer. Wool, silk, polypropylene and technical synthetic fibers all wick moisture from your body. Cotton does not! Also, make sure your socks fit smoothly in your bootsâ€”extra wrinkles in your socks translate to painful blisters on your feet or calves.
3. Get ready to kiss a lot of skis. Finding the right adaptive equipment is a lot like dating: sometimes it’s love at first sight and sometimes you have to try out a lot of gear before you fall in love. Your adaptive instructor will do an in-depth assessment of your physical and cognitive ability, goals and motivations. Based on that assessment, he or she will recommend specific equipment and settings for you to try. If it all works perfectly the first time, consider yourself lucky. Donâ€™t be discouraged, however, if you need to make adjustments to the equipment or the settings. Also, remember that as you progress, you will need to make further adjustments to accommodate your advancing skills.
4. Respect the sun. The high altitude and reflectivity of the snow can expose you to higher levels of ultraviolet radiation from the sun. In fact, the sunâ€™s ultraviolet rays increase 5-6% for every 1000 feet of elevation gain! Also, sun-sensitivity is a side-effect of many disabilities and medications. Wear sunscreen and UV-reducing goggles or sunglasses. Even people with visual impairments need to use eye protection. If you are prone to allergic reactions, you may want to try a sunscreen that is hypoallergenic.
5. It’s colder than you think! If you have decreased circulation or sensation due to your disability, be aware that you may get cold before you realize it. Check your extremities regularly and realize that you may get chilled faster than someone whose circulation isn’t compromised. Consider taking regular warm-up breaks to avoid frostbite.
6. Use a blind athlete bib if you have a visual impairment. It may feel awkward to wear a conspicuous orange bib that basically lets everyone on the hill know you have a visual impairment. However, that bib alerts other skiers and snowboarders that they need to give you more space. The bibs usually say “blind skier” or “blind rider” because “rock-star skier who just happens to have a visual impairment” doesnâ€™t fit on the bib.
7. Wear protective gear. Unless you have a shunt or another medical condition that prevents from wearing a helmet, you should wear one every time you ski or snowboard. If you are snowboarding, you may want to wear wrist and elbow guards as wellâ€”they are one of your best means of preventing an injury.
8. Pay attention to your outrigger brakes.Â If you are skiing with outriggers, the brake settings can be a crucial component of your success. Too much brake and the outriggers bounce and skip on the snow; too little brake and you may have difficulty controlling speed, turning effectively or balancing.
Learning to ski or snowboard can lead to a lifetime of mountain fun. These tips are your first step towards those mountain adventures.
1. Don’t unlearn the wedge. If you are the parent of a child with a developmental disability, you already know how hard it is for your child to unlearn something once it has become a habit. Save yourself that hassle and ask your child’s ski instructor to teach the direct to parallel method. With this instructional technique, the instructor doesn’t teach the traditional pizza/wedge movement. Instead, your child immediately learns to make parallel turns and never has to unlearn the wedge. Just be sure to ask, since many ski schools still use the wedge progressions unless you specifically request the direct to parallel method.
2. Ask the lift operators for help. Getting on a chairlift with adaptive equipment can be a challenge! Thankfully, the lift operators are trained to work with adaptive students. You can ask them to slow the chairlift down or stop it completely while you load and unload. They can also assist sit-down skiers with a pull-back.
3. Set up a communication system with your instructor. If your child is non-verbal, be sure that you set up a communication system with his or her adaptive instructor. Make sure to cover the important items: yes; no; faster; slower; stop; Iâ€™m cold; I have to use the restroom. Never underestimate the value of that last one, since cold weather, cumbersome outerwear and long chairlift rides can make restroom timing a critical issue.
4. Find your balance. No matter what type of skiing or snowboarding you do, balance is the first skill you must master. Listen as your instructor explains the balanced, athletic stance for your equipment. Then try the extremes: lean too far forward, too far back and too far to each side. Once you try these ineffective stances, go back to the original balanced stance. Sometimes you have to try stances that don’t work before you appreciate the stance that does work.
5. Let your kids leave the poles behind. Children who are learning to ski have a hard time controlling their poles. This is especially true for children with developmental disabilities. Make sure they can control their skis before you introduce poles.
6. Get a lesson from a professional adaptive ski or snowboard instructor. A professional adaptive instructor can recommend the best equipment based on your physical and cognitive ability, as well as your goals and motivations. Once you are set up with the right gear, that same instructor can show you how to use it most effectively. That means you’ll have a safe and fun experience on the mountain.
Powder is pure blissâ€¦if you know the proper techniques. Here are a few powder tips to get you started.
1. Protect your rotator cuff! If you are using outriggers, be aware that skiing in powder can put additional strain on your rotator cuff. Consider alternating powder runs with groomed trails or taking more breaks on a powder day.
2. Get friendly. If you are not used to skiing powder, you may take a few more falls as you learn effective powder techniques. Ski with a buddy who can help you get up if you fall.
3. Go for the steeps. Deep powder can slow you down considerably, especially if you are using adaptive gear that leaves a wide path. Make sure the slope is steep enough to get you through the powder.
4. Be polite yet firm with the snow. If you try to create too much of an edge or make too sharp of turns in powder, you will end with your face planted firmly in the snow. Instead, point your skis down the hill and keep them pointed that way until you feel your skis floating. Then make gentle turns and relish the incredible hydroplaning sensation that can only get with powder.
5. Look for your hands. Look for your hands out of the corners of your eyes while you are skiing in powder. If you can see them, then you are most likely keeping your hands and arms in position in front of your hips, which helps prevent a backseat stance.