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Try Out a New Adaptive Sport this Winter Season

Guest blog post by Bob Vogel

Winter is here, temperatures are falling and so is the snow. This is Mother Nature’s way of telling wheelchair users “I’ve covered the outdoors with an amazing accessible blanket of snow and ice. Switch from wheels to skis or skates, and come out and play!”

Adaptive gear for winter sports has evolved to the point where people with almost any disability level can actively participate. It’s time to grab your warm clothing, choose your preferred method of gliding, skating or sliding and play in the winter wonderland. Here are some ideas.

Adaptive Downhill Skiing

A bi-skier races down the hill while being tethered during a lesson at Disabled Sports USA Far West at Alpine Meadows in Lake Tahoe, California.

For enjoying a dance with gravity in stunning mountain surroundings, adaptive downhill skiing is the ticket. There are several types of adaptive skis for wheelchair users. One option is a bi-ski — a molded bucket-style seat mounted to a frame attached to two, wide, specially designed skis — enables anybody to ski. For skiers that have hand movement, bi-skis can be turned using outriggers — forearm crutches with small skis attached at the tip used for balance and for turning. Bi-skiers are usually “tethered” — a stand-up skier holds a tether made of climbing webbing to assist speed control and turning — and also assisted on and off the lift. If you have the ability to move your head you have the ability to turn a bi-ski and enjoy the slopes.

 

 

Mono-Ski

Bob Vogel mono-skiing
Bob Vogel mono-ski races at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe, California.

A mono-ski — a molded bucket-style seat mounted on a suspension system and shock absorber mounted to a standard snow ski — is arguably the ultimate sports prosthetic. Expert mono-skiers shred the entire mountain and back country — from powder, to terrain parks, to extreme steeps and huge jumps the same as stand-up skiers. The learning progression, and length of time it takes to become proficient at mono-skiing is similar to stand-up skiing. Although trunk muscle control makes the sport much easier to learn, I know several low level quadriplegics — including a C6/7 complete quad — that are accomplished mono-skiers.

Nordic Sit Ski

Adaptive XC Skiing
Candice Cable (far left in green jacket) teaches an adaptive XC ski clinic in Sun Valley, Idaho.

If you are looking to get away from the crowds and glide through the beauty and quiet of nature — nordic sit skiing is for you. A nordic sit ski (also called XC sit ski) is a lightweight molded bucket-style seat mounted on two cross-country skis — the rig is propelled with ski poles. XC sit skis are surprisingly easy to propel, and the polling action helps keep shoulders healthy and balanced by working the muscles in the back of the shoulder. The sport can be as simple as a XC glide over a meadow or through the woods, to multi-day hut trips — skiing from one cabin to the next, to races of anywhere from half-kilometer to 20 kilometers.

Skijouring

A fun addition to XC sit skiing that I enjoy is skijouring, getting towed by one or more dogs. When I’m out XC skiing with my daughter Sarah and Schatzie, my German Shepherd service dog, I attach a tether to Schatzie’s harness and yell “squirrels!” to enjoy a high-speed winter dog tow.

Sledge Hockey

USA Cup Paralympic Sled Hockey Championship
Photo Credits: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Perhaps hockey is your game. Sled hockey, also known as “sledge” hockey is an international and Paralympic sport with the same the same high-speed excitement as stand-up hockey, but adapted to a sitting position. A hockey sled is a molded bucket seat mounted on a lightweight aluminum frame, mounted on standard hockey skate blades. Players hold a hockey stick in each hand, the bottom of the each stick is fitted with a serrated spikes used to propel the sled. Simple adaptations like duct tape enable people without hand-grip to play. Hockey sleds are easy to propel, and a good player can reach high speeds and carve sharp turns and high speed check stops.

Adaptive Skating

Bob Vogel adaptive ice skates with his daughter, Sarah.

A very cool spin off of sled hockey is adaptive skating. The potential for possible high-speed impact in sled hockey is a bit much for my aging brittle bones — but thanks to sled hockey’s popularity, many ice rinks offer hockey sleds, usually at no cost, or the cost of rental skates. I have a blast going to my local rink, strapping into a hockey sled and skating with Sarah. It is a fun workout and also helps keep shoulders healthy by working the same muscles as cross-country skiing. Ask your local rink if they offer sleds, if they don’t suggest they get one, most will be happy to purchase one since it means more business for them.

Dog Sledding

Dog sledding is another unique activity, ready made for wheelers. I’ve had the opportunity to go dog sledding and it’s an amazing way to travel into the winter wilderness. Riding in a dog sled, the only sounds are the hiss from the runners of the sled and the pitter-patter of dog paws. The tether to the dog team seems to make a direct connection to your senses, and watching ten wagging tails in front of you — running with its pack towing a sled through the snow on a crisp clear winter day, must be a blast for a dog. The experience is sure to put an ear-to-ear grin on your face. Dog sled operations are surprisingly common in snow country and trips range from 45-minute outings, to half day and even full day trips.

So pick a winter pastime, and enjoy mother nature’s winter adaptive blanket. See you on the snow!

Resources:

Adaptive Ski Programs

Dog Sledding:

Nordic Sit Skiing:

Sled Hockey:

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Bob VogelBob Vogel, 51, is a freelance writer for the ROHO Community blog. He is a dedicated dad, adventure athlete and journalist. Bob is in his 26th year as a T10 complete para. For the past two decades he has written for New Mobility magazine and is now their Senior Correspondent. He often seeks insight and perspective from his 10-year-old daughter, Sarah, and Schatzie, his 9-year-old German Shepherd service dog.

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