Adaptive winter or snow sports provide people living with limb loss to enjoy the freedom and rush that winter sports bring. Through adaptive winter sports, those living with limb loss can participate in their favorite winter sports with the aid of specialized equipment and highly-trained instructors.
Adaptive sports are growing in popularity as many resorts are increasingly catering to adaptive athletes. The various adaptive equipment required is specially designed to make winter adaptive sports more accessible to amputees and, best of all, staff and instructors have undergone specialized training to offer lessons to both beginners and intermediate athletes.
If you’re interested in taking your sport further than recreation, you can follow other inspiring amputees who have trained to become professional athletes in adaptive sports. In fact, it’s not hard to get into competitive adaptive sports as countries all over the world have organizations dedicated to this initiative, including Disabled Sports USA.
So, you’ve finally decided to try adaptive skiing this winter. Here are some things you need to do before heading to the mountain.
First, ask the resort or the ski resort you’re planning to visit if they offer adaptive programs. Ask them questions about the types of equipment available for rent and if they have instructors fluent in adaptive winter sports. If you need some assistance, let them know. Also, your general knowledge and experience in winter sports before and after limb loss will prove to be valuable information for them. So, let them know before your trip.
Second, set an appointment with your physician, physical therapist, and prosthetist before you head to the mountain. Make sure that you follow your doctor’s instructions regarding any medications or restrictions. Have your Prosthetist check your prosthetic leg to ensure that it’s in good working order and capable of enduring the stresses of winter adaptive sports. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, to get the go-ahead from your prosthetic team before proceeding with any kind of sporting activity. Please note that not all prosthetic knees or feet can manage the stresses of skiing.
Third, set out to acquire the necessary equipment. You can also get your own helmet if renting one doesn’t seem so appealing. Determine whether you can rent equipment on the mountain or whether it makes more sense renting locally. Depending on rental options, oftentimes renting locally removes any time constraints and you can make sure you're sized properly.
And lastly, read up on the winter sport you’re interested in. Below we take a look at the different types of adaptive winter sports that you can try and which one makes more sense for your level of fitness and/or level of limb loss.
Adaptive Downhill Skiing
One of the more popular winter sports that you can try is downhill skiing. There are many variations of this sport, depending on your physical condition.
The first technique is four-track skiing, which works well for double amputees. If standing on your own is not an issue, regardless wether you wear two prostheses, then this method of skiing should work well. You can ski four-track using two skis with two hand-held outriggers, giving you four points of contact with the snow for better balance and support. The outriggers are essentially metal forearm crutches with ski tips on the ends. Some are available with adjustable brakes providing an extra layer of safety on the slope.
In addition to outriggers, you can use ski stabilizers or tip clamps (also known as ski bras) if you need side-to-side stability. Tip clamps help keep your skis in either a wedge or parallel position and allow your stronger side to help your weaker side.
For those with more severe balance issues, a snow slider may be your best bet. It is another form of four-track skiing, where skis are mounted to the metal frame, transforming it into something like a walker with skis. If you choose to use a snow slider, you will need to bring your own boots and skis.
If you have single limb weakness or an above-the-knee amputation, then you may want to consider three-track skiing. You stand on one full ski while being assisted by two handheld outriggers, giving you three points of contact with the snow. Before trying this form of skiing, it’s recommended that you have strong arm and leg strength.
The two-track version is for anybody who can stand on two skis and doesn't require outriggers. You may not use outriggers, but adaptive equipment, such as tethers, spacers, and ski bras, can further assist any mild limb weakness. With this technique, you must stand and maintain balance while working your way down the mountain.
As mentioned earlier, it's important to note that not every prosthetic knee can withstand the forces of skiing. Consult with your prosthetist first to determine whether you need skiing specific type of components.
If you're not able to stand, you can conquer the slopes with sit-skiing, which is ideal for anyone with good core strength and trunk balance.
For sit-skiing, you will use a mono-ski or a bi-ski. The former includes a bucket style seat with a single ski underneath. For balance, you will use two handheld outriggers, which requires strong arms.
Of course, an article about skiing would not be complete without touching on ski bikes--the latest trend in adaptive skiing. Ski bikes are similar to a bicycle but feature skis instead of wheels. The ski bike was first used in Europe, and now, adaptive programs introduce this version so more and more amputees can enjoy skiing.
Adaptive Nordic Skiing
Unlike adaptive downhill skiing, Nordic skiing or cross-country skiing is accessible to more adaptive athletes in more areas of the country as it doesn't require as much snowfall or mountains to enjoy. All you need are Nordic skis and a trail map, and you can be well on your way to enjoying the outdoors at a more leisurely pace. The pace is much slower than downhill skiing that you can even chat with friends along the trail.
Athletes can compete in cross-country races, as they are known to be extremely challenging. Furthermore, if you are preparing for summer sports, like running or cycling, Nordic skiing can be used as a great cross-training activity.
Skiing can be for Everyone
While it’s easy to let the weather dictate your level of physical activity, winter is a great season to stay active, and the different types of adaptive winter sports provide you with an incredible cardio, strength, and even full-body workout.
Do you ski? Which skiing technique do you use, two-track, three-track or sit-skiing? We’d love to know your story.