What to Expect – Adaptive Skiing with Special Needs

tips for adaptive skiing
I had no idea what to expect the first time my daughter with special needs went adaptive skiing, I swear I didn’t breathe the entire first run. But once I saw that big, beautiful smile on my girl’s face at the end of the first run, it was game on! Turns out she’s got quite a need for speed.  There are variations with each organization, but in general, here’s what to expect your first time adaptive skiing:

1, Most organizations are heavily dependent on volunteers and donations.

Most adaptive ski programs have very limited budgets, and can be stretched quite thin personnel-wise. The volunteers are there because they have a passion for the adaptive ski program, which is means you will meet some pretty amazing people. Patience, flexibility, and expressions of gratitude go a long way.


2.  The earlier you sign up, the better.

Adaptive ski volunteers are in short supply, which means there are a limited number of spaces available for registration. The earlier you can get signed up, the better chance you have of having that space secured.  This is also really helpful to the organization in planning their season.

3.  Give yourself time for the paperwork.

You will need a medical release from your doctor and to complete a questionnaire about your kiddo at a minimum, some of the paperwork can get quite detailed. Some organizations request that you join their organization. When you plan your trip, be sure to review what you need for the adaptive ski program early on so your doctor has time to get their information completed and back to you.

4.  Most organizations will ask about your child’s goals for skiing, as well as their likes and dislikes.

How the adaptive skiing lesson(s) are structure will all depend on your skier’s goals. For us it’s about skiing together as a family, for your child it might be progressing with the goal of joining a Special Olympics ski team. The instructor will help develop a plan to meet those goals.

Skiing is part physical, part mental and part emotional. Every child’s needs are different. The instructor will use your child’s likes, dislikes and preferences to help them find some success in skiing, whatever that looks like to them. If your child is scared or unsure, the instructor will ask your child about some of their favorite things to change the focus. That information can be really helpful, so take your time in answering.

adaptive skiing - what to expect

5.  Have the right equipment.

There are several equipment options for adaptive skiing based on the skier’s abilities. My daughter uses a sit-ski with attached outrigger. I’ve seen a blind skier learning to ski with several guides helping the instructor, using a tethering system for safety. Before your trip, in addition to your paperwork, most groups will follow up with specific questions over the phone or by email to make sure the proper equipment and staffing is made available for your lesson(s).   When you arrive at the lesson they will fit your child to the equipment. When Veronica arrives, we sit her in the sit-ski, making sure there’s padding all around her, and no pressure points. Then they strap her in to make sure she’s safe, ensuring that the straps don’t cut in and that she’s also comfortable. Then we all take a second look, stuffing padding in where it’s needed, and she’s good to go.

6.  Keep the skier warm.

You’ll want to make sure that your skier stays warm and comfortable. Veronica uses a sit-ski and isn’t generate a lot of body heat. We dress her warmly, then wrap a blanket over her to help keep the warmth in.  Here’s more details on what to wear adaptive skiing.

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7.  Getting on and off the chair lift.

I was pretty nervous about how this would work with my daughter strapped in a sit-ski. How do they get the sit-ski on and off the lifts? Would she be safe?

Here’s how the sit-ski works. As they approach the beginner chair, the instructor and guide are standing on each side of Veronica. The lifty stop the chair lift while the instructor and guide approach the chair and lift Veronica, secured in her sit-ski, onto the seat between them and lock her in with a tether. Once secure, the lift is started back up. At the top, the lift is slowed down to a stop and the trio unlocks and gets off.

V’s First Time Adaptive Skiing at Park City with the National Ability Center

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