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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Skiing: The Movement

I skied at Killington, the so called Beast of the East, this week. I moved from the beginner slopes to easy intermediate slopes. After not skiing for so long I am learning to relax and have fun again. I skied with a good friend and my brother-in-law, both men are excellent skiers and teachers. I had a spectacular time and my arms, shoulders and neck ache. Adaptive skiing makes me think. It generates two polar opposite thoughts: skiing highlights how utterly dependent I am. I need the help of others. Without significant effort on the part of others I cannot ski. This is what happens when I ski. Someone hauls my gear and ski rig outside and near the ski lift. I am lifted like a sack of potatoes by two people into my rig--think dead weight. I am then strapped into my rig--and when I mean strapped this is done as tightly as humanly possible--just short of not being able to breathe. Once secured in the rig, a time consuming process, I am pushed uphill to the lift. Two people haul me onto the lift and we ride to the top where i am pushed and guided off the lift. This process is always an adventure and remarkably more often than not goes exactly as planned. The process of getting me to the slopes makes me realize just how dependent I am upon others. I could not ski without substantial help. Amazingly this does not bother me one iota. I am extremely grateful to the volunteers who work at adaptive ski programs nationwide. My dependency is extreme but once on the slopes I am free. I truly love riding the lift. The view is spectacular but this pales in comparison to the rush I get skiing. I am not a speed demon. I like to feel in control and thoroughly enjoy turning. Turning helps control speed and I like the feeling or rhythm of linked turns. It is a great sensation. I love the physicality of skiing. I like the feeling of the rigors in my hands and the sound they make. I know I can turn well to my left but struggle with my right turns. I do too many hockey style stops and the placement of my head is a major problem. So what. I am having a massive amount of fun.

I will also admit skiing is socially satisfying. At Killington where sit skiers are out of the norm, I feel like a rock star. I am starred at and to kids I am like the Pied Piper. The stares are not what I am accustom to. The stares on the ski slope are not "Oh my God, what is that pathetic person in a wheelchair doing here". The stares I get skiing are one's of wonder. In short, I am cool. Kids and snow boarders in particular carefully watch me. Kids watch me like a hawk. From snow boarders I get many a "cool dude". Skiers will comment on my technique. When back in my wheelchair people come up to me say that they saw me on the slope. These comments quickly become a discussion of the ski conditions and where we like to ski. My interactions with others skiers is uniformly positive. Indeed, I have never had a bad social experience at any ski resort. By bad social experience I mean no one has ever been rude or demeaning to me. What really struck me this week was the realization adaptive skiers are not only welcome but have a level of prestige. I am without question seen as cool. This is great for my ego.

Whenever I ski I often think of elite adaptive skiers, especially mono skiers who compete in the X Games and blind Paraolympian skiers. These men and women superb skills and demand for excellent gear has trickled down to a middle aged duffer such as myself on the slopes. My skill level pales in comparison. Hence I am grateful to the pioneers of adaptive skiing. I can ski and rent a rig because of them. These people and the legion of volunteers who give their time and effort to adaptive ski programs are doing something special. They are fostering a sense of equality that I hope someday will be wide spread. The most gratifying part of my day skiing took place just before lunch. A young girl dressed in pink from head to toe stopped me and we chatted for a few minutes. She was clearly intrigued with sit skiing. We talked about the ski conditions, how we were each better at turning left than right, where we skied etc. It was a very ordinary chat. This was gratifying because I know the next time she sees a man or woman using a wheelchair she is going to think of what they can do not what they cannot do. This represents real life social progress. It also enables me to overlook the words such as inspiration and hero in the above promotional video of the new Warren Miller film about adaptive skiing.


Elizabeth said...

I can almost feel the wind in my face reading your words. I am not a skier, but I'm getting a taste of it here.

lilacsigil said...

Without significant effort on the part of others I cannot ski.

Yes, but without significant pre-modification of the environment (plus equipment, clothing etc.), most of the other skiiers wouldn't be there either - it's just that the help they are receiving isn't as visible! Perhaps it's more obvious to me because I'm Australian, and the few places where people can ski here are heavily modified and use snow-making machines to allow more people to ski for longer and more affordably.

I'm glad you're back to skiing again, and it sounds awesome!

william Peace said...

lilacsigil, What a great point. Every time I ski I am amazed at the infra structure required to keep a mountain running. Killington must have dozens of snow cats and the snow making ability is remarkable. No one comments on this and without it skiing would not be possible. And yes, I sure do stick out when being helped.

Elizabeth, I should be a salesman for the ski industry! I just love it and have endless enthusiasm for skiing. You should try it someday. Some mountain allow first time skiers to ski for free. sadly, this season has been largely snowless.

Catherine said...

Wow, watching the the adaptive ski was enlightening. It seems to me, it requires a whole lot more finesse to master, since balance on one ski has to be achieved.

As Lilacs says, a lot of modification and adaptation is necessary for the sport anyways, along with a lot of money. Our family just could not afford taking up skiing as a past time, and it is a big budget item in my brother's family, as his Swiss wife loves to ski and they make it their major family recreational activity. It's also a sport that contributes a body count to the disabled ranks as the number of injuries, serious ones while skiing is significant.

william Peace said...

Catherine, Yes, form is very important for a sit skier. The highly skilled mono skiers are amazing to watch. To me, they are far more interesting to watch than any other skier.
I do not understand the ski industry business model. Skiing can be frightfully expensive. However it need not be expensive. All adaptive programs have a set price for lessons. Most programs in the Northeast cost $100 for a full day of skiing. This would include gear rental, an instructor, and lift ticket. All adaptive programs offer scholarships and have a sliding pay scale. All programs have special programs as well geared to getting people with a disability out on the slopes. The hardest part I suspect for people with a disability is simply getting to the mountain. Thanks to my sister and brother in law I learned how to ski for a very reasonable cost. For instance, I joined a ski house so I have a place to stay and eat all season. I always bring my own lunch and cook my own dinner. I buy my son a season pass at a huge discount in July. The key is advanced preparation. Families that just show up to the mountain, stay nearby, rent gear, buy lift tickets, eat in the cafeteria, go out to dinner etc. can spend a shocking amount of money. Too many who do this never return again. If you ever have a desire to ski email me and I will give you some tips on how to ski on a budget.

Carla said...

I loved this! Brought back a flood of happy memories! I used to help take a busload of skiers to the slopes in Colorado several times a year in exchange for lodging and lift tickets - a sweet deal! Haven't been back to the slopes since moving to the South over 20 years ago.

The 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy got me through rehab. It was my escape after a long day of physical therapy. Even though I could only move my head, shoulders, and right arm at the time, I could watch the downhill and freestyle and "feel" the movements of the skiers.

Remembering the incredible silence and beauty of being among the first skiers on the lift after a massive snow during the night, making the first tracks in the deep powder, and feeling the sun and wind on my face were the bright spots in an otherwise tough time.

My skis have long ago warped beyond repair in the unbearably hot attic in my Southern home, but the feeling of slipping down a slope has never gone away. Each time it snows here, great memories surface. It is a way to stay connected with parts of my body that are weakened by paralysis.

Awesome video and congratulations to you for hitting the slopes again!