If you had asked me a few years ago if I’d ever try extreme sports, I would have thought you’d lost your mind. How on earth could I try extreme sports as a wheelchair user with weak muscles, poor trunk control, unable to walk, unable to lift my arm to scratch my nose and the list goes on… Well, last week I discovered that it is possible to try accessible extreme sports with the help of Disability Snowsport UK.
Skiing seemed like the perfect choice of my first experience of accessible sports with a disability (go large or go home). So I contacted Disability Snowsports UK and booked my first ski lesson at Snow Factor at Soar Intu Braehead in Glasgow. They took all my details over the phone, including my disability, weight and asked if I’ve had any surgery in the last 12 months.
Before finalising the booking I wanted to make them fully aware that I don’t have any real strength as I was worried it would affect my ability to participate in the lesson. They made it clear it wouldn’t be an issue and that the instructor would be with me the whole time.
We arrived at Snow Factor on a beautifully sunny day and couldn’t quite believe we were heading into -5 temperatures. It was funny seeing everyone dressed for summer in their shorts and t-shirts while we had winter jackets, woolly jumpers and gloves on.
There is a large accessible toilet with a shower located right next to the Disability Snowsports UK office, which is directly across from the area to hire boots, skis etc. We got changed in the accessible toilet and then headed out to meet Louisa my ski instructor. She helped me fill in a form with questions about my disability.
I then got to see the chair I’d be sitting in for my ski lesson. Allan scooped me up and placed me in the chair. There is a hoist available to transfer from your wheelchair to the ski chair if you’d prefer. Just take your Oxford sling with you. Louisa then began to strap me in (shoulders, chest and legs) and put pieces of foam between me and the chair for extra padding and comfort. As I don’t have good neck control I was a little concerned that my neck would flop about like a rag doll on the slopes, but there is a back piece that comes up to head height to support your neck. I felt extremely secure in the chair with all the belts and straps holding me in nice and snug.
We then made our way to the slopes and that’s when it hit me what I was about to do as I saw the huge snow slope. There was a mix of “OMG! I can’t do this” and “let’s do this”. Of course, I went with the “let’s do this”.
Louisa pushed me across the snow and I got hooked onto the lift to take us up to the top. Brace yourself for a sudden jolt us the lift takes you up. Once at the top, as Louisa got things sorted she explained what was going to happen and the direction we would be going down the slope. I was asked what speed I’d like to go down at for my first go. Not too fast was my answer (break me in gently I thought). Allan was waiting at the bottom of the slope for me and he looked like a tiny dot from all the way up at the top.
No turning back now and off we went. Louisa held onto the chair the whole time and always kept me informed what she was doing by shouting the directions/instructions, “Right”, “middle”, “left”. I was fully aware at all times and could anticipate which way we were going next.
We reached the bottom where Allan was standing and he had a big smile on his face when he saw me. Off we went again for my second ride up the lift. This time, we went a little faster down the slope, which was so much fun. I felt a lot more relaxed this time as I knew what to expect.
During my one hour lesson, we managed to go up and down four times. The third and fourth time Louisa fitted long straps (reins) to the chair so that I was more in control. The straps ensured I wouldn’t slide away on my own and Louisa would be my emergency break. I’m not going to lie, the thought of Louisa not being fully in control was slightly nervous-wracking. I didn’t think I’d be able to manage this due to the degree of my disability, but in actual fact, it was absolutely fine and I coped pretty good.
Even though I don’t have much movement/strength, Louisa reassured me that it didn’t matter and all I’d need to do was slightly turn my head or body in the direction I wanted to go. It didn’t matter how small my movements were it would be enough to control where I was going. It felt amazing and exhilarating as I skied down the slope. I never thought I’d ever do anything like this in my life, but I did and I’m so glad I decided to try it. Allan was so happy I did it too and told me how proud he was of me for having the courage to go for it.
I honestly loved every minute of my accessible skiing experience with Disability Snowsport UK and I would highly recommend anyone with a disability to give it a go if it’s something you’ve always wanted to try or you just fancy trying something new and exciting. Who knows you might end up competing in the Paralympics one day.
Disability Snowsport UK’s slogan is ‘See the capability, not the disability’ and I couldn’t agree more with this. One hour lessons cost £51, but if you are a member it will cost £41.
Thank you Louisa from Disability Snowsport UK for a great first ski lesson.