Adaptive Skiing: getting everyone out on the snow

The sport of adaptive skiing has advanced dramatically in recent years, really opening up this exciting and incredibly liberating pursuit to be fully enjoyed by people with physical disabilities or visual impairments. The result – whether it’s based on a more traditional skiing setup involving standing bi-skis, duals-skis or monoski, a snowboard, or a seated ski bike – is typically a fast and furious thrill ride over some form of dramatic, snow-packed terrain. What’s not to love?

The advancement of adaptive skiing as a leading disability sport really began in Europe in the wake of WWII, when the importance and value of participation in sports activities was more fully realised.

Returning soldiers who’d been injured in conflict were quick to sign up for newly available programmes, with the initial focus being on recently developed technologies and equipment aimed primarily at 3-track adaptive skiing (a single ski and two supporting arm crutches or ‘outriggers’) for amputees. From here, things quickly snowballed – pun fully intended – and in 1967 a group of Vietnam veterans founded Disabled Sports USA from what had originally been the National Amputee Skiers Association.

From early prototype outriggers through to the rapid development in the mid-1980s of advanced adaptive ski setups like the mono-ski and bi-ski, the technology supported an ever-expanding network of community-based programmes and competitions that ultimately became recognised as a full Paralympic category in 1992. Today, a number of the most famous resorts for adaptive skiing experiences are located around the USA, in a variety of suitably epic locations such as Whistler Blackcomb, Colorado’s Winter Park, and the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming.

Over here in the UK, the British Parasnowsport Team is the British national Para-alpine skiing and Para-snowboard team – it’s the racing arm of Disability Snowsport UK (DSUK), recognised as the UK National Governing Body for disabled snowsports by the British Paralympic Association (BPA) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). As well as providing the Elite and Development Teams of athletes who train and compete on our nation’s behalf at the Paralympic Games, DSUK also make it their ongoing mission to ensure anyone with a disability, may it be learning, sensory or physical, can ski or snowboard alongside other people.

For those looking to try out the sport a little closer to home, that means there are always plenty of opportunities right on our doorstep. Whether it’s two-track, three-track or four-track skiing (referring to the number of points of contact with the snow), mono-skiing, bi-skiing, snowboarding or guide-led runs for skiers with visual impairments, there’s now a phenomenal range of activity on offer in Scotland for beginners and more experienced downhillers alike. Check out the online guide and glossary at the Snowsport Scotland website, or the guide to disability snowsports equipment at Ski Club Great Britain, for more information on the different types of adaptive skiing setups available.

Year-round adaptive skiing opportunities are always on offer at Snow Factor, the indoor slope complex at Soar Intu Braehead just outside Glasgow city centre. Disability Snowsport UK offer a range of lessons at the venue, starting from the DSUK office opposite the main Snow Factor reception desk. Skiers can phone 08455219338 or email for booking places, and all necessary equipment will be available either for hire or as part of the included lesson plan when you arrive (there’s also a hoist available if required for seated skiers, with participants just asked to provide their own Oxford sling). For those in the highlands, there’s a similar arrangement on offer during the winter months at the Cairngorm Mountain Ski School in the heart of stunning Inverness-shire.

And, if you’re interested in adaptive skiing opportunities further afield, this handy resource (developed by Vouchercloud in collaboration with the Back Up trust) offers a rundown of the various location, innovations and not-for-profit organisations supporting ongoing development of the sport in the USA.