Working with the Handicap Ski Program
The roots of adaptive skiing were in war and accidental injuries. In 1942 Franz Wendel was the first person to enter a competition for people who are handicapped. After suffering a leg amputation in the war, he fashioned a pair of crutches and attached them to short skis enabling him to crutch ski. By the late 1940's the Austrian Ski Association was financing a division for handicapped skiers while at the same time European and American programs at army hospitals were developing. The Vietnam War produced many unfortunate casualties but also provided a boost to the development of adaptive skiing. Equipment and facilities have continued to grow and improve in recent years. A new era began in 1983 when the International Olympic Committee sanctioned the Third World Winter Games for the Disabled. Not only did this boost the prestige of the program, it also helped to promote fund raising efforts and program development worldwide. The Third World Disabled Ski Championships were held in 1986 in Sweden and the United States placed first.
So why is there skiing for people with disabilities? Outdoor recreation is fun and healthy for everyone. For people with disabilities, skiing means adventure, exercise, self-respect and independence. Handicap ski programs use athletic participation to rehabilitate the person both mentally and physically. Being able to participate in the sport of skiing helps to erase some of the myths surrounding a person with a handicap. Knowing how to ski, a person with a disability can enjoy the camaraderie of the sport with family and friends.
The principles of the Alpine ski instruction are adapted to the needs of the individual and focus on skill development.
Instructors must call upon skill, creativity, and experience. The adaptive program is prepared to handle a variety of disabling conditions including amputations, Attention Deficit Disorder, Down's Syndrome, visual and hearing impairments, MS, Cerebral Palsy, and spinal cord injuries.
This year I completed the instructor training program at Windham Mountain in Windham, New York. Instructors must be sixteen years of age; complete a twelve day training program; and pass a one day evaluation which includes a level one PSIA exam. Training includes an introduction to teaching skiing to people with disabilities; instruction in the American Teaching System (ATS); blind instruction; teaching people with developmental disabilities; three track, four...