Skiing is not just for the able-bodied.
Paralympic alpine skiing is a form of skiing that adapts the sport to accommodate various disabilities such as: spinal injury, cerebral palsy, amputation, blindness or vision impairment. These sports require all five senses. Still, people with disabilities can ski on the same slopes with as much or more effectiveness.
Paralympic alpine skiing is also competitive, with many levels of competition — from novice to the World Cup.
The sport was created after World War II to accommodate the needs of individuals who returned from the war injured. The sport now takes place in 40 countries.
Last weekend in Collingwood, Ontario, paralympic alpine athletes trained at Blue Mountain Resort for an upcoming competition. Both visual and hearing-impaired skiers were gliding down hills at speeds of up to 50 kilometres per hour.
Paralympic athletes who have sensory impairments are followed by a guide who directs the athlete where to go. This can also include pointing out the angle of their skis and their centre of balance, depending on the athlete’s position on the ski.
Athletes with physical disabilities can compete in what is known as “adaptive standing” or “sit-skiing” events. This is when the athlete is either sitting in a harness ski bike or when the athlete is standing with no or little assistance.
Lou Murphy is a 27 year-old ski instructor in Collingwood. He teaches individuals 16 and older who are blind and visually impaired how to ski. Murphy has been teaching individuals with impairments for three years. He used to teach skiing to people without impairments.
“It’s pretty much the same. We use a lot of the same techniques in terms of structure and form. Obviously, people who have an impairment or disability…face their unique obstacles. But you’d be amazed how fast people can learn,” Murphy said.
Murphy says that teaching skiing to disabled people has the same core concept as teaching to those with able-bodies. Grasping the core concepts of the sport is important, but he believes that confidence and encouragement are even more important for disabled skiers.
“Being patient and understanding that everyone learns at their own pace is key, whatever obstacle that student has, encouraging your students is really important. Some students catch on a lot quicker than others. But it’s really incredible to see the progress over time,” he said.
In January, Canada’s Mac Marcoux – who is visually impaired – won gold in the World Cup for paralympic alpine skiing. Increasing awareness around para-alpine sports is resulting in more support for winter adaptive games in Canada. For example, the Silver Star Adaptive Snow Sports is scheduled to be on February 29, where donations can be made to support the community.