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Post-Polio Health (ISSN 1066-5331)

Vol. 16, No. 2, Spring 2000

No Mountain Too High

Nancy L. Caverly, OTR/L, Bland, Missouri

These words are embroidered on the jacket patch of every instructor at Winter Park Ski Resort in Winter Park, Colorado. They embody the hope of many skiers who come to enjoy the alpine beauty and the thrill of skiing down slopes of the Rockies. For many years I have dreamed of skiing, but thought that I could not due to the weakness of my legs and lower back. As a polio survivor, I remembered the golf and skating I had enjoyed before polio came into my life just after my graduation from high school. But to ski – wow – it seemed like a dream.

Then my son, John, who lives in Colorado, sent me a brochure that discussed "sit-ski, bi-ski and mono-skiing for individuals who need to ski in a seated position."

Last January, I polled the family members about a ski trip to celebrate the end of the century. "How would you all like to meet in Winter Park the week after Christmas?" With a vote of confidence, I made reservations in an accessible condo which would sleep our seven adults and three grandsons and had elevator access from the third floor to an indoor garage below. Catalog orders provided the extra clothing needed for the adventure - ski pants, warm gloves, a soft hat and metal cleats to attach to my Walk-Easy crutches. We all gathered in Winter Park the 28th of December in three vans full of food, clothing and excited family members.

The Sports Center was founded in 1970 when Denver Children's Hospital asked the resort to teach 23 amputees to ski. Now, there are 12 certified instructors, 23 full-time employees and over 1,000 trained volunteer skiers.

My instructors on the first morning were a couple who were long-time skiers. They share their lives and skills with people in Austria and Colorado. In a room with a variety of skis, boots, walkers, wheelchairs and individuals with disabilities, I was informed of my options for skiing. I could be in a sit-ski with either one or two skis under me. If I chose the latter, the two skiers behind me would move the skis and I would go along for the ride. If I chose one ski, I could ski independently (sure!) after I learned how to keep my balance and operate the outrigger skis attached to crutches like mine, though much shorter. Knowing that I had come to ski and not ride, I chose the mono sit-ski. I was fitted in the seat, a tight bucket, with my legs in front and my boots on a bar. Then, I was velcroed into the ski from my waist to my ankles.

Photo of Nancy on her sit-ski with her instructor behind.My patient instructors worked with me on the snow to gain my balance, learn how to use the outriggers, and go down a gentle slope near the children's ski area. Falling, which I did several times, was not painful. It was a short distance to the ground and I landed on my shoulder. The instructors' job was to right the sit-ski with me in it each time. In the afternoon of the first day, we moved up on the Gemini lift (a great ride) to Discovery Park, an area where neophytes were everywhere, skiing and snowboarding. Practice, practice, practice, and then descending the "Turnpike" slope to end the day. I kept both instructors very close to me when going down the slopes, not at all confident of my ability to guide, turn and stop the sit-ski.

Days two and three brought me to a new level of confidence with the director of the program as a consultant and my new skills acquired. The director uses a sit-ski as a result of paraplegia, and I was able to see what I had been hearing about from my instructors – what a difference that made!

On New Year's Day, with my Colorado son on his skis, I skied with three other sit-skiers who were very good. John used the video camera and caught me in my new-found independence on the slopes and a couple of "wipe-outs," too. To say the day was exhilarating would be a mild statement – it was a real high for me. Dreams really do come true!