Adaptive Gear: How to Ski & Snowboard with a DisabilityPublished on 04/18/2023 · 6 min readLearn how to get started in adaptive skiing and snowboarding in this article by Curated athlete Dani Aravich.
Photo courtesy of Dani Aravich
Whether it's yourself, your child, or a friend who has a disability and needs modifications when it comes to hitting the mountain, have no fear. There are resources and people who are eager to assist you in accomplishing your goals. Skiing and snowboarding were designed for all. And while your equipment and needs might not be those of the traditional person you see riding, it does not mean that you aren’t wanted on the mountain. In this article, I’ll provide a brief overview of adaptive winter sports, specifically skiing and snowboarding, and talk about the various options available to those with a range of disabilities.
I was born missing my left hand and forearm. Though that didn’t stop me from starting to ski at the age of three. Fortunately, my disability doesn’t require many many modifications to my technique. I simply ski with one pole. So, at Bogus Basin in Boise, Idaho—my home mountain—people would always ask me if I dropped my other pole. “Ha”…. no.
Since those early days, I’ve gone on to run Division I cross country and track and field, work in the NBA and NFL, represent Team USA at both the Summer and Winter Paralympic Games, and win a world championship in nordic skiing. And whenever I’m not actively ‘competing’ in alpine, I get out when I can to enjoy the mountain or the backcountry.
Through these experiences, I’ve met a variety of athletes with various disabilities, and confidently say: anyone who would like to participate in winter sports can do so. Now, whenever a liftie asks if I’ve dropped a pole, I respond “yes, can you keep an eye out for it?”
Common Adaptive Equipment
Persons with disabilities often require adaptive equipment to participate in winter sports. While this type of equipment varies based on the individual’s needs, there is a large selection of gear for many disabilities, including: arm amputees, leg amputees, spina bifida, visual impairments, intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, hearing impairments, paralysis, and more.
Below we will go over some common types of adaptive equipment and how certain individuals use them to get themselves out onto the snow.
Types of Adaptive Skiing
Check out this article to learn more about different equipment options as you look through this list!
A bi-ski is a sit ski bound to two skis underneath. When learning to bi-ski, one is usually tethered to an assistant to help guide them down the mountain. A bi-skier utilizes outriggers to control their course on the snow, and the disabilities that commonly require a bi-ski include spinal cord injuries and other mobility impairments.
The type of skiing I do, 2-trackers have two skis attached to their feet (or prosthetic feet). Common disabilities amongst these athletes include cerebral palsy, amputations, and hearing and vision impairments.
Traditionally employed by an athlete who is missing a leg, a 3-tracker uses a single ski and two outriggers. The outriggers are in contact with the snow, and allow the athlete to make turns and balance themself.
4-trackers use two skis and two outriggers to produce four points of contact with the snow. Typically, 4-trackers have impairments of the lower limbs, and may utilize crutches off the snow.
Similar to the bi-ski in that it’s also a sit ski, the monoski requires the skier to use outriggers on one single ski. This type of ski is typically utilized by athletes with spinal cord injuries or spina bifida.
Sometimes, it may be the case that athletes’ everyday prosthetics are able to fit into a ski boot. However, for those who cannot, check out this prosthetic foot specifically designed for alpine boots!
Adaptive Snowboarding Equipment
Tethers allow a guide or instructor to control the movements of a boarder. A useful device if the athlete has coordination impairments or balance issues, and a great choice for any new boarder to use!
Similar to a skier who 3-tracks or 4-tracks, outriggers can be used for snowboarders. Similarly, these devices are useful for an athlete who needs assistance balancing.
Similarly to skiing, sometimes it may be the case that athletes’ everyday prosthetics are able to fit into a snowboarding boot. Though check out this specific snowboard knee if you are struggling with your everyday prosthetic!
Athletes to Follow
There are many adaptive programs featured at different mountains throughout the US. The benefit of joining a program is that they provide access to equipment, trained instructors for a variety of disabilities, and affordable options. Here are a few that I highly recommend.
- National Ability Center, Park City, Utah
- Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, Killington, Vermont
- Teton Adaptive Sports, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
- Adaptive Sports Center, Crested Butte, Colorado
When you are ready to take it to the next level, there are many events for people with disabilities to compete in—whether that be recreationally or at the highest level: the Paralympics!
Tips for Adaptive Skiing and Boarding
Being in the adaptive winter sports community for so long, I’ve picked up my fair share of tips from friends and fellow athletes with varying disabilities. Perhaps they could be of use to you, too.
First, I have certain arm amputee friends who sew their ski or board jacket sleeves up to the length of their shorter arm. Conversely, I have never personally done this, but always search for clothing with velcro on the sleeve in order to roll it up to my desired length. Plus, it’s always fun to find someone to be your ‘nub’ mate—which means you are missing the opposite hand or leg to this person and can trade for the other.
On another note, it can certainly be frustrating to purchase a pair of gloves when you only need one. Same for someone who has one foot and only needs one ski boot, for example. It is my hope that more companies begin to start programs for a single glove, boot, ski or pole program.
It’s my goal to make both the outdoors and the mountains inclusive for all people, including those with disabilities. I’m currently working to assess the needs of skiers and boarders with disabilities to be able to offer a course that will help more people get into the backcountry. Join me to continue to diversify this space.