Adventures in charity
The first thing I notice is that I can’t scratch my nose.
The truth is I can scratch my nose, but I have to learn how to do it strapped on a bi-ski. My arms pretty much strapped in two outriggers and I have trying to keep my balance so I don’t fall sideways.
Suddenly, I realize that I’m more concerned about how I’m going to scratch my nose than how I’m going to make it down the hill on a bi-ski, a chair mounted on two skis designed for people with certain disabilities.
Ruth Demuth, my instructor, just holds my chair so I don’t fall and I scratch my nose. I don’t know if it’s the spring sun or that I’m doing something new that makes my nose itch over and over again.
“This is very humbling,” says Demuth, director of the Vail Adaptive Ski School, as she pushes me down to chair 12, a lift for beginners in Golden Peak.
No kidding, I tell myself. I just skied a couple black diamonds before meeting Demuth and I felt as comfortable on regular skis as I feel walking. Then, a group of kids ski by with their multicolor jackets and helmets and look at me as if I were doing something extraordinary. I also notice some of them are taller than I am.
“Kids have no inhibitions and they ask, they truly want to know,” says Ruth, who has 25 years of experience in teaching adaptive skiing.
It’s a sunny Thursday morning in Vail, about 50 degrees, and I’m taking my first adaptive ski lesson. I don’t have a disability, but earlier in March, I witnessed one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in my life: Staff Sgt. Heath Calhoun, who lost both legs above the knee while serving in Iraq last year, made it down the hill on a snowboard in Vail.
The remarkable thing, aside from the emotional strength Heath had to start a new sport when he is still learning to walk again, is that he was boarding without flexing ankles or knees – both keys to snowboarding.
“It’s not only about teaching skiing, it’s about life skills, too,” Demuth says. And those life skills include having an open mind to start again – from a different place where everything is new and with different equipment. The chair I’m sitting in is comfortable, though and feels safe. It stands over two skis with a large sidecut -this is a different version of a mono-ski, which only has one ski.
The big challenge seems to be to get on the chairlift, but with Demuth’s and the lift attendant’s help at the count of three I’m safely on it. It surely feels higher than on regular skis, so we put the bar down. Downloading is a lot easier – Demuth gives me a little push and I throw my body forward.
Then I’m at the start of my first run. I feel balanced and, to some extent, powerful holding the outriggers – the poles with tiny skis at the bottom – that connect me to the snow.
“Ready?” Ruth asks me. “I want you to keep your head up, that’s very important. And I want you to look where you are going. ALWAYS.”
As soon as I turn my head to the right, the bi-skis seems to turn on its own. I’m also using my shoulders and gravity. There I go, one turn and another and just like alpine skis, the more you link turns, the smoother the ride.
In my first ride down, Demuth is holding me from the back with two tether lines to control my speed in case I lose control. I make it all the way down without crashing.
Back in the lift line at Chair 12 I meet Linda McCord, a 55-year-old Texan with slight Down syndrome. She’s been skiing with Doug Morrell, another adaptive instructor in Vail.
“Fifteen runs and no falls,” she tells Demuth proudly. “I like Doug, I can always trust him.” McCord has been skiing with Morrell for 10 years.
Back at the top of Chair 12. The second and third runs come and although Demuth is holding the tethers, she says I’m on my own.
“You were doing it all by yourself,” Demuth says, after I stop with a very basic hockey technique. “How did that feel?”
It felt fast. I got to go faster and on the bi-skis, I felt like I was going faster than I do on alpine skis.
“It was easy,” I tell her. “I don’t know why it keeps feeling easy.”
“This job gives you a lot of satisfaction,” she says. “Yesterday, for example, this man who is paralyzed whom I taught mono-skiing the other day told me after a day skiing on his own, ‘Ruth, I own chair 12 now.’ For anybody else, that wouldn’t mean much. For him, it meant everything. And to me, too.”
To me, skiing on bi-skis taught me you can have fun on the snow no matter what you stand or sit on.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at email@example.com.
Adaptive school teaches variety of students
By Veronica Whitney
Daily Staff Writer
Adaptive skiing is about adapting the ski equipment for each person’s unique needs and adapting the instruction as well, says Ruth Demuth, director of the Vail Adaptive Ski School program.
“Our focus is on the guest’s ability not their disability,” Demuth says. “Part of adaptive skiing is putting a little normalcy in somebody’s life.”
The Vail Adaptive Ski School program provides instruction to people of all disabilities – both physical and cognitive – in alpine skiing, snowboarding and cross country skiing.
Lessons with adaptive ski instructors utilize all equipment including, mono-skis, bi-skis, ski-bikes, outriggers, cross-country sit skis and a variety of ski stabilizers.
“We’re consistently busy – we were sold out during all vacations this winter,” says Demuth, an adaptive instructor of 25 years. “This is one of the best adaptive ski schools because we aren’t volunteers, we’re trained instructors.”
Her 15 adaptive instructors can pretty much get everybody with a disability to ski or snowboard, Demuth says.
“There’s very few instances when we can’t do something,” she says. “Part of it is because people who get involved in adaptive programs are so fixed in making it happen.
“People with disabilities ski bumps and chutes and jump off cliffs if they have the ability,” she adds.
Vail Resorts offers a five-resort season ski pass, called an adaptive ski pass, to people with permanent disabilities for $199.
For more information on the adaptive program in Vail, call Ruth Demuth at (970) 479-3264. To book a lesson at the Beaver Creek Adaptive Ski School, call (970) 845-5465.