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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Skiing: The Movement

I skied at Killington, the so called Beast of the East, this week. I moved from the beginner slopes to easy intermediate slopes. After not skiing for so long I am learning to relax and have fun again. I skied with a good friend and my brother-in-law, both men are excellent skiers and teachers. I had a spectacular time and my arms, shoulders and neck ache. Adaptive skiing makes me think. It generates two polar opposite thoughts: skiing highlights how utterly dependent I am. I need the help of others. Without significant effort on the part of others I cannot ski. This is what happens when I ski. Someone hauls my gear and ski rig outside and near the ski lift. I am lifted like a sack of potatoes by two people into my rig--think dead weight. I am then strapped into my rig--and when I mean strapped this is done as tightly as humanly possible--just short of not being able to breathe. Once secured in the rig, a time consuming process, I am pushed uphill to the lift. Two people haul me onto the lift and we ride to the top where i am pushed and guided off the lift. This process is always an adventure and remarkably more often than not goes exactly as planned. The process of getting me to the slopes makes me realize just how dependent I am upon others. I could not ski without substantial help. Amazingly this does not bother me one iota. I am extremely grateful to the volunteers who work at adaptive ski programs nationwide. My dependency is extreme but once on the slopes I am free. I truly love riding the lift. The view is spectacular but this pales in comparison to the rush I get skiing. I am not a speed demon. I like to feel in control and thoroughly enjoy turning. Turning helps control speed and I like the feeling or rhythm of linked turns. It is a great sensation. I love the physicality of skiing. I like the feeling of the rigors in my hands and the sound they make. I know I can turn well to my left but struggle with my right turns. I do too many hockey style stops and the placement of my head is a major problem. So what. I am having a massive amount of fun.

I will also admit skiing is socially satisfying. At Killington where sit skiers are out of the norm, I feel like a rock star. I am starred at and to kids I am like the Pied Piper. The stares are not what I am accustom to. The stares on the ski slope are not "Oh my God, what is that pathetic person in a wheelchair doing here". The stares I get skiing are one's of wonder. In short, I am cool. Kids and snow boarders in particular carefully watch me. Kids watch me like a hawk. From snow boarders I get many a "cool dude". Skiers will comment on my technique. When back in my wheelchair people come up to me say that they saw me on the slope. These comments quickly become a discussion of the ski conditions and where we like to ski. My interactions with others skiers is uniformly positive. Indeed, I have never had a bad social experience at any ski resort. By bad social experience I mean no one has ever been rude or demeaning to me. What really struck me this week was the realization adaptive skiers are not only welcome but have a level of prestige. I am without question seen as cool. This is great for my ego.

Whenever I ski I often think of elite adaptive skiers, especially mono skiers who compete in the X Games and blind Paraolympian skiers. These men and women superb skills and demand for excellent gear has trickled down to a middle aged duffer such as myself on the slopes. My skill level pales in comparison. Hence I am grateful to the pioneers of adaptive skiing. I can ski and rent a rig because of them. These people and the legion of volunteers who give their time and effort to adaptive ski programs are doing something special. They are fostering a sense of equality that I hope someday will be wide spread. The most gratifying part of my day skiing took place just before lunch. A young girl dressed in pink from head to toe stopped me and we chatted for a few minutes. She was clearly intrigued with sit skiing. We talked about the ski conditions, how we were each better at turning left than right, where we skied etc. It was a very ordinary chat. This was gratifying because I know the next time she sees a man or woman using a wheelchair she is going to think of what they can do not what they cannot do. This represents real life social progress. It also enables me to overlook the words such as inspiration and hero in the above promotional video of the new Warren Miller film about adaptive skiing.