SITTING LOW – FLYING HIGH
Three years ago I fell in love with sit-skiing! 2013 was a year of many firsts for me and a motto of always saying yes! I discovered a whole new area of life that brings me joy (sometimes pain too…ouch!) and a sense of being able and included in a sport that even as an able-bod I hadn’t experienced before – despite being born and raised in Switzerland till I was 8!
A few weeks ago I went skiing in Thredbo for a week…how do I do that you say? Well sit-skiing to be exact… my new hobby that is so totally exhilarating and has developed my confidence tremendously over the last few years. I would never have dreamed of being able to get to a point of confidently flying down Friday Flats at Thredbo on my own three years ago! Back in 2013, my family decided to go down for a weekend at the snow. Of course I don’t like to miss out on anything and vague memories of the late 1990s came flashing back where I had a taste of it with friends (and an instructor) for a day, a two-hour lesson to be exact. However, back then I was in no head space to contemplate doing it regularly.
Australia has a wonderful organisation – Disabled Wintersports Australia (DWA) who organise sit-ski hire, volunteer guides, discounted instructor lessons and also camps for people with disability to explore this adrenalin pumping sport for its members and their families. For me this is the only way I could ever really go skiing. Without the guides and the organising team at DWA, sit skiing would not be possible for me.
2013 TRIP TO THREDBO WITH FAMILY – LEARNING THE ROPES
Three years ago I met my English adaptive instructor Matt Barnes. On that weekend at Thredbo we tested the waters with sit-skiing Friday Flats and had a hoon down Merritts so that I could spend some time skiing with my family up the mountain too. This is where a sit-ski with guide controls comes in handy. I didn’t have to do anything, Matt was in control up at Merritts. So much fun!
Now while we chit chatted on the chairlift ride up the mountain, I explained to Matt that I was also coming back to do a DWA Camp in September with my friend Mel. Well the dates coincided with the end of his season contract and Matt was able to come along as a volunteer guide… that was the start of a life long friendship!
(Photo: Matt and I in the twin sit-ski with Guide/Instructor control handles, Friday Flats, Thredbo, Australia, August 2013)
2013 DWA CAMP IN PERISHER – GETTING INDEPENDENT
In September 2013, my good friend and travel buddy Mel came down with me to do this Camp. A little hesitant and unsure how it would go but I was comforted to know that Matt was going to be there…at least I knew him and had met a couple of the DWA staff back in August. This time round we learned the slopes at Perisher. Not as accessible a venue as the one at Thredbo for people using wheelchairs but we had spare, good-looking muscles 😉 to get us where we couldn’t go ourselves!
ThaSit skier who has fallen down on the snow with the guide standing to the left bent over t week got us to a stage that blew us away. I managed to get independent back then but nowhere near as confidently as this year. The stages of learning to sit-ski include being bucketed at first, that is, your guide or instructor holds your seat as you both go down and start to get the hang of what sit-skiing is like and developing balance. Then come the tethers…a bit like horse reigns attached to your sit-ski seat. Now you get to ski on your own but the guide/instructor uses the tethers to hold you back from picking up too much speed and correcting over steering while you’re still learning techniques.
Eventually you get off the tethers and work your way down the slopes completely on your own. Controlling speed by cutting across your path and pointing up the hill to slow down…or suddenly fall over on your side!!! That happened a lot! Matt was awesome in capturing some of that week on video and summing it up in this fantastic video clip with music below.
(Photo: I’m down for the count on Friday Flats,Thredbo, Australia, August 2014)
THREDBO 2014 – HILARIOUS LIFT MOMENTS!
Our 2014 skiing weekend didn’t involve just skiing… We booked ourselves at the River Inn – the only wheelchair friendly hotel right on the snow at Friday Flats. Now I have to premise this story with the fact that since I have met Mel, for some reason we always end up having lift stories!!! We either find them full of stuff like garbage bins and can’t get in them, people tell us random comments like ‘You are lucky you are in wheelchairs cause you always get to sit!” or as in this case, we got stuck!
We had the bright notion to get both wheelchairs in it to go up to the bar, all was good and it worked…going up. Coming down was a different story! We both hopped in and the lift started going down… then after about 10cm it stopped! The lift was in a little quiet area to the side so it took a bit of calling out and getting someone’s attention to get rescued. Once we did though, it was panic stations for the staff…oh no what to do???
(Photo: Mel and I in the broken down lift at River Inn, Thredbo, Australia September 2014)
Well while they figured that out, we were offered drinks while we waited. Mel was right on to the Frangelico on ice and we joked about our predicament. One drink flowed then the second…waiting waiting for a technician to come and sort us out…then we realised we should probably stop drinking because we didn’t know how long till we could get out and go to the toilet…now that could really become an issue!
Eventually the guys managed to get the door opened and we got lifted out over the 10cm step. It was going to take technician work on Monday to sort this out completely…it was Friday night and the weekend was here! After that it was breakfast for two by the fire in the lounge room downstairs while staff ran up and down the stairs for us. Luckily we had strong guys available to get us up and down the stairs at night so we could still do our apres ski properly!
2016 DWA SIT-SKI CAMP – NEW SKILLS…NEW FRIENDS
This year we headed down for our Camp with the expectation to have an even better social experience than the last Camp because this time we were going to stay at The Station in Jindabyne. We headed down with friends and ended up meeting a whole bunch of new people who we now consider friends too. A great premise for next year…the group is getting bigger!
My first day on the slopes was pretty rough…I stacked it so many times, partly from being out of practice but also because my sit-ski wasn’t adjusted at the right height for me. We face planted off the chairlift a few times and then the ski came off the sit-ski… Ahh the adrenalin! It’s what we call ‘live and learn!’ I will certainly be better equipped to know what my sit-ski needs to feel like next time!
(Photo: Heading to Thredbo on Day 1 of skiing, Thredbo, Australia, September 2016)
I think I did at least 20 stacks on the Monday…then on the Tuesday we encountered our snowboarding assassin! I was doing so well, my sit-ski had been lowered, I was comfy and in control, almost ready to get off the tethers and then my ski instructor Han captured the most hilarious side swipe video. I felt sorry for John, my awesome guide who was tethered to me and couldn’t let go at the last minute. I hope your finger came good John! I’m not sure the snowboarder has let go of the guilt yet…”what have I done?” were the first words out of her mouth when she realised she had taken us both out.
VOLUNTEER GUIDES, SKI INSTRUCTORS, FRIENDS AND DWA – EARTH ANGELS ALL OF THEM!
It wouldn’t be right for me to write about this amazing trip if I didn’t give a shout out to the fabulous group of people who came along for the journey. Without these people we seriously could not enjoy this sport, but hopefully by the end of the week everyone could say they’d had an unforgettable time.
Jo, John, Todd, Warwick, Melinda, Jeff, Craig (Volunteer Guides), Han and Jordi (ski instructors). Shannon Dallas (Paralympic sit-skier) also popped in to give us some expert advice and let’s not forget my friend Matt, managing the ski school this year! What a fantastic group on and off the slopes. Thank you!
Clearly I did learn new skills because despite all of the falls and tricky near misses, I did manage to get independent down Friday Flats with a little speed too (much to Melinda’s distress!). I had control though and loved the rush from it all! Thank you Todd for taking the following video for me to see how I do it!
THE STATION – A PLACE TO MINGLE AND MEET NEW FRIENDS
Apres ski is one of my favourite parts after hooning down the mountain. Good old warm cider and schnapps or espresso martinis all help to stay warm and celebrate the day’s successes (and also where there is room for improvement! Hehe). A rewarding part of this trip was also seeing our fun influence someone who had not contemplated being able to ski again with his boys. After the first day of falling and laughing so much it hurt (quite literally!), we headed back for some apres ski and met up with Dino, a fellow wheelchair user who had been watching us from the ski house all day.
The long and the short of it, the next day Dino was taken out for a trial run to see what sit-skiing would be like. He was hooked! I know for sure Dino will be heading down again next year to come and have a go at sit-skiing. It just opened up a whole new world of opportunities to be able to do a sport with his boys. Priceless!
(Photo: Wildbrumby Schnapps Distillery, Jindabyne, Australia, September 2016)
The Station was where most of us stayed and it had it all on site – accommodation, bar, restaurants and ski hire. In no time our group got bigger and bigger for some mingling after the huge days on the slopes. We debriefed on the day’s ski runs, tips and tricks. Making sure Mel knew the mantra that ‘where your eyes go, so do the skis’ – so it’s best not to look at the snowmaking posts when you go down the hill! Marny’s massive slide under the guard fence up on Merritts was a highlight too, if only we had that one on video!
We had dinners out, a visit to Wildbrumby Schnapps Distillery and ended the week with much-needed massages and above all a whole new bunch of friends with a common bond and unforgettable stories to tell. I seriously had not laughed so much in quite a while. A very therapeutic week that inspired success all round!