Sarah Loughlin spends a week in French ski resort La Plagne, learning about charity DSUK and their disabled activity holidays.
Having been a competent skier from a young age trusting someone else to guide me down the busy slopes of La Plagne took a fair amount of convincing. After being strapped in to the ‘sit-ski’, which could be described as a wheelchair on skis, we set off towards the chairlift. I had been skiing with instructor Careen and a young sit-skier Bryony for 2 days, helping Careen lift Bryony on and off the chairlift, so it was an odd sensation to be lifted on my self. Matt, a fellow DSUK helper, was using me as a crash test dummy on his first ever attempt to ‘bucket’ the sit-ski down the beginners run outside our hotel.
Sit-ski’s are used for skiers with all sorts of disability and can either be ‘bucketed’ where the skier is guided using a handle on the back of the ski, ‘teathered’ which gives the skier more independence with the instructor using two lengths of rope attached to the ski to support them, or the sit-ski can be used completely independently if the skier is able.
As we set off from the top of the slope Matt sounded nervous. Careen assured me that, even if Matt drops the ski, as long as I keep my arms tucked in I’ll be absolutely fine. So as Matt guided us down the slope calling out the turns as we wove left and right through the other skiers, I concentrated on my two jobs: turning my head at the right time and keeping my arms safe inside the ski. As Matt and I carved through the snow, working as a team to move the ski, I began to relax and enjoy the ride, it was a lot lower to the slope than being a stand up skier, and because you don’t move your body as much I began to get a little chilly, but it was a lot more enjoyable than I had imagined and I can understand how sit-skiers become totally addicted and come back year after year.
One sit-ski addict, who has been skiing with DSUK for almost 20 years, is Sarah. Being more experienced than either Bryony or I in a sit-ski, Sarah had moved on to being ‘teathered’ by Careen and could ski blue slopes using ‘fixed out riggers’, which are a small ski either side of the sit-ski allowing it to carve from side to side with out falling over. I watched amazed as Sarah cruised down the mountain, and controlled the ski with only small movements of her head and slight leaning of her upper body. It was certainly a lot more graceful than my descent down the slope after her on my skis, trying to keep up.
As a group of 25 or so people including, skiers, helpers, instructors and carers or family members it took a lot of organising for everyone to do things together. Despite that we all ate together and socialised in the evenings, it was a great opportunity to chat more to the skiers and their families, catch up on everyone’s skiing progress and hear the stories from the day.
DSUK are a British charity that have been around in one form or another for about 30 years. Amongst other things they arrange group holidays for disabled skiers with any type of disability; from amputees to people with epilepsy. They say that there is almost no-one they can’t get out on the slopes enjoying the mountain air, and after seeing them in action I believe it. To check out more about what they do and events or programmes near you have a look at their website: www.disabilitysnowsport.org.uk/