Winter Activities for the Disabled

By Jason Marshall , last updated December 21, 2011

It is increasingly possible for athletes with disabilities to participate in winter sports. There was a time not that long ago when it would have been unthinkable for someone with a disability to ski or snowboard, but recent technological advances and social awareness have made it not only possible, but more common, to see the disabled on the slopes and ice. Just as there are many different types of winter sports, there are many types of disabilities and different disabilities means there are different ways for them to participate in each sport.

Sit Skiing

For those who get around in a wheelchair or have limited mobility in their lower half of their body, sit skiing is a great way to experience downhill skiing. Fitted on a single ski is a seat on which the disabled skier sits. She holds two short poles for balance. Sit skiers can glide down the mountain with ease. To turn, they simply lean the direction they want to go while dragging the pole on the snow. They are very popular with paraplegics, lower limb amputees, and those suffering from diseases like muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and spina bifida.

Adaptive Snowboarding

Adaptive snowboarding can look a lot like sit skiing for some disabled athletes, but it is good for those who can stand as well. This winter sport is especially popular with lower limb amputees. They simply add an attachment to their prosthetic and use outriggers. For those with partial paralysis, they can fit their legs with restrictive knees braces and outriggers for their snowboarding adventures.

Wheelchair Curling

One of the most popular winter sports in Canada is curling, so it was only a matter of time before a variation on the sport would come for wheelchair participants. Wheelchair curling takes place on the same 40 yard sheet of ice with the same 40 pound stones other curlers use. To score points you have to get your stones closer to a target than your opponent’s. The major difference with wheelchair curling is there is no sweeping, which means teams have a little less control over the curl of their shots, but the sport does not lack the excitement and drama of any other curling event.

Adaptive Cross Country Skiing

This is a sport that requires a lot of upper body strength for skiers who have to use the sit ski. Cross country skiing is all about slogging through snow, uphill and downhill. So sit skiers will have to exert a lot of energy going up those hills. There are two types of cross country skiing, classic and free style. Classic cross country skiing is done with groomed tracks on the course. Sit skiers aren’t able to deviate from their path and use their poles to push them forward. Free style, on the other hand, does not use any groomed tracks. They move through undisturbed snow, which is faster. Athletes with prosthetics or limited mobility are more likely to compete in free style cross country skiing.

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