Locals of all ages and abilities braved the rain this weekend in Haines for adaptive ski lessons by instructors from Eaglecrest Ski Area in Juneau. The Learn to Adapt program includes sit-skiing and assisted instruction for people with physical and cognitive disabilities, seniors and kids.
Doris Peck is 86 and has never been skiing. But, she says, it’s never too late to try something new.
“I’ve been told there’s nothing to fear about it,” she says while getting suited up for her ride.
She gets towed by snowmachine to the top of a gentle slope at the parade grounds in Haines. She’s says she’s nervous about tipping over in the modified sit-ski. But instructors assure her it’s secure.
“You’re not going anywhere … No one is turning you over … ”
Lindsay Hallvik is the Outdoor Recreation and Community Access program director in Juneau. She was one of a handful of instructors on hand for the day. Hallvik says adaptive skiing offers those with impairments a sense of freedom.
“Sometimes, especially in wintertime, it’s hard to get out of your house and really feel like you’re living in independent life and get to have some fun and get the recreation pieces that everyone else is getting to enjoy all winter long,” Hallvik says. “So, it makes a huge difference.”
The program has been going on in Juneau for seven years. Last year’s event in Haines was cancelled due to a lack of snow. But this year, there was just enough snow and slush to make the ride down the hill enjoyable.
“We have Nordic sit-skis, downhill sit-skis, as well as some walkers that can help people maneuver the snow. We also have stand-up outriggers that can help with balance or if you have an amputation. We also just have a lot of adaptive teaching techniques and knowledge.”
Hallvik says adaptive skiing is for anyone, not just those with physical disabilities.
“It could be someone with a mental illness, it could be someone traumatic brain injury or maybe a development mental disability. Or even just an injury. Say you have a really bad knee and you need some adaptation to really ski, we can make it happen.”
Haines’ Bill Annis, better known around here as Radio Man Bill, had never been on skis before Saturday, as far as he remembers. He sat in the adaptive sit-ski apparatus. A childhood accident left him with limited function on his left side, but he works to maintain his independence. After a couple of times down the slope, Annis tries an outrigger along with the sit-ski. Here’s Hallvik explaining the set up.
“You’ve got a little ski on the bottom of the crutch and so that way you can kind of slide it on the snow. You can slide on the snow and it will guide your turn…”
After getting hooked to the snowmachine for a tow up the hill, Annis was off for another try.
The outrigger helped him turn better, he says, all smiles, when he gets to the bottom.
“It’s easy as a rider, I don’t know how it would feel coming down on fresh snow with a pair skis.”
“Amazing!” Hallvik responds.
Meanwhile, across the grounds, Eaglecrest Ski School Coordinator Thomas Hall was giving a lesson to Roger Kley on how to maneuver in downhill skis. He took to it with gusto and got a couple of spills out of the way early on.
“No one in the history of skiing has ever skied without falling, it’s just part of it,” Hall tells his student. “You just own it. You owned it, you earned it, wear it with pride. The better skier you are, simply means the more times you’ve fallen.”
Hall says adaptive ski lessons are offered at Eaglecrest every weekend.
Meanwhile, 86-year-old Peck didn’t tip over, not even close, and she finished the run with a big grin.
“You did it! You can check that off your bucket list!”
After conquering the slope, Pecks says it wasn’t so scary. But, she was decisive when her instructors asked her if she wanted to go again.
“No,” Peck says.
Over the course of the day, the rain came and went as did about a dozen participants. And everyone finished happy. Instructor Hall says that’s what they live for.