Amid the hustle and bustle on Cardrona’s slopes is a team of instructors and volunteers with a difference, who work behind the scenes to make skiing accessible for everyone.
A total of 90 volunteers and an additional pool of instructors make up Cardrona’s Adaptive Snow Sports team, making the programme one of the largest in the country.
Adaptive co-ordinator Sam Colby said the programme was run in conjunction with Snow Sports New Zealand, and various pieces of equipment were available to ensure anyone could have a go at skiing.
“Anyone with any cognitive or physical impairment, we can get them out on the hill, which is pretty awesome.”
Skiing was one of the few sports that allowed anyone of any ability to have a go, he said.
“We find we get guests coming up who haven’t been able to ski or do anything with their family on the same level.
“They might become quite dependent on people, or they see everybody going past quicker than them in the playground at school.
“Then they come out in a sit ski and they come out skiing with us and suddenly they’re the same as everyone else.
“It helps in boosting self-confidence .. Confidence is huge in everyday life and it helps with everything.”
Skiing also helped improve strength, balance and co-ordination, making it beneficial for people who had suffered from strokes or had other physical impairments, he said.
“Part of their rehab will be to try and work and build up both sides of the body to make it strong and improve co-ordination.
“Skiing forces you to do that.”
No matter what level skier or what abilities each guest had, the programme worked towards being as independent as possible on the slopes, he said.
Instructors and volunteers could control the sit ski from behind, but guests were taught to use their bodyweight to steer, in the same way as regular skiing.
The programme had a designated pathway to take beginners all the way through to Paralympic level, he said.
“No matter what they can do, if they can just move their head, we can get them skiing.”
Taking guests on to the slopes first involved assessing their needs and abilities and deciding which equipment was most suitable, he said.
From there, it was a matter of building rapport and working out the best way to communicate with the client, he said. In the case of cognitive impaired guests, this could involve finding a common interest.
“When I first started, the most challenging part for me was cognitive.
“Now, it’s one of the things I like doing the most. It’s so exciting, not knowing what’s going to come up, what’s going to happen, finding out the person’s interests.”
Specialist equipment, such as the sit skis, were imported from the United States for a total cost of about $10,000, he said, and the Cardrona team was always looking for more volunteers and funding.
For more information, or to get involved in the programme, email email@example.com or visit www.cardrona.com/winter/learn/adaptive-snow-sports
Many rewards in helping others
As well as being a lot of fun, the Cardrona adaptive programme was also incredibly rewarding, co-ordinator Sam Colby said.
The team regularly received positive feedback and he was able to meet a range of interesting and inspiring people, he said.
He recalled working with a young girl who was unable to speak but showed her enjoyment in the sit ski.
Eight months later, Mr Colby discovered a friend had stayed with the same family, and he was sent a photo of him and the girl on top of the mountain.
He then learned the girl looked at the photograph every day.
“She looks at it every night and smiles and giggles and laughs and remembers her time skiing.
“They were back this year and she was giggling and smiling and laughing again. It was just amazing.”
He got involved in adaptive programmes “quite by accident” in the United Kingdom, after he and a group of friends offered to help out with a similar initiative as a cheap way to ski.
His work also “hits a nerve close to home”.
“I was born quite early – like 25 weeks – and I was always told I could have had cerebral palsy.
“I never really understood what it meant until I started skiing and helping people in the sit ski .. that could have been me.”