I love to ski, and the thing about skiing, as with snowboarding and even ice climbing, is that by its very nature it is an adaptive sport. You can't just "go skiing" without first strapping or clicking on a couple of extra appendages to your body, and from there, the learning curve begins. We, however, make a distinction in our sport between regular skiers and adaptive skiers. Those skiers who have more or different things that they have to strap on, say a lower leg and a prosthetic foot or a mono ski, are the "adaptive ones." In some cases, these skiers may actually have less to strap on, in the case of certain amputees who use one ski and outriggers, or those who are missing an arm, or blind skiers who use the same set up as fully-sighted skiers but need a guide in front or behind them as they head down the mountain.
Certainly, the challenges are different and the sport often harder to access the more adaptation required, but the joy and the beauty are no less when someone simply skis. We can, and we should, work together to get over and around those obstacles. And yet it seems we shy away from telling the stories of these skiers in the backcountry or anywhere, who are finding ways up and down the mountain. Perhaps we are too concerned that the story of further adaptation will fall into a formulaic TV movie of the week plot line that can invite pity, rather than respect for the challenges Johnny overcame to finally ski again, or to ski for the first time.
Instead, if we recognize that especially with skiing, all of us are adaptive athletes to some degree, and all of us, especially while learning, require a good deal of help to not only get good, but just up the mountain, perhaps we can begin to see those who are missing, or perhaps adding on more to their bodies than we have to, as athletes just like the rest of us: skiers seeking out bigger and steeper lines, fresher powder and an escape from the crowd -- we can begin to see only skiers. And with that, we can begin to see skiers, regardless of adaptation, in all the movies, catalogs, and festivals.
Maybe everyone already sees it this way and is more enlightened than I am. If you are already there, rather than climbing up to get there, then I hope you can enjoy the following photos of an amazing backcountry ski trip sponsored by Sierra Club Mission Outdoors and run by the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program with plenty of help from San Juan Outdoor School, Jagged Edge, and the Alta Lakes Observatory. We had an amazing group of athletes, veterans and non-veterans, who just like the rest of us are absolute powder hounds.
Special thanks to Craig Stein for his donation of the wonderful images.
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