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  • Michelle

Skiing with Friends

Updated: Mar 27

I had never skied before my spinal cord injury (SCI) in July 2014, but while still in inpatient rehabilitation in February 2015, the recreational therapist on staff suggested I give it a try. So, bundled up in a borrowed pink one-piece Carhart snowsuit and boots, we headed to the ski area. I was greeted warmly by the adaptive ski instructors. They reviewed the different types of sit-skis I could try, my medical needs as a C5-6 quadriplegic, my physical abilities, and how to best communicate with me. Adding warm mittens and footbag complete with heat packs (people with upper-level SCI have a hard time regulating their own body temperature), a helmet, and goggles I was ready to get in the ski. For my maiden voyage, I would be in a Mountain man bi-ski with fixed outriggers (little to no grip with my quad hands). My instructors performed a top-bottom transfer, one grabbing under my shoulders, the other behind my knees, placing me in the ski. With a little extra padding for the backside, a hip adjustment, and some quick clothing management, we were ready to head out into the snow.


Two people in snow gear looking at the camera with the mountains in the background

Out in the lift line, my instructors do a test lift to show me how it feels when the back of the ski unhinges, allowing the back of the sled to detach from the skis so that I can ride the chair lift sitting in the ski. The angle feels a little precarious, but we’ve come too far to chicken out now. My operator slows the lift as we get into position “1, 2, 3… Lift.” My instructors time their movements, and with a bump and pull back I am on the lift and headed up the mountain. I tilt my face toward the clear blue sky, feel the warm sun, and take a deep cleansing breath as we glide up for the first run of what will become an obsession. At the top, the instructor explains how I can help maneuver the sled by sticking my arms out to the side and also how to signal I need to stop. “Don’t worry, an instructor will be tethered to the ski at all times steering and controlling speed.” That initial run is pure joy, freedom, and excitement all rolled into one. We quickly discover I am a speed junkie, and by the end of my session, I am rushing down the trails shouting with glee.


I have been skiing for nine winters now, only getting really into it over the last three seasons. As I have progressed in my physical recovery, I have progressed in what ski I use. While my grasp is still not strong, my trunk and arm/shoulder strength has increased significantly, allowing me to gradually become more independent in directing the sled. Currently, I ski a snow-kart which has attached outriggers that we strap my hands to, permitting me to change the angle of the ski to guide us down the hill.


The thing I enjoy most about skiing is the camaraderie. Typically, I will ski with the same instructors over the course of the season. Each session is like skiing with old friends. The jokes, playful teasing, and joy of each other’s company are what I most look forward to on a lesson day. The speed-induced adrenaline rush and my love of all outdoor activities are just icing on the cake. When I ski, I am able to forget my physical limitations and just enjoy being alive and unhindered for an afternoon. Being a wheelchair user, I obviously don’t get many opportunities to climb a mountain and enjoy the view; skiing affords me both! I find my afternoon on the slopes cleansing and healing. After wallowing in good company and all the beauty nature offers, I am ready to face another week and all the ups and downs that come with this life.


Michelle lives in New Hampshire with a C5-6 spinal cord injury she sustained in 2014. She is passionate about health and fitness participating in a variety of adaptive sports through all seasons. Michelle loves staying active and encouraging others in their journey to recovery and becoming their best selves.


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