The Swiss Ski School Saas-Fee offers ski courses for disabled people. Our experienced and certified ski instructor Jolanda teaches and accompanies people with different mental and physical disabilities. Read about her experience below.
… first of all exciting and hearty and enriching!
… In other words: Snow sports with a disability...? Yes, of course!
It is my aim to introduce this very interesting area to a broad audience - and also to support affected people to overcome any hurdle for starting their snow sports adventure.
2005 was the first time for me to teach a blind guest; shortly after, I also had a trisomy 21 pupil in Saas-Fee for the first time. Since then I have been fascinated about the great successes my students have made and I am grateful that I can share these moments with them!
Read here for a report by Hannah (visual impairment).
Alexandros (right hemiparesis)
At the end of December I had the pleasure of taking, together with a modicum of apprehension, a very motivated young man on the slopes for his first skiing experience. His big goal: being able to ski on his own and participate in a school ski trip the following January.
We started in the kids park with a one-meter-long ski, without poles- using a multitude of different teaching aids. We were trying to skip snow plowing altogether and get straight to parallel turns! After some fall-line skiing and attaining the correct position, I tried to coach Alex in a more tactile way- I always skied backwards. We tried to find the ideal hip position to achieve a change of direction. “When do I have to turn my hips and how much? How can I help with my shoulders/ upper body, to get into the new turn. Where is my head looking? How far apart do my legs have to be, so I can have an ideal edge angle to turn and break? When is a turn ‘finished’? What's the best speed?”
Step by step and day by day we got closer to our goal. I let Alex almost ski on his own most of the time. I'd help when needed by giving a little pressure on his outside arm and hip. The question of how to stand up after a fall on his weak side came up. “Which side do my skis face? What do I do if I can't get up at all?”
To stop by the turnstile, we found a parallel-plowing position. The button lift was a big success.
The ski trip awaits! Well done Alex, keep pushing!
Lilly (Trisomy 21)
...from Germany I got to know her in winter 2012. She already had some experience. I was excited to see at what level Lilly was and how I could help her to improve. During every special lesson we need some time to assess the person and the skills. Lilly didn't actually ski that bad while she was continuously being observed. I had to show her that it is not always right to want too much too quickly... and that you can actually fall if you do this (once Lilly was only able to stop upon reaching mothers and thanks to a wooden bench - or: sometimes we also fell off the lift because Lilly wanted to try the anchor lift...) - but she never lost her humour.
The more progress she made, the more she enjoyed it of course! Lilly was always "the best" for me - during the race she also won (in our group...). The most beautiful thing however is to be able to motivate the children, to see that they have fun and want to come back the next winter... you can do it Lilly, you are the best! See you soon!
Danique (Visual disorder and disturbance of equilibrium)
...from the Netherlands; she has been coming to Saas-Fee for many years with her family. For health reasons, it was never possible for her to learn to ski. I trained with her twice for 1 hour when she had her maximum levels of energy. We soon skied at the village lift (together on the pull lift) and tried different aids. The ring and the looking from one side to the other for the turns helped a lot. Safety and a low speed are very important for Danique.
It was also helpful to show her when and how the ski stops in a tactile way. These first experiences convinced her that a lot more is possible. I see fast progress for her, if more energy and strength are generated with better organ functions. Danique had great fun skiing! Me too - and I hope to see her soon on the snow again!
Jan-Lukas (cerebral palsy)
...from the Kanton Bern I welcomed him for the first time in Saas-Grund in 2012 in a bob. He already had some experience from Sörenberg - and now wanted to improve his skills at Hohsaas during his holidays. The parents had also tried normal skiing with Jan-Lukas, but this was too challenging for everyone.
We explained many things through metaphors and tried them. We especially trained turns and speed control in many different variations. The goal of Jan-Lukas was to drive independently (with stabilisers) and this worked out well on blue slopes in the end. Both need a lot of patience, the coach and the pupil, and it is important to try again and again. Fun is of course also very important: Jan-Lukas loves to drive in wavy hollows! It is always my goal to motivate the pupils not to give up and to continue trying it! Jan-Lukas has lots of motivation on his monoski - and long may it continue! See you next time?
...from Central Switzerland is a funny young man who is usually in a good mood. He came to me after skiing with other instructors first. To ski and "manage" a big portion of energy is a challenge for both, pupil and instructor. We have tried different things and have skied a lot of course. With bells and rhythm aids for the hands, we managed to ski and control the energy.
Sometimes we tried new things like a jump, tied up to each other with a rope. This is fun, even if you might fall once. But explanations and rules are necessary too! Finding the right balance requires a strong "feeling" of the person. Kevin asks a lot of questions - he is interested in so many things, and it is important to "follow" him - with direct questions about the technique we can achieve a lot. Kevin loves extraordinary and special things (e.g. both of us dressed up at Carnival). See you soon in Saas-Fee with plenty of energy...
Britta (quasi quadriplegia)
...she is an intelligent and wonderful lady! She has been coming to Saas-Fee with her family for many years. For a few years, her dream was to drive on the snow on Mittelallalin - but how? A request at the Ski School got the ball rolling... they arrived with a dual bob and I was allowed (in the company of her father) to experience the first test drives with her - wow, what a feeling! We extremely enjoyed the moment - of course we wanted more. Britta's dream got closer.
At the end of the week we drove to the Morenia middle station - simply incredible how Britta can implement the technique! This feeling of gliding, tipping, going on the edges must be incredible (no, we can't understand it - only imagine it - we have more muscles that we can use!). The next winter, Britta was able to realise her dream of Mittelallalin... and even more; at the end we even did a downhill run from the top (3500 m) to the village (1800 m)!!
Lukas (Trisomy 21)
...from Germany. I have known him for about 5 years. Full of energy and he loves to talk. He is always motivated to learn new things, and especially motivated when it comes to competitions. The ring resp. the steering wheel did the trick for him - from then on he improved quickly - from snowplough to parallel skiing.
He was even more motivated from then on! The style is not as important, the technical basics counts - and then it works out. And we can start skiing a lot. Today we ski up the mountain, also on red slopes. He loves to participate at the giant slalom race of the groups! The medal and the picture after the race are a must of course...! We have "found each other" too, and I think we are a great team!
Daniela (completely blind)
...from the Kanton Bern is an extraordinary young lady with great willpower. A few years ago, I first met her during a one-week ski camp for blind people. Since then, I have done the respective preparation weekends with her (she was the "guinea pig" for other instructors). Daniela goes skiing on a regular basis.
With her it is also possible to talk about details like posture. In the ski camp for blind people with a lot of trust and technical exercises we were even able to do a black slope, which, at the start of the week, Daniela didn't think she would manage! It's clear that trust between the guide and the skier is the most important thing. But also specific explanations, also with regard to the slope, snow and weather conditions, are very important. The will to try it despite the increased difficulty, I simply find fantastic.
For me, Daniela with her zest for life is a role model - always looking forward, even if it is sometimes not that easy. And she always reminds me, that we need our other senses too and that we should promote them!
Nadia (Speech-coordination disability)
...from the canton of Zurich whom I have accompanied since the beginning. For the first few years we skied at the village lift; something which provides a lot of adrenaline rushes for pupil and instructor... letting the skis run on the snow is simply more exciting than braking! As a team, we then learned step by step, and Nadia has learned a lot (over the years she also become stronger), and today we ski on all slopes in the entire ski resort! Nadia doesn't follow my traces very often, but she is synchronic, and we also managed to handle the energy in her arms with a lot of stick swinging. For me it's clear: Nadia still loves skiing very much; she shows it to me with her smile and her energy. There are also moments when I have to watch that she doesn't ski off on her own. With the years, I have learned to understand Nadia better, and now it is like a big and a "small" sister going skiing together…
Martin (Trisomy 21)
...from Hamburg takes skiing very seriously - it's a big hobby for him - he looks forward to it all year! His "career" was regular with an upwards trend. Explaining everything in detail, why something is necessary - and today we ski all the red slopes (an unfortunately deceased ski instructor colleague taught Martin all the skiing basics). Martin absorbs much more details than you would think - he doesn't speak much, but gestures and movements show what he is feeling like. I am very happy that we have found a way to communicate with each other and to establish a relationship. After the wonderful days on the slopes a medal is a must of course! And every year on his birthday we have some coffee and cake together!
Martin loves skiing, and he is just like anyone else. Gliding on two boards amidst this beautiful mountain scenery is therapy par excellence!
Here, dear guests, I would like to tell some stories about my experience with ski lessons for disabled people. For me, many of them are much more than "just" my students - a special connection develops, which I highly appreciate and I do everything to preserve these relationships. I have great respect for everything they did and still do every day, for what they have taught, for their motivation, dedication and the joy they have in reaching new goals!
With the warmest regards JOLANDA