Visually Impaired/Intellectually Disabled Skiing

The Visually Impaired/Intellectually Disabled category includes fully or partially visually impaired persons as well as those with physical or mental disabilities. These disabilities may affect the processing of information for coordination and control. Some of our intellectually delayed students include those with Autism, Aspergers Syndrome, Down Syndrome, or Mental Retardation.

Visually impaired/intellectually disabled skiers and snowboarders often use the same equipment as their able-bodied counterparts. However they also require adaptive teaching techniques and equipment. We combine visual impairment and intellectual disabilities into one category because they share similar teaching equipment, such as a bamboo pole.

Visually Impaired Skiing

blind skiingIn addition to using various training aids to teach visually impaired students to ski, we also guide them down the mountain safely. An instructor must keep the visually impaired skier informed of necessary turns and potential hazards. To make other skiers aware of the unique situation, the visually impaired skier and instructor wear bright orange vests to identify themselves. With this configuration, other skiers know not to ski in between them or limit their communication.

Intellectually Disabled Skiing

developmentally disabled skiingAlthough many intellectually disabled skiers are physically able to ski, the instructional challenge is in the student’s cognitive abilities.

This student can keep balance and ski while wearing standard skis and boots. However, due to the student’s cognitive disability, it will take some practice before she can respond appropriately to the instructor’s verbal instructions. Until then, the instructor uses tether lines attached to the front of the student’s skis to initiate the requested actions. The student learns by doing and feeling in a safe and active learning environment. With time and practice, the student is able to self-initiate the appropriate skiing maneuvers.

developmentally disabled skiingThis next learning technique works especially well with children, whose attention span is already short. The photo shows two of our instructors with one of our younger students. In this case, the student needs physical support from both sides to get accustomed to balance. With the student’s light weight, one instructor can control speed while initiating movements of the student’s skis.

disabled backwards skiiingUsing two instructors is also helpful when making sure a student fully completes his turns to maintain a safe speed. Occasionally our students respond better to face-to-face interaction. In this example, the lead instructor skis backwards in front of the student, reassuring him, instructing him and acting as a backstop. A second instructor (not shown) follows the pair and watches out for the safety of the group.

skiing with belt polesTeaching students how to turn can be tricky. Sometimes a little physical prompting is all students need to help them on their way. Here, our instructor uses two poles attached to deflated rubber tire to manipulate the student’s waist and encourage gradual turn initiation.

developmentally disabled skiingSome of our adaptive students learn better with less equipment. Notice that this skier does not have ski poles—nor does his instructor behind him. Some students make better progress with fewer items to coordinate. We then introduce new movements one-at-a-time to maximize their concentration. A situation like this might call for two instructors: one behind to give verbal directions, and one in front to provide a “target” for the student to follow down the mountain.

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