(Para) Skiing background

First time back in the BC post-accident (Alta Lakes, Telluride)

First time back in the BC post-accident (Alta Lakes, Telluride). Photo credit: Joshua Butson

While being a climber is a large part of my identity, I was a skier long before I got into climbing. Which is a bit odd given that I grew up in the winter wonderland that is Hong Kong. In fact, I got into climbing via ski mountaineering. Once the terrain got gnarlier and the ropes started to come out, I thought, Hrm, I really ought to know how to use this equipment.

With the paralysis in my left leg, skiing now is certainly quite different compared to skiing on two skis. My setup has me using a pair of outriggers, a ski on my right leg and just a snow boot (e.g. Sorels) on my left foot.  This makes for a lot of asymmetrical sock/shoe/ski needs. When I first started three-tracking (the term used for skiing on one ski and using outriggers), I was on New England hardpack groomers. Since I was already higher up on my right side in my ski boot and ski, my left leg was a little raised and I just let it dangle or use the little hamstring function I have to lift it slightly. However, as my left leg would tire, my left foot would drop and hit the snow. Not ideal when you are moving at speed, and also a real problem in deeper snow.

Photo credit: Joshua Butson

Photo credit: Joshua Butson

The slog up. You can tell just how happy I am.

The slog up. You can tell just how happy I am, unlike the picture of misery behind me.

One solution to this came from Jeremy Anderson up at Challenge Alaska out of Alyeska, AK. He suggested I clip that leg up to (a) not have it catch in the snow and completely throw my hips out, and (b) give my right leg room to move in and out of that space and not hit my left leg. So now, I wear a sturdy belt (it’s a bit of a pain having to find ski pants with beefy belt loops) with a quickdraw clipped to it; a piece of cord/webbing tied around my left snow boot with a biner attached to that, and clip that biner to the quickdraw when I am skiing. I can then release that boot when I am, say, on flat ground or on a chair lift. Getting used to this system took a little bit of time, and it still is a pain when I am in a pickle. I have fallen down so many times on my left knee cap that I am amazed it is still intact :-/

Backcountry is tougher. Since I cannot get my left foot in a ski boot and I don’t have the muscles, skinning up with two skis is not an option. So I trudge up with snow shoes (in snow boots) and collapsable poles while carrying my ski, PITA outriggers (they are heavy and bulky) strapped to my pack, and my ski boot in my pack. Transitions are tricky since I need to change out of my Sorel on my right foot into my right ski boot.

Like all things adaptive, there is still a lot of room for improvement and iteration, and I am always open to hearing suggestions on how I can tweak (maybe even overhaul) my setups.

I have gotten to be a pretty good three-tracker in a very short period of time (advanced/expert terrain, heli-standby in the Chugach in Alaska, backcountry skiing in the San Juan mountains). But, there are lots of really good skiers out there. It is the process, the stumbling and getting back up that is the mark of a person.

I have come a ways from my first day back on skis post-accident in December 2014 (I didn’t expect to just be skiing on my right leg, so you can see that I did not have appropriate footwear for my left foot (just a sneaker :)) Here I am, about an hour in, finally getting the hang of things a bit.


And here is a short video of me, first day of my second season on one ski, skiing a black run with really crappy icy bumps (I am not sure the video captures the terrain):

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