by Cat Weber
Every winter many physios head to the slopes, to spend a holiday, work the season or volunteer. Some, like Cat our Trauma physio, volunteer for organisations that help people with disabilities indulge their love of skiing. Read on to get an idea of what it's like and maybe get involved too!
Having skied fairly regularly since the age of 10, it has always been something I really enjoy. And it was only when my mum, who is disabled, started to go along to her local snow dome to learn how to sit ski that I thought this is something I would enjoy. So I went along to a few of those sessions run by Disability Snowsport UK to not only ski with my Mum but others whose main instructor/guide needed a second pair of hands.
The skiers have a wide range of disabilities and needs, which DSUK do their very best to accommodate to ensure they have access to this very popular winter activity. The group organiser told me how they were often keen for volunteers on their annual trip to La Plagne, France so I thought I’d go along with my mum.
So here I am currently on my way back from my second trip with a great bunch of both old and new friends. This was a DSUK trip organised by Judy but also present was Andy who has set up a charity called Snow Buddies and runs an additional trip in nearby Les Arcs.
I asked them both what their ethos was behind the projects:
Judy: DSUK promotes snow sports for all disabled people. We work to make sure that anyone with a disability, may it be learning, sensory or physical, can ski or snowboard alongside other people.
Andy: Snow buddies wants to make snow sports more available and to give freedom of choice both at home and for trips abroad.
Both charities rely on fundraising and donations in order to purchase the very expensive specialist equipment. Unfortunately, the charity funds cannot stretch to paying for the volunteers on the trip and therefore it is self-funded. However, rates can be reduced the more experienced you are as there are such things as a carer’s ski pass which costs less.
What do you look for in volunteers?
Andy: a good skier and a good sense of humour! Experience with disability is useful but not vital. An understanding of disability and how this may effect somebody’s ability to participate however is necessary.
Judy: You need to be able to ski and the better you can ski the more options you will have. Always need a mixture of volunteers with different experience and you must be willing to learn. A volunteer’s support will not just be needed on the slopes but also off. For example helping with luggage or looking after somebody’s money who isn’t able to do this themselves.
Why would a Physio make a good volunteer?
Andy: They would already have some understanding of disability and are obviously keen to help others.
Judy: Can help to gain further experience which would look great on a CV. I have had young people doing Duke of Edinburgh award volunteer in the past for example.
Would you be willing to give a reference should people need it?
Both: Of course!
I spoke to Joe a new volunteer for this trip and also a relatively beginner skier and asked him why he got involved.
Joe: I knew Judy who asked if I would be interested in helping and although I had never skied it was something I always wanted to do. So I went to the snow dome where I helped with a skier who has MS and really enjoyed it. After a few more sessions in the snow dome I felt confident enough to support any of the beginner skiers.
Joe spent the week mainly skiing with Peter who has a learning disability and Paul who is deaf and partially sighted. And may I add he did very well at both supporting the skiers and at his own skiing!
Helen is one of the sit skiers and she says that without the help and understanding of all the volunteers it wouldn’t be possible. It makes her feel more “normal” being able to go out on the slopes just as others do. She never skied as an able bodied person and enjoys the excitement of a new activity.
Types of adaptive skiing:
Sit ski: Either a mono-ski (a seat with one ski which somebody is able to ski themself with outriggers - poles with mini skis on the end) Or a dual ski which often needs to be “piloted” or tethered (ropes held by a trained skier) but can also be controlled independently with outriggers
Lining up to get on the lift
4 point skiing: Standing on skis but with outriggers (poles with mini skis on the end):
Skiing with tethers: Standing on skis with ropes attached to the front of skis to help the guide the skier’s turns and control speed.
Close supervision ski guiding: Staying close to the skier who may be blind/deaf/have a learning disability to help them navigate the mountain and stay safe. These people wear hi-visibility vests to alert other skiers that they are disabled/they are supporting somebody with a disability. Some blind skiers have Bluetooth head pieces or microphone packs to communicate with the guide.
Why I think this volunteering is beneficial for a Physiotherapist (at any stage of their career!):
- You get to use your professional experience in a more casual environment
- You can spend time with people with varying disabilities and really get to understand their different symptoms and how these effect their day to lives. This can help when you meet similar people in your professional life, especially if they are conditions you don’t often come across.
- It can enhance your communication skills with people who may have communication difficulties
- Something different and interesting to talk about in interviews/on your CV
- You get to meet lots of new people, from all works of life, all with a common interest
- It is really fun!
How you can get involved:
I’m sure there are lots more charities and organisations that are crying out for good skiers who are willing to spare some of their time. So why not give it a go!
About the author
Cat is a Senior Physiotherapist rotating within Trauma and Orthopaedics at one of London’s 4 Major Trauma Centres. Rotations include Major Trauma, Amputees, Elective and Trauma Orthopaedic wards. She is a member of the UK-Emergency Medical Team where she will use her acute trauma skills to assist the team should they be deployed to a natural disaster. Cat has also been a guest speaker at QualifiedPhysio seminars talking about the Physiotherapist’s role in Major Trauma.