Since my accident, I’ve had this unshakable desire to get vert again, to recapture that weightless feeling I got from surfing or skating ramps and pools. And while I’ve done the requisite imaginary off-the-top carve on slight banks in my wheelchair, all great imagination aside, it’s not quite the same thing, and certainly not something I’d try on anything steeper than 20°, as the center of gravity in my chair, especially given my height and lack of muscle control, is too high.
So the question that keeps bouncing back then is; how to go about it? Part of the problem – somewhat significantly, actually – is my level of injury and the anatomical disadvantages I have by not being able to use my trunk or back muscles for balance and support. This is critical, because without being able to counter balance my body against the forces of gravity, I’d ultimately be pulled down by it. Which, if the surface waiting to greet me is cement (as in a skate park), wouldn’t be a whole lot of fun.
So I’ve always seen my success in this endeavor as being one dependent on equipment and design. The only way it would work with my disability is having something with a stable low center of gravity that I was tightly strapped into.
And then last winter it hit me… a bi-ski… the Superpipe. That’s how I’d do it – I’d charge the Superpipe at Northstar in a bi-ski! I was surprised the idea hadn’t come to me before, I mean it seemed so obvious (to me anyway), but then I suppose that’s the way ideas are; they come when they come and no sooner. But seriously, it couldn’t be more perfect; it’s the right vert terrain coupled with exactly the kind of equipment I was looking for. And it was all, well, right under my ass!
Now I don’t know if any quad with a level of injury as high as mine (let alone not in their teens or 20s) has attempted something like this before, and it may be a bit out there as far as ideas go, but I’m psyched to give it a shot and see what happens.
I’ve been doing this bi-ski thing for almost 4 years now and I have it pretty dialed in. If I’m paired with the right ski partner on the teathers, someone up to the task to push things, I feel stoked and compelled to see where my limits are and blow past them every time I’m on the mountain.
Because of this, I’ve developed a good understanding of how my equipment should perform. Up to this point, however, the skis I’ve been renting/using, while certainly functional, are simply that, functional, and less than ideal where my own particular needs and skills are concerned. Attempting the Superpipe in this equipment or skiing another season is probably doable, but I’m not shooting for “functional” or “doable” – I’m going beyond that.
So back into the world of customization I go. I’ve decided to get my own ski, tweak it as much as possible for performance and have Ride, an orthotic seating company out of Colorado that specializes in adaptive sports equipment, fabricate me a customized bucketseat and restraint system which would be both more secure and pressure sore resistant. Being the tall, skinny dude that I am, not to mention the specifics of my spinal cord injury, the importance of these two things can’t be overstated; it takes me around 45 min. just to deal with both to get properly situated in the ski.
And though it’s a critical 45 min., to be sure, involving a lot of Tetris-like cushion movement/placement to try to minimize the possibility of pressure sores while in turn hunting down straps and restraints to keep my ass securely back and in the ski (a semi-futile attempt at best) on those steeper runs I like to crush, it’s still 45 min. that’s subtracted from my time on the mountain. And when I’m only able to ski 2 1/2 hours to begin with, before the seriousness of pressure sores start to rear their ugly heads, that’s a significant chunk of time.
In the same way that long-term wheelchair users — especially high-level quadriplegics — need customized wheelchairs and seating, the same is definitely true of adaptive sports equipment; maybe more so given what’s being asked of the equipment. A modified seating system alone would be a bow-down-before-the-mountain-snow-gods-in-reverence-and-gratitude kind of change my skiing experience has been jonesing for.
But like I said, I’d also like to make tweaks to the performance side of the ski as well. But how many I’ll be able to make to the model I plan on purchasing, we’ll have to see. Probably not many given the design and construction of these things, but it’s a good place to start.
Ultimately – meaning soon, I hope – I plan on co-designing/building a bi-ski from the ground up. To take the general principles/mechanics that already work and use them as a jumping off point to create something more performance oriented for skiers with the similar challenges I encounter.
But like all things customized – especially those things which relate to paralysis; wheelchairs, orthotics, medical supplies, travel, technology, sports – the costs can be prohibitive (and let’s face it, insurance companies ain’t about to put up for a bi-ski anytime soon. Although, they probably should given the amount of healthy stoke that comes along at no extra charge, not to mention the benefits of intoxicating mountain air).
And while I deeply understand that money will always work itself out one way or another if we just let go of expectations and perceived outcomes of what life might be like with or without it, I’m also intimately aware of the need for prioritization of it in my own life. Which is to say, none of the cool stuff I’m talking about above would be possible if it weren’t for the blessed assistance of others.
To this end, in April I received a grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation in San Diego that will partially pay for a bi-ski and just last week I received word that the High Fives Foundation in Tahoe will be giving me a grant for the very critical, yet very expensive, customized seating and restraint system from Ride, as well as assist me in making the Superpipe at Northstar this season a crazy dream-come-true reality.
To say I’m deeply grateful and moved by the gestures these two organizations have shown me, not just financially but by ideologically supporting something that’s so dear to my soul, would be an understatement and no doubt come up ridiculously short in expressing just how to-the-core moved I am. Nevertheless, this is the means of expression I have and so I’ll say it again; I’m deeply deeply grateful and moved!
But I’d also like to thank all the folks who contributed to these organizations as well, because as a part of a nonprofit myself, I understand that without their generosity these life changing organizations (and that’s not hyperbole) wouldn’t be able to support the athletes that they do.
And so there you have it, I hope I wasn’t being too cryptic in my last post about the specialness of this upcoming ski season, but you know me, I like to live as much in the moment as I can and let the future work itself out. Still, I’d be a liar if I didn’t say I feel like I just woke up to a bluebird sunshiny day with 2 feet of fresh powder awaiting me on the mountain.
Let it snow!
Oh, and please think about checking out the foundations I mentioned. Mahalo.