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Adaptive ski camp

Adaptive skiing totally turned things around for me after my accident, it made me smile again and realise that anything is possible. No other sport I’ve tried since brings anywhere near the sense of freedom skiing does. So I was desperate to offer a camp to enable others to get the same enjoyment, but was also aware of what a challenge this would be.

In March, Access Adventures hosted our first alpine ski camp. Logistically, this is one of the most complicated adaptive sports camps for us to organise. All the adaptive equipment needed for a large number of disabled skiers had to be sourced, willing volunteers had to be persuaded to accompany us, plus suitable accommodation for a group that included 6 wheelchair users had to be found, with space to store our huge pile of adaptive equipment. Many places that advertise themselves as ‘ski in ski out’ have a flight of steps to get onto the snow; level access was a priority so that the disabled skiers could be as independent as possible.

After checking out many, many, places on our recce the previous year, we came across the UCPA hostel in Val Thorens. Also a non-profit organisation, they have a similar ethos to Access Adventures - their mission is to make outdoor sports and activities widely available to as many people as possible and they talk about a ‘spirit of adventure’. It felt like a perfect match and although they don’t usually deal with disability groups, they were incredibly accommodating.

After checking out many, many, places on our recce the previous year, we came across the UCPA hostel in Val Thorens. Also a non-profit organisation, they have a similar ethos to Access Adventures - their mission is to make outdoor sports and activities widely available to as many people as possible and they talk about a ‘spirit of adventure’. It felt like a perfect match and although they don’t usually deal with disability groups, they were incredibly accommodating.

Most of our disabled participants required a sit-ski - a bucket seat suspended above a ski that allows you to make turns using your upper body and outriggers, which are ski poles with mini ski tips on the end. I managed to rent the required number from various locations, then we just had to transport them the 796 miles to Val Thorens.

Luckily, I had the Ford S-Max to come to my rescue! Myself and a friend loaded the car & roof-box with 6 sit-skis, 7 pairs of outriggers, 7 pairs of skis, a huge tool box, a plethora of padding to get the seating correct for people, and spare wheelchair wheels. This left just enough space for us (and my wheelchair)! The journey was great, most of it on quiet scenic French autoroutes, although the number of toll roads is always horrifying!

It snowed heavily on the evening the participants arrived; we awoke to clear blue skies and perfect powder for their first day on the slopes. Sit-skiing can be initially daunting; it’s impossible to learn without a few hard falls along the way. Our newer sit-skiers faced the challenge head on though. It’s not about how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up. By the end of the week they were carving up the whole mountain, overtaking shocked able-bodied skiers on their way down!

There’s something about being in the mountains that’s good for the soul – being surrounded by the stunning French Alps is hard to beat. Val Thorens is the highest ski resort in Europe, sitting at 2300m, so is pretty much guaranteed decent snow even towards the end of the season. The altitude of the resort can also be a bad thing though, with high winds and bad visibility a fairly regular occurrence. It’s well above the tree line, so if the weather sets in it can be a white wilderness. However, we had pretty much perfect conditions all week and felt incredibly lucky. Clear blue skies, warm temperatures, great snow – what more could anyone ask for?

Our stay at the UCPA was all-inclusive, so we returned to the centre for lunch or made a sandwich at breakfast to take with us. There’s a lovely decked balcony area to sit out on after a hard day skiing, soaking up the last rays and drinking a celebratory beer. The atmosphere in the UCPA is always buzzing, with people from all backgrounds sharing a common love of snowsports.

The best quote came towards the end of the trip from one of the sit-skiers – “It’s made life seem worth living again” That just summed up everything for me and made all the hard work more than worthwhile. We can’t wait to start planning our next one!

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