Before Justin Deboer discovered that he had MS, he was living an active life, riding motorcycles, playing sports, and had two kids in junior high. Now his legs had no stamina, his balance was shot, and he fell on easy slopes and in the lift lines.
When his family announced a ski trip last year, Justin had given up skiing. Then he heard about the adaptive ski program at Vail that used the ski-bike as an adaptive device.
The ski-bike looks like a mountain bike, but substitutes short skis where the wheels should be. Wearing short skis on their feet, riders have three points of contact with the snow, improving balance and virtually eliminating falls. The forces of skiing are transferred through the device, making skiing a lot less fatiguing.
In December, Justin and his brother bought two K2 ski-bikes and headed to the mountains for a trial. Within three days, he found that the ski-bike was the perfect adaptive device for him, bridging the gap between stand skiing and mono skiing. The ski-bike's low center of gravity and multiple points of contact with the snow make it particularly stable and easy to learn.
Candidates for using the ski-bike as an adaptive device have good balance but may have difficulty standing and skiing due to pain, fatigue, or lack of muscular strength. Adaptively, the ski-bike is particularly useful because the forces of skiing are transmitted through the bike frame directly to the trunk, avoiding stress to the legs and decreasing pain or fatigue.
From an instructor's point of view, teaching on the ski-bike is very similar to other adaptive devices. Ruth DeMuth, program supervisor of the Vail Adaptive Program, says " If you are an instructor capable of movement analysis, it's easy to pick out movement patterns and apply them to teaching someone to use the ski-bike."
Several manufacturers provide instructional materials. K2 and Brenter offer video instruction guides that include lift loading procedures, riding footage and safety tips.
Ski-bikes, made by a variety of manufacturers, do not require any change in lift operations, and a leash is not required when riding a ski-bike because in the unlikely event of a fall it will stop immediately, with the handlebars acting much like a ski's snow brake.
Not all ski resorts in the US allow the ski-bike for able bodied riders, but most have been willing to allow it by request as an adaptive device for skiers with disabilities. Skiers or instructors looking to use the ski-bike in an adaptive manner should contact the ski area ahead of time.
According to Hal O'Leary, founder of the NSCD, "the ski-bike is truly an amazing device that allows persons with a variety of disabilities to access winter recreation in a quick and almost effortless way- it's instant skiing."
K2 Gravity Tools: www.k2gravitytools.com
Brenter Snowbike: www.snowbike.com