Adaptive Skiing and Disability Snowsport with Snozone Castleford, Yorkshire [AD]

pippa in powerchair, next to wall sign reading welcome to snozone

[AD] Thanks so much to the team at Snozone Castleford for inviting me to visit and for sponsoring this post: more information all about disability snowsport can be found on their website. As always, thoughts and opinions, along with adaptive skiing fangirling, are entirely my own…

It’s safe to say that blogging and writing have presented many opportunities to push myself out of my comfort zone, and there’s no example more illustrative of this than the email in my inbox asking if I’d like to give adaptive skiing a go. As somebody who thrives in a safe, comfortable environment with a cup of tea and a packet of biscuits, I was quite surprised at how keen I found myself for this experience right from the beginning, and it’s safe to say it completely lived up to my expectations.

So, how do you get a vertically challenged, cold-averse individual with limited upper body strength to, y’know, ski? Fortunately, Snozone have this down with their Disability Snowsports programme, based in Castleford, just a stone’s throw away from where I live, and also Milton Keynes. With the aim of making snowsports as accessible and inclusive as possible, both venues boast highly qualified and skilled coaches and adaptive equipment designed to accommodate a range of different disabilities and impairments, ensuring their facilities can be enjoyed by as many people as possible.

To give you an idea of my own experiences hitting the slopes, let’s break this down. Here are five of my worrisome expectations going into the session, vs the surprising reality…

Expectation One: My Zero Prior Experience Of Skiing And Snowsport Would Put Me At A Disadvantage

pippa and coach adam standing up and talking on the edge of the slopes, with sit-ski placed in front of them

Even in my non-disabled life, the closest I’d ever come to anything resembling snowsport was the time I went shuffling round a rink on blades, desperately clinging onto the sides for dear life and calling it ice-skating. Never before had I been skiing, snowboarding or anything of the like (forbidden during my ballet training back in the day!), and I wondered whether a lack of core skills would have an impact on how I experienced the adaptive session.

It’s safe to say I needn’t have worried. Even before I stepped onto the snow, I was warmly greeted by coach Adam who took me through everything I needed to know and readily answered any questions that I (and my anxiously-hovering mum) had. My session commenced with the very basics of adaptive skiing: a good look at the equipment and the logistics of how it worked (which we’ll come to shortly), and what I could expect when we were out there. The beauty of having a one-to-one session was that I found it was incredibly person-centred: by having a good chat about any of my needs and what I hoped to achieve out of the experience, I really felt like I was the one to set the pace and decide what happened and when. By the time we were about to hit the slopes, I felt ready and prepared for what was about to quite literally go down.

Expectation Two: Having ‘The Fear’ Would Make Me Bow Out Of Being More Daring

The above said, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad anxious before the first run. When we first stepped out on the indoor slopes, the first thing I saw was the smaller, training facilities for beginners, and I relaxed… until I turned around and saw what initially looked like massive rolling snowy peaks of doom behind me. You don’t need three guesses to assume which way we headed…

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do like my thrills and a bit of adrenaline, but one of many super-fun symptoms of my condition is that my body is constantly in fight-or-flight mode, and the wrong kind of adrenaline can make me really unwell. However, thanks to the session going at my own pace, I was never in fear of what we were about to do. And in fact, even as we were at the top about to descend and my life briefly flashed before my eyes (not to be dramatic or anything), I did find the experience to be just the right amount of thrilling. Coming down the slopes, the journey was exciting enough to be genuinely really fun, without the threat of my body completely shutting down. Which wouldn’t have been ideal in the first five minutes of the session, really.

Expectation Three: The Nature Of The Activity Would Be Too Demanding For My Chronically Ill Body

So I suppose that leads us on nicely to my next point: whether I would be physically capable of participating in the activity at all. With activity-management being my core method of managing the symptoms of my chronic illness, I knew I was taking a bit of a risk with this one. But the golden thing about adaptive skiing, especially the more leisure-based session I opted for as opposed to more-structured training, was that it actually required very little physical exertion in comparison to what I initially anticipated.

pippa sat in sit ski, with instructor adam holding onto back as they prepared to be lifted by the ski-liftThe sit-ski, the piece of equipment we were using, meant that I remained seated throughout the entire experience, even when getting lifted back to the top of the run, and I never had to use up precious energy standing or clambering in and out. I found the sit-ski surprisingly comfortable, allowing you to sit in a natural posture with your legs out in front of you and with good back support. You were strapped securely in around the legs (and if necessary, there could be additional harnessing around the upper body too), and the sit-ski was controlled and propelled from behind by the adaptive coach.

As you zig-zagged down the slopes, the only exertion necessary was to lean into the direction you were steering into, something which felt like a perfectly natural response to me anyway. Even as we increased the speed and tried more advanced stuff as the session progressed, I never got to the point of ‘full body meltdown pending’ that we all know so well. In fact, a one-hour session felt just the right amount of time for me before I was ready to head back home to bed with a cup of tea.

Expectation Four: The Cold Environment Would Break My Soul

pippa in waiting room, wearing thermal clothing and zipping up jacket over sweatshirtNow, perhaps a bit of a niche one, but bear with me. Some people just aren’t built for cold environments, and there’s no doubt that I’m one of them. Temperature regulation difficulties mean that feeling warm is something of a rarity for me, even when the sun is blazing outside. So how, I hear you asking, does somebody like me not only endure an hour in -2 to -5 degrees Celsius, but actually enjoy it?

Two words: thermal clothing. You can rent proper skiing jackets and salopettes at the venue for £9.99 per person before your session, and quite frankly I’m thinking of investing in some for day to day existing. They really did keep the cold away. I only wish I’d worn better quality gloves and socks than those I’d brought with me: if I had, I genuinely don’t think the cold would have bothered me at all.

Coach Adam explained that using the sit-ski and being in more direct line of the cooling features of the indoor slopes can mean people using them are more susceptible to the frosty environment. However, staff have been able to safely incorporate blankets in some cases, and you can always pop back out of the facilities for a little break and necessary defrost during your session. But if I was surprised by how well I managed the cold, as somebody who’s been known to reach for a jacket in the height of summer heatwaves, trust me: dress warmly and you’ll be absolutely fine.

Expectation Five: This Experience Would Be A One-Time Thing I Looked Back And Laughed At One Day

And finally, we have the notion that adaptive skiing would be a one-time thing for me: something that I knew I’d enjoy and look back on fondly, but that once would be enough, ta very much. But now I’ve done my first session, I can safely say I’d go back and do it again… and I’d absolutely love to take my friends along too.

pippa in power-chair with back to camera, turning head sideways and laughing, wearing branded snozone thermal jacketHaving expected to be a complete liability to myself and those around me, as I tend to be in day to day life, it was a pleasant surprise that coach Adam thought I had a bit of a knack for it and could pursue some further training if I wanted to. And that’s another one of the fab things about Snozone: as much fun as it is to go purely for leisure, there’s also the option to develop skills and pursue training to ski more independently. The team at Castleford have worked with people with a range of conditions and as I mentioned before, the person-centred approach they take means that by the end of my own session, coming back and training properly was sounding increasingly appealing. And whilst it’s not something I’d pursue right now, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be back for leisure purposes at some point in the future.

So in case you didn’t catch the gist already, I rather enjoyed my adaptive ski session. All of the concerns I’d had were pretty much gone by the end of my first run, and I spent the rest of the hour simply enjoying myself. Something I’ve talked about a lot on Instagram lately is the challenges of finding mindful activities that take your brain away from working for a little while, when your body simply isn’t suited to everyday recreational activities. However, inclusive endeavours such as this one show that it may be solutions can be found even when you’re not particularly looking for them: ain’t nobody got time for worrying about to-do lists when there’s havoc to be wreaked out on the slopes.

So with that in mind, who’s coming with me next time guys?! If you want to find out more or book a session for yourself, everything you need to know is on the Snozone website. I can’t speak highly enough of not only the adaptive coaches, but the entire team at Snozone and how welcome they made me feel. And my goodness, Xscape at Castleford hasn’t half expanded since the last time I was there. Accessibility in general in the building and around the car park in particular definitely needs work, and that’s something you definitely need to be aware of if you’re visiting as a wheelchair user, but it’s to their credit that I’d recommend dropping by all the same. And in the meantime, I’ll see you on the slopes…

pippa and coach adam in motion using sit-ski to come down indoor ski slopes

[AD] Thanks so much to the team at Snozone Castleford for inviting me to visit and for sponsoring this post: more information all about disability snowsport can be found on their website. As always, thoughts and opinions, along with adaptive skiing fangirling, are entirely my own…

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