~~Jeff Cain is a lifelong skier who lost one leg below the knee and crushed the other in a 1996 plane crash. Within months of his accident, Cain--a 43-year-old physician from Denver--returned to the slopes, first on a mono-ski and eventually on regular alpine skis or a snowboard. Though his disability was such that he could use traditional equipment, he found that in both skiing and life, the most challenging problems arose not from his prosthesis, but from his crushed foot and ankle. "I could make up to six runs per day on regular skis, but then I was exhausted with pain," said Cain. Lift lines were especially grueling, and he often spent the days after skiing limping or in a wheelchair.
~~Cain's limitation was not his balance but pain and fatigue from the forces that skiing exerted upon his damaged leg. He tried various methods to alleviate the problem, including the Constant Force Articulated Dynamic Struts (CADS) system, a bungee cord-like system that distributes body weight away from the lower body and to the hips. Eventually even CADS did not provide enough support.
~~While visiting Colorado's Silver Creek Resort (now Sol Vista) five years ago, Cain tried a skibike, which is essentially a low-slung bike with one ski mounted to the frame, under the seat, and another connected to the handlebars. By the end of the day, he was riding the NASTAR course. He'd realized that he'd stumbled across a device that could get him down mountains without pain while participating alongside friends and family.
~~Skibikes, also known as "skibobs", have been widely used in Europe for winter recreation for more than 50 years. The bikes' low center of gravity and three-point stance (bike skis and a foot ski attached to each of the rider's boots) allow a stable ride that helps make for a short learning curve. (Cain contends that after half a day on a skibike, a beginner is ready for intermediate terrain. He also says that a skibike offers the quickest way to learn how to carve a turn.) Europe has embraced the skibike as an adaptive device through the British Limbless Ex-Serviceman's Association (BLESMA).
~~After his inaugural outing on the skibike, Cain started calling resorts about the feasibility of permitting use of the bike as an adaptive tool in his home state of Colorado. According to Cain, the skibike could work well for athletes who have good balance but have difficulty standing due to pain, fatigue, or lack of muscular strength. Good candidates might include amputees, or persons with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, or post polio syndrome.
~~"Skibikes will not work for all adaptive skiers--there's a narrow population segment who would use them. But skibikes allow body weight and skiing forces to be carried through your seat and hands, which makes all the difference for some," Cain said. "They fill a niche between stand-up skiing and more restrictive mono-skiing."
~~According to Hal O'Leary, founder of the National Sports Center for the Disabled (in Winter Park, Colorado), "The skibike is truly a device that allows a variety of persons with disabilities to access recreation in a quick and almost effortless way--it's instant skiing."
~~In a proposal directed to resort general managers, adaptive programs, and risk management departments in Colorado, Cain stated that skibikes would be best suited to adaptive guests with the following characteristics:
• the balance, strength, and coordination needed to safely operate a bicycle;
• cognitive skills sufficient to safely operate the equipment in settings that include others in the mountain environment; and
• an inability to ski while standing due to pain or muscular weakness resulting from a permanent disability.
Reproduced from: The Professional Skier Magazine-Spring 2003 issue
SKIBIKES give adaptive skiers
another way to ride in style
Editor's note: This article is adapted from a piece that originally appeared in the April/May 2002 issue of NSAA Journal, a publication of Colorado-based National Ski Areas Association.
Cain carves an arc at Vail, which is one of the ski areas that allows skibike access for adaptive
~~Over the past few years, Cain has been pleased to see that more and more ski areas throughout the United States are opening their slopes to skibike riders. Some areas permit skibike use among all guests, while others limit use of the device to adaptive programs. And some areas offer skibiking only as a guided activity. For information on which resorts offer skibike access for able-bodied skiers (whether it be open access, restricted access, or chaperoned restricted access), check the website for the American SkiBike Association at www.ski-bike.org. The website for California-based skibike manufacturer Koski (www.koskisnow-sports.com) also lists skibike friendly areas. Be aware, however, that these listings may not be complete. For those seeking definitive information on skibike access for disabled guests at specific resorts, it's best to contact the resort directly.
~~Prior to arriving with skibike in tow, Cain writes a resort ahead with his request to be granted access to the mountain and its lifts. He has found it helpful to carry with him written permission from mountain management to assist with questions from staff that may not know of the adaptive policy. There have been a few glitches, including once when a zealous lift op detained him for half an hour until a mountain operations manager arrived on the scene to validate the situation.
~~Cain, who recently underwent amputation of the foot that had been crushed in the plane crash, also chooses to wear a sign on his bike that identifies him as an adaptive skier. "At resorts that aren't currently allowing the skibike for able-bodied skiers, the sign might help the staff become more aware of my skibike's adaptive uses," he said.
~~Skibikes, which are made by a variety of manufacturers, do not require any major change in lift operations. The Snowbike®, made by the Austrian company Brenter, can be placed on the handrail of a lift, while K2's Snowcycle and Koski's MonoTrac can either hook over the armrest or be carried on the rider's lap (taking up one additional seat space).
~~"This is a new device, and areas have expressed concerns about resort liability," said Cain. He has offered to use a carabiner to attach his bike to lifts and some resorts require that some sort of a leash be used during transport by chairlift. He also points out that if a skibike were to fall over while being ridden, it would stop immediately, with its handlebars working much like a snow brake. Falling is rare because riders are stable, with three points touching ground.
~~Ruth Demuth, adaptive coordinator at the Vail Ski and Snowboard School, accompanied Cain on a skibike after Vail Resorts received his initial request for slope access. Demuth admits to being at first skeptical, and wondered how resorts could establish guidelines for appropriate candidates. Eventually, Vail Resorts decided to allow skibikes for riders who met the existing guidelines outlined for the company's "ability pass", which defines an adaptive skier. (As a safeguard, Vail Resorts requested that safety devices be attached to the bikes when the rider is on a lift.)
~~Demuth agrees that skibikes are ideal for certain people with permanent disabilities and Vail Resorts will continue to assess requests on a case-by-case basis.
~~From an instructor's point of view, teaching adaptive riders to use a skibike is no different than other devices. "If you're an instructor capable of movement analysis, it's easy to pick out movement patterns and apply them to teaching someone to use the bike," said Demuth. "If you think about all the different equipment that is out there for adaptive skiers, it is about the skiing, not the equipment."
~~Cain did not know of any particular training programs or materials for instructors wishing to learn how to teach adaptive students how to use a skibike, but he pointed out that the
manufacturers have instructional materials for general use. Washington-based K2 offers an instructional video with safety tips online (www.k2gravitytools.com) and through its retailers,
Koski's website contains video clips and text on chairlift loading and riding instructions, and
Brenter sells a 25-minute video that contains lift-loading procedures, safety tips, and riding footage through its website (www.brenter.at).
~~Cain is grateful that ski areas have been willing to accommodate his request to ride his skibike on their slopes. "I'm not asking that areas allow everyone to use skibikes," Cain emphasized. "But the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requires a ski area to make a reasonable accommodation for a person with a disability to allow access to its mountain experience. I am requesting that ski areas modify their current policies to allow the skibike as an adaptive device."
~~"Some people think a skibike is a toy," said Cain, "but I think this is truly an all-mountain tool." A case in point: Whereas once Cain could make no more than six runs in one day on skis, his skibike has enabled him to keep up with his ski instructor and patrol buddies while tallying 24,000 vertical feet in one day in Vail's back bowls.•
– April Darrow is the managing editor of NSAA Journal.
Note: This magazine is distributed to every ski instructor in the United States, able-bodied and adaptive, 28,000 in total!
" Skibikes FILL A NICHE between stand-up skiing and more restrictive mono-skiing " –– Jeff Cain