As a ski instructor, you learn a lot of lessons over the years. In the early years, you start off with all the drills in the book, in a certain sequence, on certain runs. Then with experience, you develop as a teacher and you start to look more at your client, to know what they need or don’t, to read them and adapt your teaching to how they are feeling, what they can take on board, achieve and how they learn. It’s never an easy path but it’s always a very rewarding one when you get it right.
I have taught countless children and adults over my career; some who I taught at four years of age are now adults themselves and I can safely say I still love my job!
When I finished my qualifications I decided that I needed a new challenge, so I booked myself onto an adaptive skiing course as I wanted to better myself as a teacher, while also helping those who can’t necessarily be taught in the same way as your average ski school pupil.
I would be lying if I said the prospect didn’t scare me a little, with the unknown of teaching someone who didn’t fit into the standard “ski school” box. We have all, at some point, taught a child with learning difficulties or special needs that has been booked into a standard ski school group without making us aware of their unique needs.
Of course it’s not that we wouldn’t teach the child. It’s more that the dynamics of a group and the teaching methods might not suit them. The whole experience becomes a nightmare for the child and instructor and it’s something that could have been avoided.
I realised very quickly during my adaptive skiing course, that you have to throw the rule book out of the window, think out of the box and that no two people are the same. Everyone is different; they learn, take on board instructions and react to skiing in a very different manner, so you just have to see what understanding they have, what parts of their body work or not and go from there.
After completing the adaptive skiing course, which I admit was probably the hardest course I have ever done, I was offered the opportunity to work with the British Paralympic Ski Team as volunteer assistant coach for their pre-season training. As a team, we worked alongside the Development Squad and Armed Forces Paralympic teams for the Turin Winter Paralympics in 2006. I started as a guide for the now silver and bronze medal holder Jade Powell, then helped with the rest of the team, ranging from sitski to three track skiers for Giant Slalom and Slalom. I did this for two years, gaining a lot of insight and knowledge of higher-end disabled skiers. I learned especially that they have no fear of speed or epic crashes!
Over the years I have taught both children and adult skiers with learning difficulties, special needs, visual impairment, deafness and more but until recently, I couldn’t help anyone with a physical impairment. Put another way, I couldn’t help anyone who needs equipment to help them ski. The equipment I needed exists, but is very expensive and not easily accessible to us here in the Portes du Soleil. This planted a seed in my head. Despite it’s cost, I wanted to see if we could bring this kit to Morzine.
As is typical when you live seasonally, life then got in the way and nothing really happened until two factors aligned. Firstly, one of my best friends had a little girl who will potentially need equipment to help her ski with her sisters as she grows up. Six months later, Morgan Jupe, one of the local chalet companies with which we work, contacted me regarding ski lessons for a little boy who needed a sit-ski to ski in. My first and most driving thought was, “I need to see if I can get a bi-ski for her. I want to make her mummy’s wish come true, as I know that it will mean the world to her. Let’s make this happen.”
“Everyone is different; they learn, take on board instructions and react to skiing in a very different manner,”
Two years later, Morgan Jupe’s long-term British chalet owners very generously donated a huge amount of money to the cause. Disability Snowsports UK (DSUK) provided us with basic second hand kit and we are now the proud owners of two sets of bi-ski equipment – one for a junior, and one for an adult. Additionally, thanks to a loan from one of the little girls who I teach stand up skiing, we also have a pair of outriggers to use when we need them.
This is an important step to being able to offer lessons to families of all abilities and capabilities when they come on a ski holiday. If we didn’t offer this service, then these holidays would not be possible for a lot of families.
At The Snow Institute, both myself and Ali Gibb are adaptive qualified. Upon securing this equipment, we decided to make it available to the other Adaptive qualified instructors at other ski schools in the area. We’ve set up a website so that families with extra special needs can find local instructors with the necessary skills, qualifications, experience and, crucially the equipment necessary to turn those dreams into a reality.