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Inclusivity, Accessibility and Well-Being enriches quality of life for children and adults with life-changing conditions through empowering year-round mountain activities including snow-sports

Skiing with Cerebral Palsy in La Plagne Winter 2008-2009

Skiing with Cerebral Palsy in La Plagne

2008-2009
Shimmin Family took their first ski holiday with their children, one of whom has Cerebral Palsy.

The following report is prior to the Family Shimmin contacting Ski 2 Freedom for information about a subsequent holiday.

Background

The vacation Plagne Centre was booked with the objective of taking my 15 year old son, Laurence, who is severely disabled with cerebral palsy on a family skiing vacation.

Although the holiday was booked specifically for the purpose of providing him with a vacation we also had to have regard to the other members of the party. I have in excess of 10 weeks skiing experience and have extended to skiing on off piste terrain. Laurence’s twin brother has a similar amount of experience and skis at a higher level than me. My wife has several weeks experience but has remained nervous due to the fact that she sustained a knee injury on her first ski vacation.

We considered that it would be difficult to properly enjoy the holiday without other people being on hand to assist. We were accompanied by my wife’s sister and her family. My wife’s sister has a number of weeks skiing experience but had not skied for several years. Her husband and three children aged 9, 7 and 3 years had never skied at all.

It was essential that we chose a resort which was sufficient user friendly for my son Laurence but would also meet the needs of the other members of the party.

Difficulties in making the arrangements

As this was the first ski holiday for Laurence I had no prior experience of making arrangements which would meet his needs. Even with the internet it was difficult to make the arrangements even though I starting planning the holiday several months in advance. In the UK the main source of information is Disability Snow Sport UK through which Laurence had previously had experience of skiing on an indoor ski slope in Manchester. Unfortunately, the organisation does not appear to be geared up towards providing information and assistance to independent travellers. The most I could get from the organisation was details of group holidays they run during the ski season.

I had to trawl the internet before I identified a number of ski schools which would potentially meet Laurence’s needs. Some of the organisations, even if they were dedicated exclusively to disabled skiing, did not respond to my e-mails or telephone calls. An example is Antenne which operates out of Aime La Plagne.

As we were travelling by road I considered that a two week vacation would be necessary. Due to the age of several members of the party this limited us to either the Christmas or Easter vacations with the latter now being at the beginning of April. The choice was between going at a time of year when the days are short and the snow cover unpredictable or at the end of the season when the days are longer but the conditions can be slushy. The other problem is that Laurence’s twin brother will be starting his GCSE revision at the beginning of the Easter holidays and a two week vacation was therefore considered to be inappropriate.

In choosing to go at Christmas we would be limited to resorts which were more likely to be snow sure.

I had previously made contact with Prosneige in Val Thorens. Language difficulties meant that I was uncertain as to whether I would be able to guarantee that they could meet my son’s specific needs. Enquiries have revealed that some organisations which offer handski are not equipped to meet the needs of people who are non-ambulatory. Fortuitously I telephoned Oxygene in Plagne Centre and was immediately put through to Bertrand. He had a good command of English and was enthusiastic. I managed to e-mail to him a photograph of Laurence skiing in the UK and he indicated that his organisation would meet Laurence’s needs.

The next difficulty was in choosing accommodation. Having to book early in the year meant that I had difficulty in contacting accommodation agencies. I had excluded hotels and catered chalets even though Laurence has previous experience in the former because I did not consider that for a two week holiday either would be appropriate for him. This left self catering accommodation. After extensive searches I identified Le Pelvoux in Plagne Centre. I was unable to speak to somebody regarding my specific requirements and I therefore made the booking by internet.

I booked at 10/12 duplex apartment. The web site stated that in 10/12 duplex apartments there would be at least two bathrooms except for those which had been adapted for disabled use. I made sure that on the contract note I identified that one of the party is a wheelchair user. An initial sign of difficulty was when a week or so before the vacation I checked with the accommodation website and it now stated that none of the apartments are adapted for use by the disabled.

Resort and Accommodation

In view of Laurence’s diability we had to travel by road to the accommodation. This vehicle is wheelchair adapted. It has a height of 1.95 metres. In view of the equipment and other things that we have to take for Laurence we also had a roof box on top.

Arrival at Plagne Centre was disorientating. It is a poorly signposted resort. Although we eventually found a disabled parking bay on the same level as the shops in the main Pelvoux centre this was by good fortune.

It transpired that the wheelchair access to the Pelvoux Apartments was through the underground car park which had insufficient headroom for our vehicle. We therefore had difficulty in negotiating the entrance. The lift operated on the shopping level of Pelvoux Centre and was right by the doors giving access to the front de neige. This should have made access to the slopes easy given that the Oxygene School meeting point was only a few metres away. However, there are a number of steps from the centre of exit onto the snow which are difficult for wheelchair users. I am surprised there are no ramps because during our stay I saw a significant number of people in wheelchairs. The push up the slope to the ski meeting point is difficult. We had taken a three wheel all-terrain wheelchair/buggy as a precautionary measure. We managed to get by without using it but other people may find negotiating the slope in a four wheel wheelchair to be difficult. However, this is an inconvenience which is probably unavoidable.

The main difficulty that we had with the apartment is that at the entrance level there were three bedrooms, two of which have adjoining showers. We would not have been able to put Laurence in the shower because of the confined space. There was an upstairs bedroom adjoining the lounge and kitchen area which had a bath. There were no grab rails in any of the bathrooms and wheelchair users would find the accommodation difficult to use unless they have two strong adult helpers. The upstairs area which is essential for communal living could only be accessed by a wooden staircase which was steep and dog legged. Carrying Laurence up and down the stairs was difficult.

The other point that needs to be made about the accommodation in Plagne Centre is that whilst one does not hear noise in the way of music from nearby each night there was a lot of singing and shouting which disturbed sleep.

From what I could see the disabled person would have to use centrally located apartments in Plagne Centre if they were going to use the services of one of the ski schools.

The Skiing

Laurence had daily 2 hour handiski sessions with Adrien for 13 days. These were arranged for 12.45 pm to 2.45 pm.

The argument in favour of using this period is that it is a time when the lifts and the slopes are quiet. The advantage for us was that it meant that we could accommodate the skiing requirements of the other members of the party around Laurence’s handiski session. What it meant was that Laurence and I could not join the other members of the party for lunch but for us this was not a major consideration.

To get to the ski lift and gondolas involved a push up a hill. Adrien would push the handiski seat which was a Tessier Dual Ski. I would carry Adrian’s skis.

I have to mention the help that was offered to Adrien by members of the lift operators. Although the access to some of the chairlifts for the dual ski was not perfect the assistance offered by the left operators was faultless. We were not kept waiting for any of the lifts. This was particularly helpful because Laurence is inclined to become fractious is caused to wait for something.

Adrien was excellent. On the initial day Laurence was making a lot of noise and was very agitated. Adrien asked me how he should respond and my advice was to go as fast as he possibly could. Within the first two days Laurence had developed a rapport with Adrien and Adrien had learned to anticipate Laurence needs and what he found most enjoyable in the skiing. I accompanied each handiski session. I found this useful and enjoyable. After a few days Laurence was inclined to become agitated on the chairlifts (but not in the gondola) and therefore I was able to help keep him calm.

The skiing was excellent. Laurence negotiated blue, red and black runs. One of the black runs was heavily mogulled. There was also a little bit of off piste skiing. Adrien took Laurence at high speed on the piste and I struggled to keep up. He also took him on half-pipes and over bumps which Laurence found to be extremely enjoyable. One day we joined another member of Oxygene who was taking a disabled person handiskiing and this was also enjoyable.

During the vacation I saw a number of people with a range of disabilities on the slopes.

What was also particularly good is that Oxygene provided lessons to all other members of the party and every person, regardless of the level of ability, thought the instruction to be very good. The members of the party who had never skied before made significant progress and enjoyed their lessons. Laurence’s twin brother was taken on an off piste course which tested him and amongst the best skiing that he has ever experienced.

The office personnel at the ski school were equally helpful and accommodating.

I noted in the window of the ski school that it had won award for the best ski instruction. This is unsurprising.

Nightlife/Eating Out

A number of restaurants and bars are wheel chair accessible with a little bit of difficulty. One cannot expect perfection particularly in a ski resort. We found the staff of La Grolle to be particularly friendly and accommodating. The staff at La Chaudron were not particularly good. This has nothing to do with Laurence’s disability, simply the service was much too slow.

Conclusion

I would strongly recommend Oxygene in Plagne Centre for instruction for skiers of all level of ability including those who are disabled.

It would take a modest amount of work in terms of allocating a suitable amount of disabled parking, signage and ramps to make the main centre more user friendly.

The accommodation is a draw back. I did not make sufficient enquiry during the vacation to identify whether there is more suitable property for disabled visitors.

Travel by road is a necessity. I normally travel by Eurotunnel when accompanying Laurence abroad. I have always found it to be the more convenient means of transport for somebody who is wheelchair dependent. The journey is short and there is no need to leave the motor car. On the return journey however we arrived on time for our crossing to find that the train had been cancelled and we would have to wait two and a half hours for a crossing. Laurence was in some distress on the journey and when I tried to establish whether we could be put on an earlier crossing as a consequence the staff member to whom I spoke was not interested. On reflection, I don't think that Eurotunnel has a sufficiently adequate system for ensuring that the needs of disabled travellers.

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