"A little apprehensive and not quite sure what to expect, I boarded the Eggli-Gstaad cable car one early December morning. The rain was persistent and the sky far from clear but neither of these elements could dampen my excitement- I was finally going to see what it was all about!
It is easy to talk about various types of disability, to discuss the medical background behind them and even to think about what might be achieved on the ski slope; but as I sat eagerly gripping my newly hired skis ascending through the trees, I realised I’d never actually seen these people in action or indeed met the inspiring teachers and instructors behind it all.
So, where better to start than an instructor training day with the Plusport team from Interlaken, headed by the wonderful Reini Linder from Active Motion?
Upon leaving the cable car and stepping out onto the station snow, the enthusiasm and excitement was palpable. Here gathered instructors from all over the country as well as individuals from various schools and organisations, all keen to improve and enhance their skills in teaching those with disabilities on the snow.
Plusport offers a 3 day course where candidates are required to prove their own ability level on the snow before learning the specific skill set of their chosen area.
I was amazed and thrilled by the spectrum of disability areas being taught and the sheer number of people here to learn; a massive twenty more than last year. This was not only good for my learning, but a real sign that awareness of these activities is spreading; opening up more and more opportunities for those with handicaps and impairments, whether they be physical or mental, to experience the magic of the mountains and really take part.
The day started with an informative discussion about disabled facilities on the mountain and how crucial location and accessibility are to any successful teaching session. I was impressed by this thorough approach and began to realise what a huge undertaking it all was.
I was then expertly led around the slope to observe the different groups and to meet the key players. I began by encountering those learning to power the sit-ski, both autonomously and then using out-riggers. The candidates took turns in sitting in the sit-ski and then operating it. It was stressed to me that it is essential for an instructor to experience the adapted way of skiing that they are teaching in order to increase their knowledge and understanding whilst honing their technique.
On tackling a particularly tricky bit of piste, I noted the plusport instructor carefully guiding the students down with the sit-skis emphasising the importance of absolute control on any gradient. I was just happy to get down without falling over myself!
Over the next hour, I met people learning to guide and teach blind skiers. This was fascinating; the candidates again alternated between guiding and skiing ‘blind’. It really hit home how much could be achieved with the right sort of teaching and support.
My last visit was to the group learning to teach those with a mental handicap. They were grateful to be able to have the opportunity to work with a group of students who had learning difficulties. This was in itself very special as they will have now developed empathy and a greater understanding of working with people with a range of special needs wishing to ski. I really enjoyed spending time with this group. It was wonderful to see the care and understanding the instructors showed in their teaching approach. It really got me thinking about this expanding area of opportunity for people with mental handicaps and how so many could benefit.
By midday, as I always find when skiing, I was more than ready for a hearty mountain lunch. The instructor discount was an added bonus!
After a bit more skiing and further chats with Reini about his work, I left the group to descend the mountain. The snow had come on with a vengeance and by the time I reached the bottom and looked up, the mountain seemed to have disappeared into the mist.
I ended the day having not only had a great day on the mountain but with a new understanding of what learning to ski with a disability might entail. Although I did not experience it myself, to see all the activities close up really gave me a taste of what might be involved.
I’d like to say thank you and make a special mention to all those teaching the course and indeed to all those taking it. These people and people like them are the future of disabled sporting opportunities and with the help and dedication of those like Reini and the plusport team, I am confident that it will grow and grow."
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