Liam Reflects on Learning How to Monoski
As I woke up the morning of my first day adaptive skiing, I was flooded with a mix of emotions. I felt extremely excited, nervous, even self-conscious. Most of all, I was determined to push myself into a sport that would change winters from being the season I struggled through every year, into the season I could not live without.
I remember thinking how much easier it was to wake up an hour earlier to get ready to ski than it was to wake up at my normal time and go to work! I was filled with excitement and anticipation and equally as nervous. Not only was I going into my first day mono-skiing, but I was going into my first adaptive sports experience, period. Not to mention the fact that I had no real skiing experience as an able-bodied person, I felt like I was going into this completely blind. Without knowing what I was in for, I was also concerned about getting hurt or the effects adaptive skiing might have on my body. I reminded myself this would not be something I’d pick up perfectly on the first day and I was definitely going to crash… a lot…
Once I got to Greek Peak Adaptive, I met up with my instructors Matt and Ryan Weston. We talked briefly about what I was to expect when I got into the adaptive equipment and onto the snow. After they explained the basics, we began fitting me to a mono-ski. From the second I was strapped into the machine and first got onto the snow; I knew this was going to be life changing. It felt so natural to me, probably because of my past in riding motorcycles I imagined. Fast forward to the end of my first day. I had made so much progress that I was able to be taken to the top of the mountain for my last run of the day. I had worked my body to the point of exhaustion. Every time I would reach my outrigger out to initiate a turn I would collapse. I did not have the strength to hold myself up anymore. It was at this point Ryan came over to me and told me to put the outriggers on my lap and he would ski me down the mountain by holding onto the bucket of my mono-ski. We took off faster than I had gone all day. I got this warm feeling in my stomach. The same feeling I would get hitting a jump on my dirt bike. It was at this moment my life post spinal cord injury changed. I was blown away that it was possible to reach those speeds on a mono-ski and to this day I chase that feeling, by becoming a faster, stronger, and smarter in my skiing abilities.
Tips for Beginners
Any time I transfer out of my chair I do balance checks to make sure I am comfortable. Feeling comfortable in your equipment is key to success. I do balance checks if I am moving to a new chair, bed, couch, and I really, really recommend doing this in a mono-ski. Start with one rig a little bit further out from the mono-ski and dip as low as you can (provide photo) do this on each side over and over again until you feel comfortable. I still do this every time I go out. Any time you change up your ski, the balance point slightly changes. This gives you an idea of what you are working with before you begin.
The next piece of advice I would give is to go into this sport is accepting that you are not going to be perfect from the get-go. You are going to fall, and you cannot let yourself be afraid of that. You fall? No big deal. Get up and try again. Snow can be pretty soft, all things considered. Something I have learned that has helped prevent injuries for me is that if you do feel yourself losing balance, its best to just tuck your elbows in and let the ski slide out. If you try to save each fall you can 1. Wear yourself out or 2. Hurt yourself.
When you inevitably fall that first time, just let an instructor help you up. You really want to stay out there as long as possible and if you wear yourself out you will not be able to continue. That was a little difficult for me to do because at that point in my recovery I was trying to do everything independently in my life, so something a simple as getting up from a fall felt like I should be doing myself. That mindset is fine most of the time for someone with a spinal cord injury, especially a new one, but when you’re learning a new sport, especially one that can be dangerous if you feel fatigued, having that help there is crucial!
One of the best tips I have is to remember that skiing at its core is FUN! Yes, it takes a lot of work to become skilled at it but taking a step back to remember how fun and rewarding it can be is very important. The last tip I want to share for now was one that was very important for me. Learning the mechanics of how your ski operates and the physics of it all can help you progress once you have the basics down and you are wanting to take it to the next level. I could “nerd out” (as my friends so lovingly say) all day about it, but we can save that for another segment on mono-skiing progression!
-KBF Ambassador Liam Wagner