Disabled skiing: activities for everyone
There are so many different ways in which someone can enjoy the mountains in winter: skiing, snowboarding, snow-shoe walking, husky dog and horse sleigh rides, chauffeur driven taxi-ski, skating, sledging, wellness, spa activities......or just sit and enjoy the panoramic views, read a book, enjoy a hot-chocolate and absorb the magic of the mountains!
France has over 150 ski schools and organisations offering a wide range of activities for all disabilities and special needs.Paraplegics, single leg amputees, and many other disabled people with a keen interest in sport can still enjoy skiing to the full and make the most of a winter holiday on the slopes. This is the result of specifically tailored equipment that can be rented (or loaned for free) in almost every ski resort, and instruction and supervision provided by voluntary associations and professional ski instructors. Below you will find details on the many resorts and organisations which provide facilities and opportunities for disabled tourists and disabled sports and leisure activity enthusiasts.
Tandem skis, kartskis, GMS, dual skis, bi-skis and ski-chairs are all specifically adapted pieces of equipment enabling disabled skiers to take to the slopes, either on their own (the monoski consists of a seat within a fixed frame on a single ski with outriggers used as sticks to provide stability) or accompanied. As with anyone taking to the slopes, whatever the activity, the key to success is to develop a technique and master good balance. Getting to the top of the slopes is longer a problem as the latest disabled equipment is designed for use on high-speed drag and chair lifts. It is also worth noting that ski lift operators offer reduced rates to disabled skiers and their ski companions.
Disabled "cross-country" skiing (requiring the use of a pulka, as well as a fit and keen ski partner!) is also possible in a dozen or so "Nordic" resorts, including La Féclaz, Morzine, Autrans, Bessans, Pralognan, etc. With a certain preparation and the participation of a sighted partner, it is also possible to accommodate visually impaired downhill or cross-country skiers.
Regions at the forefront of disabled skiing
The départements of Savoie and Haute-Savoie have been the pioneers in this field, actively supported (through the financing of equipment) by the Rhône-Alpes region. The Savoie/Mont-Blanc tourist board lists 32 resorts with facilities suitable for disabled skiers.
The French Ski School's (ESF) website lists numerous resorts with ski schools offering equipment hire (where required) and lessons and instruction for disabled skiers. Ski instructors (nicknamed the "red coats") are specially trained to provide tuition to disabled skiers.
Examples of ESF schools :
- The disabled skiing section at the French Ski School in Aime-la-Plagne
Established a decade ago, this dedicated department employs "temporary" ski instructors and offers equipment specifically designed in its own workshop. Lessons from 42€/hour, plus a whole host of other services.
- ESF in Barèges (Pyrenees)
This ski school welcomes disabled skiers, with services also available in both English and Spanish.
- ESF in La Pierre-Saint-Martin (Pyrenees)
Disabled skiing is also possible in this resort in the Béarn region of south-west France
Other examples: clubs, associations and non-profit organisations
- Ski 2 Freedom Foundation is an independent non-profit organisation created in 2007 and that has established itself as a major portal to encourage and promote snow-sport and mountain activities for disabled, special needs and disadvantaged children and adults.
- The Club Handiski Loisirs (Disabled Skiing and Leisure Activities Club) in Le Grand Bornand, near Annecy, rents out equipment at a cost of between 8 and 23€ per day, as well as offering tuition. The club organises a full programme of events and activities, with accommodation in a charming chalet available.
- The Ski Assis Evasion association runs activities and theme-based holidays in Combloux, a delightful resort near Megève, in the Pays du Mont-Blanc.
- Hanima, an association that has been operating in the Pyrenees for the past 15 years
- Wonderful holidays in the mountains with accommodation in 2 adapted gîtes. The association's motto is "to do everything possible to ensure the best possible holiday and the best possible sporting and leisure activities for disabled visitors!"