A First Timers Guide to Sit Skiing

I knew nothing about sit skiing before I tried it. Trying sit skiing and putting your trust in strangers can be daunting at first. If you’re planning on trying sit skiing, and I highly recommend you do, then here’s my tips to reduce the worry of the unknown and to convince you to give it a go.

My first time 

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Kate & Paul sit skiing Perisher in August 2008

I tried sit skiing for the first time during my year 11 excursion in 2008. I wasn’t keen and if it weren’t for my teachers giving me the opportunity and my Mum saying yes then I would have never tried it. I was sick with nerves.

It blew my mind what we were able to do. Day one was spent riding the magic carpet and skiing down the beginner slope as I got comfortable with the sit ski and built trust with my instructor Paul. Day two we spent exploring more of Perisher including going over jumps and into the half pipe. Paul had never done this before with a sit ski. I have since learnt this happens quite a lot with me because I don’t weigh much and I am light to manoeuvre on the sit ski. At first it scared me but now I love the thrill.

The years followed with a desire to return. I was able to return to the snow in 2013 when my Starlight wish was granted. I have since made it a yearly adventure visiting Perisher, Thredbo, Falls Creek and I have even experienced the powder in Japan. My ultimate goal is to build my confidence and gain more independence on snow.

What it’s like to be in a sit ski and ride

It’s similar to what it would be like to sit in a bucket. It’s a snug fit with padding used to fill any gaps and straps prevent falling out.

There are different sit skis to try to find out what works best for you. Put simply, a mono ski has only one ski and a bi ski has two skis. A bi ski is stable making it easy to balance and difficult to fall. Outriggers go on each arm and help control the sit ski.

You can do as much or as little as you like and are able to. It might be that you just want to feel the thrill and have someone behind doing all the work or you may want to achieve more independence on snow.

A good way to start is to be bucketed known as thumbing in Canada) in a bi ski. This means you sit in the ski ski, someone holds onto the back and does all the work to get the sit ski to turn. It helps to get used to the feeling of being in a sit ski and how it works while enjoying the snowy views.

Next is to be tethered.Outriggers are added and a skier or snowboarder uses cords to help make the turns and control speed. When you look left and put your left hand out then you turn left. Look to the right and put your outrigger out right to turn right. You will get the hang of it with practice.

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Kate & Charlie tethering in Myoko PHOTO: David Churchill, Myoko Snowsports

All the skills learnt can be used on a mono ski. A mono ski is easy to turn but this also means it’s easy to fall over.

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Kate on a mono ski balancing with outriggers PHOTO: Thomas Swain

Loading onto the chairlift 

It can be scary to be loaded onto the chairlift. First a pin is released from the sit ski that frees the bucket from the skis underneath with the bucket sitting on the chair and the skis going underneath. It helps to have one person either side to lift. You will feel like you are leaning far forward but you can’t fall out with straps holding you in and after a countdown are loaded safely onto the chairlift.

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Nikki & Shannon loading Kate onto the chairlift in Myoko PHOTO: Cara Kajewski

Enjoy the scenic view on the chairlift ride and many great discussions are had.

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Kate, her snowboarding bro Michael, DWA Guides Jane & Michael PHOTO: Thomas Swain

To get off the chairlift the sit ski is lifted off and skied. The pin is then put back in before riding back down the mountain.

Become a Disabled Wintersport Australia member

In Australia there is a fantastic organisation called Disabled Wintersport Australia (DWA). DWA offers opportunities for people with disability to try adaptive winter sports in Australia. Member benefits include adaptive equipment, the ability to request trained guides, and discounts on private lessons and lift passes.

Book a DWA camp

DWA offers camps of all levels and takes the hassle out of organising a snow trip. The camp includes accommodation, lessons, friendly guides and lift tickets.

I attended my first camp in 2014 at Perisher. I really enjoyed meeting like-minded individuals. I was paired with two guides, Emma and Michael, who took me out on snow each day and helped me practice.

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Kate with DWA Guides Emma & Michael PHOTO: Thomas Swain

I booked my spot on another DWA camp in 2015 at Thredbo. I convinced Michael to return as my DWA Guide and Jane joined our team.

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Kate & DWA Guides Emma & Michael leaning from Thredbo Instructor Matti PHOTO: Thomas Swain

Book private lessons 

Private lessons are important to continue to progress. DWA offers member discounts across resorts in Australia. Adaptive instructors have different approaches and will each teach you something different. If you like the approach of an instructor then book that instructor each time you return. I do and each season it’s great to catch up!

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Kate enjoying a private lesson with Kenton Williams at Thredbo PHOTO: Thomas Swain

Communication is key 

Communication is key to enjoying your experiences. It is important to tell your guides, instructors or family and friends if something is not right. Trust is developed.

Most people like to be told when the instructor will let go and tethering will begin. I prefer not to be told because I tend to panic. I communicate with my instructors to let go without telling me. I can tell by the feeling when I am being tethered or skiing on my own.

Slip Slop Slap Seek Slide 

It’s important to protect yourself from the reflective snow especially on sunny days. Apply and reapply sunscreen. Unless you want to feel extra pain with sunburn and show off a very unattractive goggle tan then wear sunscreen.

Goggles provide both protection and allow you to see clearly. Goggles are securely strapped onto your face and wrap around so there are no gaps.

helmet is essential to protect your head and keep it warm. You will stand out more on the mountain if you don’t wear a helmet.

Layers provide warmth and sun protection. Cover as much of your bare skin as possible. This snow is obviously cold but you can warm up on sunny days and depending how much activity you are doing. The key to staying warm is layers and adjusting layers depending on the weather and how you are feeling.

I switched from gloves to mittens. Mittens are warmer than gloves (finger heat) and are more comfortable for my small hands. It can be tricky to do things in mittens so best to put on last and just before going out into the snow. I also have a light pair of merino gloves to wear under my mittens on the really cold days.

Heated warmers

Heated warmers are great for the really cold days. I was introduced to heated warmers when in Japan because they were cheap, readily available and essential to keeping warm. In Australia, I have seen warmers stocked in Daiso stores and at selected chemists. Remember to stick in-between the layers and not directly onto skin.

Getting around in a wheelchair 

It can be tricky to push a wheelchair on the hills, snowy ground and with the many layers worn. I try to avoid doing as much pushing as I can on snow. It can be difficult to grip push rims when wet. Wearing gloves can help to grip and sometimes a push is helpful too.

Wheel blades (mini skis that attach to the front wheels of a wheelchair) prevent the front wheels from sinking and glide through the snow. This also prevents face planing into the snow!

Keep an eye out for us on the mountain! Look for the tutus!

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Charlie, Kate and Michael wearing tutus on Kate’s 25th birthday in 2016 PHOTO: Kate Swain

There is a story behind the tutus.  I skied on my birthday in 2014 and asked my Mum for a tutu. We joked about it, she made me a pink tutu and my instructor Kenton wore it when skiing on my birthday. She has since made a white tutu and a blue tutu. We don’t just wear them on my birthday but whenever out skiing!

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Kenton & Kate skiing on Kate’s birthday, Thredbo 2014 PHOTO: Thomas Swain
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