If you missed part one How Skiing Shaped My Life – Part 1
In 1992 I married my wonderful wife who, without skiing, I most likely would have never met. She went from the worse ski lesson I had ever given, to employee, to wife and mother of my children. Somewhere along my journey as a ski instructor, I was summoned out on the hill to help a damsel in distress. A dashing young male ski instructor was the last thing she wanted and had she no qualms letting me know. Needless to say, I never got her off the hill and spent the next few years avoiding her as she did me. As luck would have it she showed up at the front desk of the Children’s Learning Center during my desperate need for warm bodies to help out with the masses of 3 year olds floundering in the snow. I overlooked the fact that she couldn’t ski to save her life and hired her. To my surprise she really could ski and ended up being the one I couldn’t live without. A little over a year later we were married after the easiest and most natural courtship I ever experienced. We will have been married twenty two years in May and have three children. And all of this came from my decision at sixteen years old to become a ski instructor so I would have a season ski pass to ski.
After we married, we decided to move high into the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I was more than ready for a new challenge in my career and wanted it in Ski Resort Management. So, with my wife at my side and willing, we packed up everything we had and moved to Breckenridge, Colorado. The problem came when after moving there for the summer, I realized that not only would getting the kind of job I wanted be a long shot, but I’d outgrown that kind of life. I was ready to settle down and start a family and that was not the place to make it happen. So we repacked everything and trekked back across the county to settle in a suburban community in upstate NY.
For a few years I floundered trying to figure out what I wanted to do. The answer was obvious, but it would take some time and work to make happen. I was a natural teacher, so the teaching part of being a ski instructor came naturally. I didn’t have to put any work into it and there was an overwhelming amount of students, parents, and fellow ski instructors coaxing me to become an elementary teacher over the years. So I followed my passion, went back to school at the age of 30, got a Master’s Degree and became a teacher. I would have not realized my passion for teaching without skiing.
Like most people who are avid in the sport they enjoy, I dreamed of having my kids share
my love of skiing. So with each one of my three children, the winter they were closest to four, I popped them on skies and spent many backbreaking hours teaching them to ski. It all paid off as I ended up with three beautiful little skiers and two of the three share the love I have for the sport.
Our family winter weekends became exactly what I had dreamed of. I spent them skiing with my kids. From many I got flack; other fathers tried convincing me to ski with them and send my kids off to ski in ski groups, but it was skiing with my kids that made my winter weekends special. When I was out on the mountain with them the stresses of everyday life, work and the daily grind of home life melted away, and the father-child bonding became priceless. We skied, laughed, talked, took hot chocolate breaks and most of all enjoyed the time together. I couldn’t imagine having a better way of enjoying my children. In the end, the cost of not making some adult friendships will never come close to the payment I got from skiing with my kids
Then it all came crashing down. After spending a winter skiing with a broken ankle, not caused by skiing, and I didn’t know I had, my life went from going to a job I loved every day and skiing with my children to a life of pain, multiple surgeries and compromised mobility. Long gone were the days of living on skies – I now was living on a pair of crutches.
For three of the next four winters I endured major ankle surgeries and spent the winters in leg casts and on crutches. Heartbroken, I struggled to find ways for my kids to ski as much as possible. Their only choice was to ski in a lesson group as they were too young to ski on their own. I could have lived with giving up skiing, but what hurt the deepest was not being able to ski with my children.
Trying to hold on to the experience I once had skiing with my children, I forced myself out on the hill during winters that didn’t involve recovery from surgery. Walking was excruciating and not doable, and so it goes without saying that skiing was a torturous experience. My visions of leaving my daughter crying while hugging me goodbye, as I left for the hospital for the 5th surgery, saying “I don’t want you to have another surgery” and my last words before leaving, “I am doing this so I can ski with you,” kept me searching for a solution to ski.
Skiing is a sport that many people with a wide range of disabilities can enjoy though adaptive methods. Someone with a leg amputation can learn to ski quite well using a method called Three Tracking. This is done with using their remaining leg and outriggers (forearm crutches fitted with small skis on the tips). Those with various lower body or leg conditions who are able to walk with the use of a pair of crutches, often do well by learning to ski using the Four Tracking method. This method gives a four point contact on the snow. The outriggers are used to help with balance and turning. For someone with good upper body strength but no use of their lower body, they can learn to ski using a mono- ski. The mono-skier sits in a molded shell mounted above a single ski and uses two hand-held outriggers to help steer. Indeed, I had some options. I really felt like three tracking would be the most ideal, allowing me to progress to the level of skier I once was. The only problem would be what to do with my damaged leg. It would dangle in the way and it would be to exhausting to hold it up out of the way. So I went with the four track method, adapted to my needs. I basically ski with my arms, while my legs go for the ride. It actually works quite well, because I am carrying my weight though the outriggers and arms, taking the pressure off my affected leg.
Skiing once again made my life better. While my leg still endured a great deal of pain from being in the ski boot and the unavoidable pressure it still receives, even with four tracking, and my arms also burn with pain after a few runs and conquering the black diamond trails would never happen getting back out on the slopes with my kids was the start to rebuilding my life. It wasn’t so much about skiing; rather, it rejuvenated me emotionally and gave me some well-needed fuel to jumpstart my reinvented life.
It is hard to tell what my life would have been like if I had never made the decision to become a ski instructor at the age of sixteen. Maybe it would have been better, or maybe the small town would have engulfed me and snuffed out my life, I don’t know. What I do know is that skiing opened the world up for me. It allowed me to experience people, a social life in which to sow my young wild oats, travel, career, friends, a wife, an amazing bonding experience with my children, and some emotional fuel to rebuild my life after catastrophic injury. The icing on the cake is having my 16 year old son join the Adaptive Sports Foundation as a Ski Instructor this winter. If I were to never ski again my dreams will be fulfilled knowing that my love of skiing lives within my son and it too will help shape the course of his life.