Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Strategies For Making Modified Sitskis

Everyone is included in this family outing at D.A.R. State
Forest thanks to the use of a modified sitski.

Here's a look at what we've done to make sitskis more user friendly for those who require secure assistance for gentle winter outings.

With credit to Brenda Davies (pictured far right) for the initial momentum for this project, the DMR handled our first fabrication of two sitskis and did a professional job in their shop. We provided the sitskis - they created a stainless steel stroller bar handle and clamped it on. To prevent sideways tipping of occupants that is easily caused by an irregular posture and trail ruts, the DMR fabricators created an outrigger from of the tips of downhill skis mounted on blocks and attached to a bar, which is then clamped onto the sitski frame. A chest strap can also be used to keep a passenger's weight more centered in the seat - the handle bar frame provides a secure support.
Sitski by Colin Dye with stroller bar and outriggers by the
Massachusetts DMR fabrication shop.

Since the DMR could only do a one-time project for us, we resorted to a new design for our next set of modified sitskis, using flexible conduit pipe to bend an arched and wider handlebar shape onto the back of the sitski, attached with plumbing clamps. The handle in this case extends beyond the width of the sitski - a feature that is great for easier manueverability for the pusher, but complicated for transport - so the bigger the sitski, the better it is to keep it based on one site. The outriggers were a close replica of our DMR designed model. Thanks to Michelle Bitgood for creating and completing this fabrication and adding to our fleet!

The modified Ski For Light sitski.
We see a lot of use of this equipment, especially at larger programs that attract groups. Four of these modified sitskis aren't always enough! Last year we selected a Ski For Light sitski that had been donated to our program for our next modification. The knee support bar was sawed off and sanded down, allowing for a range of options for comfortable leg positioning using bolsters. Bryant Stewart, supervisor of Wendell State Forest, used square aluminum tubing to construct a frame for a round tube cross bar handle, which he bolted onto the sitski frame.

Despite its cafeteria style seating, the Ski For Light sitski is surprisingly comfortable. With wider skis set further apart, we decided not to use outriggers, which allows greater ease of poling movement for the sitskiers who use poles. If desired, rubber bike grips can be attached to handles for greater traction and warmth for those pushing. It is also helpful to position the skis more forward under the frame to allow for easier walking for the person behind the sitskier.

Sitski by Bob Hall with modifications by Michelle Bitgood.

All of these designs function well and demonstrate a range of possibilities. So often adaptive equipment needs further modification to better serve users and much homespun innovation goes on out there! If you have other solutions for supporting people with severe disabilities on the snow, please share! I am still surprised that there isn't a standard product on the market yet - or if there is, please let us know!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Upcoming Winter Recreation Events February 5-6

The first weekend in February has some fantastic options for adaptive recreation in New England! Hopefully current good snow conditions will prevail. Here are three great choices for fans of snow and cold -

DCR Universal Access Winter Recreation Festival in Gardner, Massachusetts: Saturday, 11am - 3pm. Head to Dunn State Park (off Route 2, exit 24B, follow signs) for a free day of sampling activities on the snow. Enjoy ice skating on ice sleds (or bring your own conventional skates), snowshoeing, kicksledding, cross country skiing, sit-skiing, and short snowmobile rides. Indoor warming area with refreshments. For more information and to pre-register, call Gigi at 617-626-1294.

Boston Vasalop Classical Ski Race: Sunday, 9:30 and 10am. Stop in at the Weston Ski Track to view a classic Swedish style cross country ski race and cheer on the handful of seated skiers who tackle the 5 mile course along with throngs of stand skiers. Enjoy a cup of traditional blueberry soup and try sitskiing, kicksledding or snowshoeing with DCR's Universal Access Program after the races. To sign up for Universal Access activities call Brenda Davies at 413-259-0009.

New England Disabled Sports Ski and Ride Challenge and Adaptive Sports Expo:  Saturday's Adaptive Sports Expo from 9am-5pm at Loon Mountain in Lincoln, New Hampshire will feature speakers, panel discussion, and demonstrations of adaptive ski equipment. Sunday's 15th Annual Ski and Ride Challenge is a major fundraiser for New England Disabled Sports in which participating skiers ski every lift within their ability range followed by more adaptive demos. For more information contact Rob Mueller at 603-745-6281 extension 5663 or 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Easier Ways to Explore Winter Trails

With lots of snow in Massachusetts, outdoor recreation is looking good as we kick off another winter season of accessible fun in the parks!

While some may be looking forward to engaging in rigorous activities like cross country skiing, others may feel concerned about staying warm and safe on snow and ice. In DCR's Universal Access Program, everyone's needs can be met, thanks to a wide array of available equipment.

For those who are ambulatory, snowshoes are fantastic. With the wide platforms and big teeth underfoot that snowshoes offer, most people experience far greater stability on winter trails. Snowshoeing, especially in soft powdery snow like we've had recently, is a delightful way to experience the winter woods. If you are concerned about balance, using poles is will help you feel even more secure. Snowshoes are a great alternative for those who feel cross country skiing is just a bit too risky. I've been really appreciating snowshoes lately, since a shoulder injury is preventing me from using ski poles.

For someone who is unable to stand or use their upper body, we have a variety of modified sitskis that feature stroller bar handles so someone can push. Outriggers on these sitskis prevent them from tipping sideways (which can happen from grooves in the snow from other trail users) and provide a secure ride for anyone who may be vulnerable about falling. Modified sitskis have been very popular in recent years as more people with severe disabilities seek out new cures for cabin fever. I'd love to see this item put on the market. We've been making our own using conventional sitskis, but it seems to me that a "snow stroller" on skis suitable for use by adults on moderate terrain could have a wide user range.

Those who want to travel faster on trails can with support from skilled staff and volunteers as needed. Those who prefer a more leisurely outing can go out for shorter amounts of time at a slower pace. Equipment can be mixed and matched to suit a family's particular needs. In the photo shown, the mother is cross country skiing, the kids are snowshoeing, and their father is being pushed in a modified sitski - an he can also get some arm exercise if he chooses. The woman pushing may be wearing snowshoes or just good winter boots.

The Scandinavian kicksled is our other favorite winter item. This chair on runners is especially great for kids and families on moderate terrain. You can read more about it on a previous post and try one out at any of our outdoor programs.

Those who want big noise and speed won't want to miss out on the easiest trail experience of all, though it is also the coldest! Come to Wendell State Forest and take a ride on the snowmobile! Program dates are listed in the sidebar to the right - the first one is this Saturday, January 22! We'll also have our snowmobile and sleigh in action at our Winter Festival at Dunn State Park in Gardner on Saturday, February 5.

No matter what trail experience you chose, be sure to wear warm clothes and good boots. Don't forget your hat and mittens! The easiest way to enjoy winter is to be well prepared for cold. You can always shed a layer if you need to and warm up in our warming rooms at the parks.

Check out other posts here for more information on program specifics! See you out there!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Skating Ahead of the Storm Again - This Time in Boston

Big snow on the way tomorrow, but today the sun shone and the roads were dry for my monthly trip to Revere for our adaptive skating program. Lots of people came to play at the rink today and the Boston Herald sent a photographer! Another great program with smiling faces on the ice - people on skates, wheelchairs, ice sleds and yak trax - and socializing (hot cocoa!) in the lobby when anyone needed to warm up.

Ice action included slalom, shooting goals with pucks and balls, and the ever popular crash tower made of foam blocks. A few new spontaneous ways to play catch emerged - a rolling by hand version and a kicking version (very gently with skates on!). New and returning participants included people in power wheelchairs, a group of people with brain injuries, a trio of spanish speaking sisters, and of course our favorite man in bear paw mittens below.

Friday, January 7, 2011

How to Assist Nordic Sitskiers

Despite the lack of snow in most of Massachusetts, Heidi and I escaped the office for an introduction to sitskiing at the Weston Ski Track this week. The nights have been cold enough to make good snow and the days warm enough to enjoy being out there. Conditions were icy with granular snow loosening atop the groomed snowpack. Only a handful of other skiers were out on the track on a Tuesday mid-day.

We practiced both sitskiing and assistive techniques, a refresher for me while introducing Heidi to the basics so she can ski with REC Connect participants in future programs. Despite the fact that glide wax wasn't needed on the icy snowpack, I was reminded that sitskiing is a lot of physical work to accomplish. Your body gets used in a different way so it is reasonable to expect some soreness after a first session. We practiced the sitskiing techniques described in the previous post and took a few good falls. One word of caution for slick conditions - take the downhills slow and beware of oversteering even while poling at a comfortable speed.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Nordic SitSkiing 101

I managed to squeak in one cross country skiing experience in last week's snow, a fabulous 3 miles through the woods on the shadowy side of a mountain that held diminishing conditions longest. Now I'm looking forward to visiting the Weston Ski Track for my first sitski outing of the season. In anticipation, here's a primer on sitskis and basic technique.

Sitski Equipment

Nordic sitskis consist of a metal frame mounted on cross country skis, with a plastic or sling seat, allowing the legs to extend forward in either a straight or bent position. Sitskis models used in our Universal Access Program are not currently being manufactured, so if you are looking to purchase a sitski, I recommend checking out Sierra Sitskis, which seem to be popular among serious users and can be ordered for custom fit. Sierra Sitskis are shown in these photos from last year's Vasalop Ski Race at the Weston Ski Track.

On our older sitskis, I maintain a base coat of wax on the skis for protection and recommend the application of glide wax from tips to tails just prior to use for maximum glide. Glide wax can be applied periodically throughout a ski session as needed - the sitskier has to intentionally or accidentally tip over so the application can be made by another person, although I'm sure some sitskier somewhere has probably mastered self application by now.

Ski poles need to be shorter than for standskiers. Once someone is in the sitski we generally offer poles up  to head height in length. The longer the pole, the more power on uphills, but it may take awhile to work up to that length or longer. Poles can be cut to size using a hacksaw and the handles removed by soaking in hot water and re-glued on to the shortened pole.

We also supply a fanny pack with sitskiers, usually worn by an able-bodied ski partner, who may ski alongside or behind the sitskier, providing as much or as little assistance as needed. The fanny pack contains a tether with carabiners, glide wax, an emergency space blanket (very helpful when it is snowing as sitskis tend to capture more falling snow in their laps than standskiers), trail maps, and any other additional supplies that might be needed.

Sitskiers with strong upper bodies in good physical condition will want to ski as independently as possible. On a groomed course this may be 100% of the time. On more rugged terrain an assisting standskier is essential for support, providing uphill boosts from behind or pulling support on long upgrades using a tether. Supplemental braking is helpful security on long downhills - the standskier holds a tether clipped to the back of the sitski. Working in tandem allows many sitskiers to travel further and work out more efficiently than going solo, building strength and endurance for improved independent skiing.

Basic Sitskiing Technique

Forward propulsion is achieved through poling techniques. Double poling uses both arms together simultaneously for quick short forward bursts suitable for flat or moderate terrain. Arms alternate in single poling, which is less powerful but has advantages on long gradual upgrades as there is steady forward propulsion. People with torso strength can take some strain off their arms and shoulders by leaning far forward and using a hip thrust powered by abdominal muscles as a power source for speed. For this a straight leg ski offers the biggest angle between upper and lower body for greatest power. Bent leg skis help those without as much torso strength sit more securely in the ski and use their bodies to best advantage.

Braking occurs by leaning forward and turning the pole handles down into the snow so they drag and slow momentum. (When sizing a person to a sitski it is important to make sure their hands can reach the ground!) While skiing downhill, this technique can be used on one side to help steer the ski through curves, much like in sledding. Turning while skiing is done more gently through leaning the body and making poling adjustments. Turning while stopped is an art form requiring an upwards hop and torso twist while pushing off on angles with ski poles. On packed snow with an icy quality, sitskiers can do a 180 degree turn much faster than standskiers.

Being closer to the ground makes falling a lot easier. Ruts in the trail can tip an unprepared sitskier over sideways. My typical fall is an intentional wipeout on a steep downhill if I pick up more speed than I can manage. After falling on a downhill, it is important to twist yourself in the ski so you return upright in a perpendicular position to the downslope, giving yourself a chance to pause safely before turning to continue downhill. To right yourself after falling, place both poles in one hand and push yourself up, allowing your head to stay low then move into proper alignment once the sitski is back in an upright position. Best to practice this on flat ground to get the hang of it first. Don't forget to add more glide wax while you are down!

New Adaptive Ski Program in Boston!

Anyone in the Boston area or beyond interested in learning to sitski should know about a brand new adaptive Nordic skiing program starting up at the Weston Ski Track this winter. The New England Nordic Ski Association has recently formed an adaptive program and will be running programs twice a week: Mondays from 6:30-8pm (night skiing after work!) and Thursdays from 2:30-4pm starting January 31 through March 3. To find out more, contact Eileen Carey at 207-514-3230.