Alpine skiing is one of the most popular winter sports. It is accessible to a wider audience of people who poses the appropriate mobility skills and ski equipment. Alpine skiing is sliding on the snow, with ski on your feet. Usually, the skier also has sticks in his/her hands. Anyone who likes winter sports and is not afraid of cold can do skiing. Alpine skiing means white slopes, low temperatures and great pleasure.
Who is the program appropriate for and why we are skiing in Center Naprej?
Alpine skiing is one of the important programs we have included in our sports rehabilitation programs, which we use for training and testing the balance of users. It is a comprehensive and very demanding activity with a high level of risk for our users. As part of the risk assessment, we identified weak balance as a major risk factor in the rehabilitation skiing program that causes a high level of risk of a fall and, consequently, a risk of a new brain injury or a bone fracture. Activity, focusing on balance training presents great importance for all day-to-day activities, including self-care and walking.
The Alpine skiing program is intended for skiers with disabilities with acquired brain injury, who have at least basic ski knowledge that they had acquired before the brain injury. Skiing belongs to a very complex physical activity, and it would be very difficult and risky to learn after such heavy injuries suffered by our users. Learning is one of the most complex higher mental processes that the brain performs, and any disturbance or damage to the brain causes a change in this process.
In Center Naprej, we started skiing with users who had already skied before the injury and wanted to reacquire and improve their ski skills. Skiing is a great challenge for us, because besides pleasure it also has a certain risk.
Photo: Center Naprej, Weinebenne 2017
Some tips and instructions for alpine skiing with our users or persons with disability
In order to be able to perform alpine skiing, the skier must have:
- good preparation and physical fitness (aerobically sufficient muscular strength and an aerobic ability, especially muscles of the legs, abdomen and back),
- ability to maintain balance.
The ski training consists of two parts:
- physical preparation for skiing and fitness training,
- ski training, skiing and racing.
At the same time, all the above conditions are necessary to be integrated for a harmonised programme. Only then a specific movement, such as skiing, would be harmonized - thus recognized as good or successful. This can be achieved through a well-planned ski preparation program and careful implementation of this. Only in this way, we can expect a successful snow movement, which will be pleasant and safe for the user. Without good preparation, skiing will not be successful. It includes fitness training, skiing “gymnastics” and maintenance of the motor fitness throughout the year. We also help with the ProSki simulator training.
Each disabled skier has his companion. For better orientation and improved visibility on the track, we use visual support and signs. Proper preparation and adequate knowledge of skiing of the companion and good competence for working with people with disability are important. In order to work with our users, knowledge of the field of work and rehabilitation of persons with acquired brain injury (limitations, specificities, rules) is required.
Skiing with users is usually individual or maximum in pairs - up to 2 users per trainer. Particular emphasis is placed on the safety of users, so it is extremely important that we prepare a risk assessment for the location and all skiers before the skiing starts.
Photo: Center Naprej, 2017
Special features for skiing with persons with acquired brain injury
In the case of skiers - persons with acquired brain injury - we must pay attention to the following:
- choose appropriate ski slopes and ski trails according to the individual’s capabilities (physical and cognitive) and knowledge;
- the load during exercise should not exceed the individual’s ability,
- users must be appropriately dressed, so that they can move properly, that they are not cold or hot and that this does not hinder their activity;
- due to cold, we must pay attention to the skin care and the problem of thermoregulation;
- brain injury can damage the centre of balance, which affects the balance of the individual. In case of weak balance, the risk of a fall and new brain damage or bone fracture is very high. Therefore it is important to make an appropriate risk assessment and prepare actions to cope with these problems before skiing.
- We need to be alert to the visibility angle of persons with neglect (where part of the visual field fail) and to take appropriate safety measures at the ski track.
- We must take into account and anticipate users’ needs and physical comfort. Users can become agitated and restless when they are tired, hungry or feel pain, often failing to recognize latter. We must determine the breaks during the activity and the length of skiing individually, depending on fatigue, attention deficit and other abilities. Fatigue consequently affects both physical and cognitive ability, and increases the risk of injury and accidents.
- When preparing for skiing with users, it is important that we form realistic expectations setting goals that users can achieve.
- Avoid excessive stimulation in the ski track. We give short, clear instructions.
- We use learning by model: we teach our users giving example and thus provide them with adequate patterns of behaviour and consistency in various (burdensome) situations. Demonstration: Sometimes it takes several demonstrations to understand; let the person do the exercise; repeat the necessary steps, etc.
- Users need a lot of directions, directives and guidance. The least emphasis should be on errors. We focus on encouraging achieving success.
- The skiing needs to be planned well, because ABI users can have problems with the simplest tasks due to problems with executive functions and motivation, rather than assuming that he/she does not want to do this. The fact is that the affected part of the brain may disable initiating, motivation and planning capability. It is sometimes very difficult to distinguish between these disturbances and non-cooperation on purpose.
- Skiing should be a fun and pleasant activity.
Photo: Jasna Vešligaj Damiš, 2018, Weinebene
Advantages, positive effects and goals of the program
Exercise has many positive effects on the human organism including a number of disease prevention effects. The most important thing is that activities are carried out in nature in the winter, in the fresh air.
The main goals of the program are to improve or maintain physical fitness, to improve and promote a healthy lifestyle, to develop an appropriate attitude towards nature, to use its properties for a healthy lifestyle, to promote positive self-image and personal satisfaction in life, to increase the self-confidence in performing tasks, acquire knowledge and skills.
Some of the health and psychosocial benefits that skiing brings to our users:
- improves general fitness because the whole body works,
- improves flexibility of joints, mobility,
- has a positive impact on raising general motivation due to activation and achievement of success in sports,
- strengthens the abdominal muscles,
- improves functioning of the cardiovascular system,
- positively affects cardiorespiratory health and increase aerobic capacity,
- increases anaerobic abilities - muscle strength of the legs, back and abdomen,
- improves balance and coordination - coordinates the movement of all large muscle groups,
- outdoor skiing in nature improves stress management,
- enables learning, renewal and maintenance of ski skills,
- allows you to compete and entertain,
- provides training in social skills and group activities,
- provides training for receiving and performing instructions and executing functions training,
- provides memory and communication training.
For our users, it is a unique effort to try to stay upright while skiing. They must work with the abdominal muscles to remain balance, with those abdominal muscles located deeper and begin on each side of the spine, swirl around the body and end up in the pelvis. These are the key abdominal muscles that shortened act as a “corset” and squeezing the lower abdomen. Other abdominal muscles also strengthen and stabilize the spine, so it does not bend when leaning forward or falling. Improving the strength of the abdominal muscles helps them to improve balance and coordination.
Half an hour of skiing without breaks is a good exercise for the cardiovascular system, no matter how you ski, that means an increased heartbeat, increased blood circulation, and more intense nutrients and oxygen flow through the body, extra substances discharged. At the same time, more calories are burnt when skiing, muscles are prepared for more oxygen and blood, the capillaries are more loaded and the muscles are able to stretch. Skiing strengthens the entire body and is good for all the main muscle groups. The inner and outer muscles of the thigh, muscles bending knees, the muscles of the buttocks are most affected.
Skiing is also good for managing body weight. The steeper the terrain is, the more calories you burn. Greater inclination of the ski slope requires investing more efforts to balance and using more energy. The reason for losing weight is also the low temperature in the environment, if it is below zero body causes body temperature to rise and you spend more calories. All this also applies to our users, although we do not ski with them on very steep and demanding ski slopes, but carefully choose the difficulty of the route according to their skills and knowledge.
Photo: Center Naprej, 2017
- alpine skis, which must be properly prepared and ready for snow with bindings,
- ski poles.
For seated skiing, we use: “biski, monoski, kartski, tandemski” and stabilizers with skis (instead of sticks) - which we have not practiced so far in our centre, because there have not been similar needs or opportunities.
- personal clothing: jacket and ski pants
Jacket should be warm, waterproof. The ski pants must be extremely warm so people do not get cold in the legs.
- mandatory helmet
The helmet must allow the user comfort from the inside, especially in the area of the ears, and at the same time strength from the outside to protect the head from possible hits. Also important is the locking system of the helmet, which keeps the helmet stable in case of fall.
- ski gloves
Ski gloves must be warm and at the same time provide good grip on the stabilizer. For people with impaired motoric hand functions, they use gloves for one finger, due to the difficulty in using gloves.
- ski shoes
Ski boots, like other equipment, must keep feet warm but at the same time they must have appropriate hardness and not be too demanding.
- a reflective jacket
The reflective jacket is highly recommended, especially in ski resorts where there are more people, as the skier and skier’s reactions are longer than in individual skiing. With this, we remind other skiers to pay more attention to us at the ski resort.
- ski goggles or sunglasses
They are recommended mainly due to the reflection of light from the snow cover. They are also important in case of bad weather and fog.
Personal equipment of the trainer / assistant
- alpine skis
Usually we recommend shorter skis (slalom), for easier handling and medium hardness. Assistants must have skis light enough to make them swivel, and at the same time must be able to manage themselves and the skier.
- ski shoes
They are usually softer, because preparation and heating require a lot of work without skis for the trainer, walking in ski shoes, opening and closing the skis, track assistance, etc.
- personal clothing and helmet
The gloves should be thin but warm, with good grip, so that they are not a hinder.
Accessories for making skiing more appealing
- flex poles, etc.
Alpsko smučanje za osebe s pridobljeno možgansko poškodbo v Centru Naprej. Interno gradivo Centra Naprej. Maribor, oktober 2014.