Adaptive Skiing


With adaptation, skiing can be enjoyed by many children with disabilities. Recreation opportunities offer physical activity, social experiences, and personal enjoyment that may lead to improvements in medical management, mental health, self-esteem, and quality of life.
Adaptive Skiing
Skier and instructor (page author) at adaptive skiing program.
There are a variety of adaptive devices available in child and adult sizes to provide the individual with the experience of downhill skiing. Some equipment is commercially produced while other equipment is designed through the innovation and ingenuity of adaptive ski programs to ensure a positive experience for the skier. The variety in differences in the design and type of equipment give greater choice for personal preference. While most individuals rent equipment offered by an adaptive ski program, skiers who utilize a mono-ski would be more likely to purchase their own equipment. Personal ownership allows for custom fit equipment.
If or when skiers are able to be more independent in their skiing, their equipment needs could change. For instance, they may progress from skiing with tethers to skiing without tethers, whether in a mono-ski, a sit-down ski with one ski blade, or as a standing skier. Likewise, if the individual’s disability is progressive, the skier may require more adaptations to ski and the adaptive ski program will address this issue on an individualized basis.
Tethers can be used in either stand-up skiing or with a bi-ski, a sit-down ski with two ski blades. In stand-up skiing, tethers, or reigns, are used to augment leg strength to help in stopping and/or steering the skis. The tethers are attached to a fixed ski bra, or strap, that is placed on the tips of both skis. An instructor skis behind the skier with a tether in each hand.
A bi-ski can be skied with the assistance of an instructor using tethers that are attached to the back of the bi-ski. Skiers turn by moving their head and shoulders. It is possible to use a combination of hand-held outriggers, metal elbow crutches with small skis on the end of them, and tethers that are attached to the back of the bi-ski. Skiers turn by using the hand-held outriggers. For additional descriptions and pictures, see the links in Resources near the bottom of this page.

Assessment and Evaluation

A primary care provider may not know the specific equipment that would be required but likely would recognize a need for adaptations for skiing. Many individuals may benefit from adaptive skiing including those with balance, mobility, or strength issues. Other individuals may benefit from the recreational aspects. The primary care practitioner may consider referring individuals with the following conditions:
  • spinal cord injury;
  • spina bifida;
  • cerebral palsy;
  • debilitating muscular disease;
  • amputation;
  • visual impairment;
  • rare disorders, such as Hunter or Hurler syndromes, that could impede mobility or balance;
  • autism spectrum disorder;
  • developmental delay; or
  • seizure disorder (requires harnessing for chairlift).
The adaptive skiing program will determine the needs of the individual and identify the most useful equipment. Additionally, the adaptive ski program will help the individual determine goals, assess progress, and reassess any need for changes in equipment. Families should consider the program’s services, cost, and philosophy to determine the best fit for the individual.
The primary care provider should ask the individual about his or her experiences, progress, and concerns. The provider may follow up with the adaptive ski program.

Use and Care

The adaptive ski program and instructor will teach the skier about use and care of the equipment. The skier should be aware of and tell the instructor about any physical discomfort from the equipment that could cause skin irritation or bruising. Temperature should be monitored closely in individuals with temperature-regulation issues. The ski equipment should be monitored with every use for fit, safety, and needs of the skier.
The individual should check with his or her doctor before participating in an adaptive ski program or skiing on his or her own. The skier should contact his or her medical home for any non-emergency issue after skiing. If emergency care is needed while skiing, the adaptive ski program will arrange for care.

Funding and Costs

Adaptive skiing can be an expensive form of recreation. Most adaptive ski programs offer scholarships for their students. The program will provide instruction and equipment. Some skiers may choose to purchase their own equipment, but the equipment is expensive and is labor-intensive to maintain. Insurance does not usually cover adaptive skiing lessons or equipment.


Information & Support

For Professionals

What is Adaptive Skiing and Sports
An overview of different types of adaptive skiing.

Adaptive Skiing Equipment (Uphill Skiing)
Pictures of adaptive skiing equipment from the Uphill Ski Club of Great Britain.

Adaptive Exam Guide
An official guide, with detailed information, for adaptive ski instructors. Appendix #4 contains descriptions of equipment.

For Parents and Patients

Adaptive Skiing: More Available for People with Disabilities
News article from Disaboom about adaptive skiing with definitions and tips.


Adaptive Recreation

See all Adaptive Recreation services providers (64) in our database.

Assistive Technology

See all Assistive Technology services providers (105) in our database.

For other services related to this condition, browse our Services categories or search our database.

Helpful Articles

Laskowski ER.
Snow skiing for the physically disabled.
Mayo Clin Proc. 1991;66(2):160-72. PubMed abstract
An overview of the origin and benefits of adaptive skiing.

Barbin JM, Ninot G.
Outcomes of a skiing program on level and stability of self-esteem and physical self in adults with spinal cord injury.
Int J Rehabil Res. 2008;31(1):59-64. PubMed abstract
Improved self-esteem and self-worth in participants in adaptive skiing program.

Sterba JA.
Adaptive downhill skiing in children with cerebral palsy: effect on gross motor function.
Pediatr Phys Ther. 2006;18(4):289-96. PubMed abstract
Improved motor function after a 10-week skiing intervention.

Nasuti G, Temple VA.
The risks and benefits of snow sports for people with disabilities: a review of the literature.
Int J Rehabil Res. 2010;33(3):193-8. PubMed abstract

Johnson CC.
The benefits of physical activity for youth with developmental disabilities: a systematic review.
Am J Health Promot. 2009;23(3):157-67. PubMed abstract


Author: Lynn Foxx Pease - 3/2011
Content Last Updated: 3/2016