I became an amputee skier as a direct result of my swimming achievements. I was asked one time if I was interested in trying what was then referred to as “Track Three Skiing” for amputees, consisting of one ski, and two outriggers for balance, making three tracks in the snow, get it? Any, off I went in search of new spills and thrills. I got both.
We learned to ski at Fonthill, Ontario, which consisted of two lifts; a rope tow and a T Bar. If you’ve ever used a T Bar lift as a beginning skier with two legs, I’m sure you can imagine trying it with one leg. What a riot. We were dropping like flies and laughing our heads off all the way up and down. It was a lot of work for a very short run, but I think I was hooked right away. I could “run” again. Move fast on my own. Gravity was cool.
After a few lessons at Fonthill, near St. Catherines, Ontario, I moved up to the big leagues by travelling south of Buffalo, New York to Kissing Bridge Ski Resort. This is where I really learned to ski. This must have been around 1978 to 1981 or so. I was hooked. I must have fallen about 30 times that first day. What a blast. After a few more weeks, I was able to keep up with my buddies in most terrain. I took to skiing like a fish to water. I was mobile again.I tried out in my first ski race at Kissing Bridge. It was an easy slalom type race for amputee skiers sponsored by 7-Eleven. I gave it a go on a wet slushy course and ended up second in my class.
I became more and more involved in racing at this point, joining the Ontario Disabled Ski Association and training and racing at Collingwood, Ontario’s ski resorts. I trained with some good coaches and raced a bit. I also raced with Sheridan College’s Ski Team in Brampton, Ontario against able bodied college skiers. I trained seriously for skiing for awhile, and raced for about 3 years. The biggest and best ski events for me happened between 1979-1981, when I took part in the Canadian Disabled Skiers Association’s annual event at Sunshine Village in Banff, Alberta.
In 1980, Shell Canada began a major sponsorship of The Canadian Disabled Ski Championships as a part of the Shell Cup Series. Athletes from France, Sweden Japan, Austria, West Germany, Australia and United States made The Canadian Disabled Skiing Championships a major international event.Having grown up in southern Ontario, skiing on little hills, Banff was unlike anything I had ever experienced. This was a mountain. The skiing and racing were fantastic fun. I met Steve Ellefson and Bill Harriot through a friend of mine in Calgary, and we drove up together and hung out for the duration of the week.
Steve was a great guy and we remain friends today. Bill was too cool to fool, with his special racing Levis and wild attitude. It was the beginning of two great athletes careers at this stage, as both these guys went on to become distinguished in the field of paralympic sports. For me, it was soon to be the end of my competitive sporting days, but for Steve and Bill, it was just the beginning. I took part in the slalom, giant slalom and downhill events. I completed both runs in the slalom, in finished the race, but I had an unfortunate fall at the top of the first GS run. I got and raced it out, and prepared myself for the downhill. At this point, I had not had a lot of coaching or experience, and this was the first time a downhill event had been held in Canada. Also, there were other countries represented, such as Austria, United States, Sweden and few others.
Most of the AK amputee races were won hands down by this Austrian guy who skied with poles instead of outriggers. His thigh was a tree trunk and he had to be in excellent condition to be able to ski that well with poles. I’ve tried it, and it made for faster times, but it was brutal on the leg without the outriggers for weight shifting and balance.
I placed 5th overall in the downhill, and I was pretty pleased with that. I was clocked at about 50 miles an hour coming down Brewster, and I will never forget that sensation as long as I live. What a rush! After my thigh stopped burning, that is. Here is a shot of that race near the top of Brewster.
Learning to ski was perhaps the second most important thing I ever did for myself, as far as becoming an amputee at such a young age. Skiing and ski racing were two different things, however, and after 4 years of swim training and competing I was burned out, and no longer interested in racing. I continued skiing for many years, and I have skied recently at Mt. Baker in Washington, Cypress Bowl in Vancouver, Silver Star Resort in Vernon, BC, and also spent a few years skiing at Apex Mountain in Penticton, BC. Although I haven’t skied much in the last couple years, I’m getting the urge to get my ass up on a mountain real soon.
Skiing as an amputee was probably the most fun I have ever had physically since losing my leg. I was able to ski just as well as most normies and keep up with my friends. It created a feeling of freedom that I could go wherever I wanted as long as there was gravity. It was like being able to run again. I truly love skiing and highly recommend it for people with any type of disability. You would not believe how much fun it can be.
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