They asked me to go for a ride in the bi-ski. How could I say no?
It was a frigid Thursday afternoon. I was hanging out with the Crotched Mountain Accessible Recreation and Sports crew– Geoff, Kristin, Jeff, and Crista (and no, we don’t hire our recreation therapists based on how similar their first names sound) — when news came down that one of the scheduled participants was unable to make it. The afternoon was freed up and I began to politely make my exit when Jeff looked at me and said: “So, Dave, what do you think? Want to go for a run?”
I hadn’t hit the slopes for many years and, uninterested in showcasing my preternatural ability to complete a mountain descent entirely on my rear end, I amicably declined. Then I noticed Jeff was motioning towards the area where the adaptive ski equipment was kept.
“You should do it,” Crista said. “It’s exhilarating.”
Do what exactly?
Wait…are they talking about…
“Come on Dave,” Jeff repeated. “Let’s go for a run.”
And that’s how I found myself suited up in layers, a ski mask covering my face, and my whole 6’3” frame tucked into the welcoming embrace of the Easy Rider adaptive bi-ski. We started in the CMARS space inside the Crotched Mountain Ski and Ride complex. Jeff was working his engineering sorcery, tightening straps, securing clips, and testing stability. When it all checked out in “dry dock,” we went outside and made our way to the ski lift.
I was getting the full point-of-view of the average CMARS participant and I felt a smorgasbord of feelings — excitement, anxiety, and security. Excited to be taking on a unique, thrilling experience; anxious because I’m not used to being completely dependent on another person; and secure that the person in charge was Jeff, who was obviously The Man when it came to this stuff.
What range of bonkers emotions awaited me at the peak?
Still, though, I hadn’t yet made it up the mountain. What range of bonkers emotions awaited me at the peak?
We approached the lift. I was buttoned up in my bi-ski so we (the ski and me) were going up as one organism. With Jeff on one side of me and Don, a CMARS volunteer, on the other, they released a latch, lifted me up so I was nearly perpendicular to the ground, and fed the ski through the lift seat. With a WHOOOSH the lift scooped us up, I was clicked back into the sitting position, and the seat bar came over all three of us, locking us into place in the chair.
A few minutes later the lift deposited us on the top of Crotched Mountain. Jeff secured the tethers and took his place behind me. Don skied out front, acting as sort of a forward-operating scout to clear the way and let other skiers know that I was on my way down.
And we were ready to go. I was feeling the nerves. Here I was, giving myself over to someone I couldn’t see, having no control over my ski equipment, ready to blast down a mountain. Our party inched across the terrain and…then…we were off.
The only way I can describe the next few minutes is “thrilling amusement park ride meets Winter Olympics travelogue.” We were slaloming from the left to right, my bi-ski cutting side to side to side into the packed snow, kicking up ice-wash. And though the burly Easy Rider wasn’t built for dynamic skiing it sure felt dynamic to me. We’d hit grooves and I’d get a touch of G-force as we caught air. Our trip through some moguls kept me riveted as we zigged and zagged like downhill dervishes. And velocity–oh, yes, Velocity.
That’s the name of the straight and clean steep run right before the end of the course. We hit Velocity with a fair amount of speed when Jeff pointed us due south (i.e.,down), opened up his skis, and we were flying.
We ended up taking another run after that and then we were done and back in the CMARS office and I was extricating myself from the Easy Rider and shedding my outerwear and warming my hands and feeling my heartbeat slow as the adrenaline gradually left my bloodstream.
I am, of course, not the typical Easy Rider occupant, nor the usual CMARS participant, but I was grateful for this quick glance of what our students and adults are able to enjoy. The wind in my face, the mid-air jumps that jittered my guts, the full-blown rush of a full descent — thrills that many of the folks we serve were likely told they may never experience, they experienced. Add to that, it’s all therapeutic; participants get to work on social, emotional, and physical goals all while dive-bombing fresh powder.
Jeff told me that our students will sometimes go for up to 10 runs in a single session. And who can blame them? In my fleeting taste of adaptive skiing, I realized something I suspect those who came before me — and those would come after — understand: no matter the vessel, there is freedom on the mountain.