Adaptive Skiing

Adult behind child doing adaptive skiing with a snowy mountain background
Skier and instructor (page author) at adaptive skiing program.
Sports offer the chance to exercise, have social experiences, and enjoyment. Staying active leads to improvements in health, mental health, self-esteem, and quality of life. Skiing is a sport that can be enjoyed by children, youth, and adults with disabilities with just a few adaptions. In some cases, parents may need to consult with their primary care doctor/medical home or a physical therapist about adaptations for skiing. This page talks about gear considerations, types of skis and equipment, getting started with referrals for different conditions, use and care of the gear, and thoughts about funding and costs.

Gear Considerations

Stephanie Victor on her way to a gold medal in the giant slalom at the 2009 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships
There is a lot of adaptive ski gear available in child and adult sizes for downhill skiing. Some gear is commercially made while other gear is designed through the creativity of adaptive ski programs to make sure the skier has a good experience. The differences in the make and type of gear give greater personal choice. While most people rent gear offered by an adaptive ski program, owning your ski gear lets you have a custom fit.

For more information, see the links in the Resources section near the bottom of this page.

Types of Adaptive Skis & Equipment

Skier using Adaptive Skiing equipment with Outriggers
Adaptive skiing with outriggers.
Stew Stryker on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
  • Outriggers are metal elbow crutches with small skis on the end of them. These adaptive ski poles provide extra points of contact with the snow.
    • Outriggers are used with mono-skis and bi-skis to help with balance and support.
  • A mono-ski is a sit-down ski with one ski blade.
    • A mono-ski is designed to be skied independently.
    • A mono-ski is used with hand-held outriggers.
  • A bi-ski is a sit-down ski with two ski blades.
    • A bi-ski can be skied with the help of a partner using tethers that are attached to the back of the bi-ski.
      • Skiers turn by moving their head and shoulders.
    • A bi-ski is used with a combination of hand-held outriggers and tethers that are attached to the back of the bi-ski.
      • Skiers turn by using the hand-held outriggers.
  • Tethers can be used in either stand-up skiing or with a bi-ski.
    • In stand-up skiing, tethers, or reigns, are used to assist 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.
    • A teacher will ski behind the skier with a tether in each hand.

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 bi-ski, or as a standing skier.

If the individual’s condition is progressive, the skier may require more adaptations to ski. The adaptive ski program will watch the skier and help with necessary changes as they progress.

Getting Started

Many people may choose adaptive skiing because they have balance, mobility, or strength issues but mostly for fun. A primary care doctor may not know the right gear that would be needed for skiing but would likely see the need for adaptations and could provide a referral to an adaptive ski program.

The primary care doctor may refer people with these health care needs:

  • 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
  • Seizure disorder

The adaptive skiing program will look at the needs of the skier and find the most useful ski gear. Also, the adaptive ski program will help them make goals, see progress, and reassess any need for changes in equipment.

The primary care clinician may follow up with the adaptive ski program.

Use and Care

The adaptive ski program will teach the skier about use and care of the equipment. Use the following steps to stay safe and comfortable while skiing:

  • The person should check with their primary care clinician before joining an adaptive ski program or skiing on their own.
  • The ski gear should be checked with each use for fit, safety, and needs of the skier.
  • The skier should tell the teacher about any discomfort from the gear that could cause skin irritation or bruising.
  • Temperature should be watched closely in people with temperature regulation issues.
  • The skier should call their 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 expensive. Most adaptive ski programs offer scholarships for their students. The program will usually have coaching and gear. Some skiers may choose to buy their own equipment, but need to remember that upkeep can be costly. Health plans do not often cover adaptive skiing lessons or gear.


Information & Support

For Parents and Patients

National Ability Center
The National Ability Center empowers individuals of all abilities by building self-esteem, confidence and lifetime skills through sport, recreation and educational programs. Located in Park City, Utah; serves people from all over the country.

The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD)
The NCHPAD identifies recreational resources for people with disabilities both nationally and internationally. Resources include organization directories, accessible recreation programs and facilities, adaptive equipment vendors, and links to journal articles, books, videos, and more. Fact sheets are available on a variety of activities for people with disabilities, fitness professionals, health professionals, and researchers.

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

Services for Patients & Families in Ohio (OH)

For services not listed above, browse our Services categories or search our database.

* number of provider listings may vary by how states categorize services, whether providers are listed by organization or individual, how services are organized in the state, and other factors; Nationwide (NW) providers are generally limited to web-based services, provider locator services, and organizations that serve children from across the nation.

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

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: March 2011; last update/revision: July 2023
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Lynn Foxx Pease
Reviewers: Abby Dumas
Tina Persels