By Rachael Pavey and Caitlin Healey, international serious injury lawyers at at Irwin Mitchell

With the winter sports season well under way, it's an exciting time for many to be getting back to the slopes, especially for those who've been away for longer than they might have liked due to the pandemic. 

For others, it might be their first venture into the world of snow sports, which can be a little intimidating.

At Irwin Mitchell we support clients who, after sustaining a spinal cord injury (SCI), are either keen to get back to the snow sports that they loved prior to their injury or just want to try something new, but are unsure where to start. Trying a new sport can appear particularly daunting for those who have suffered SCI, but they can also be very beneficial.

Ollie Thorn shares his experience of skiing with a spinal cord injury

We spoke to Ollie Thorn (pictured below) about his own experience of skiing with a SCI. Ollie was injured while serving as an officer in The British Army. Since then, he has competed as a sit skier internationally for the Armed Forces Para Snowsports Team. 

Ollie has previously worked for the Back Up Trust, a charity that supports those with a SCI and now works in recruitment, where he leads a diversity and inclusion team supporting people from diverse backgrounds and those living with a range of disabilities, to enter the workplace. Ollie gave us some top tips for those interested in snow sports; particularly sit skiing, with a SCI.

Snow sports and sit skiing top tips

There are several ski centres across the UK and Ollie recommends getting some practice at one of those before booking your first proper trip to the slopes. 

Each centre should have an instructor who is trained in adaptive snow sports, such as sit skiing, and so you should be able to arrange some lessons with an appropriately qualified instructor. 

Be sure to check that they are certified by the British Association of Snow sport Instructors (BASI) to at least Adaptive Ski Level 1, if training at an indoor ski centre. You will want your instructor to have higher level qualifications if teaching you at a ski resort.

Think about what resort facilities you need

If you're ready to visit a resort, think carefully about what facilities you will need, particularly at your accommodation, and make sure you do your research to check that they will be available. 

You will also want to research the slopes that you intend to use and any local rules that apply. For example, some resorts prohibit the use of button lifts for sit skiers and gondolas or ski lifts may not be sit ski accessible. 

Charities can help organise holidays

If you are nervous about arranging your first sit ski holiday yourself, charities such as The Back Up Trust, Disability Snowsport UK and Access Adventures provide sit ski courses and organise group ski holidays, with beginners welcome. These could be a good introduction to winter sports and give you a better idea of things that you will need to organise, if you later decide to travel independently.

Sit skiing is of course a physical activity. You will no doubt have been given advice regarding activity and the importance of shoulder health with a SCI from your treating team. It’s however even more important to ensure your shoulders are healthy in advance of any winter sports. The equipment you will use for sit skiing is, as you might expect, heavier than regular skis or snowboards and so it’s advisable to consult with your treating team to get details of exercises that would be appropriate to help get you ready for your trip.

Safety advice

Safety is of course key, and the risks of winter sports were explored in a recent article by Jennifer Lund; The top 8 most dangerous winter sports and what you 'must-do' before jetting off on holiday. Many of these tips will apply to sit skiers too.

Snow sports can be enjoyed and excelled at by people living with a variety of disabilities, making use of support such as guides, voice control or adapted equipment. 

For Ollie, sit skiing brings huge benefits and being on the slopes is an unbeatable feeling. It’s a fantastic activity to do with his friends and family, as when they’re heading down the slopes together, he's just a skier like all the others. It can help boost mood and improve confidence, whilst also being a great form of exercise.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people following accidents abroad at our dedicates serious injury abroad section.