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Bi-ski allows disabled to enjoy skiing

Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2002

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) -- At one time, people with physical disabilities could only dream about skiing on the slopes with their peers.

Now no longer relegated to the sidelines, kids and adults in the Mankato area are taking advantage of lessons that allow them to ski like others.

Tom Abrahamson, a Mankato West freshman, anticipated his lesson Sunday as he was strapped into a bi-ski.

''It's a lot of fun,'' he said. ''A lot of my friends ski, so now I can go with them.''

The program, which teams Mankato Area Public Schools, Community Education Access and Mount Kato, is in its second year. Last year about five people took lessons; so far this year two people have signed on with room for more.

''We like to find recreational activities that people with disabilities can do,'' said Dalaine Remes, Access coordinator.

A $2,500 grant funded the bi-ski that participants use. It has a seat and two skis that operate somewhat independently, much like standup skis. At first an instructor is tethered to the back to help the skier keep control. Eventually the skier will be able to ski on his or her own.

''Actually, skiers in this are skiing on their own faster than skiers learning conventional skiing,'' said Jim Wise, one of the instructors.

Jim Marston, another instructor, said the modified ski uses the same techniques as standup skiing -- balance and coordination.

The bi-ski can be used on about 90 percent of Mount Kato's terrain.

Wise taught adaptive ski lessons out west for a time, and the other instructors have been trained through the Professional Ski Instructors Association.

Wise said bi-skis or mono-skis are commonplace out west, resting on racks at the base of the hill just like the other skis. Adaptive skiing is a Para Olympic sport.

Those who want to use the bi-ski have to make arrangements through the school district and Access. Remes said she hopes to have the skis available for rent at Mount Kato and to have more instructors.

Wise said the program allows everyone to participate.

''Skiing out here is a real family activity. Now if someone has a disability, they can go skiing too. We had a woman out here, a mother, and instead of staying home and saying 'You guys have fun' or staying in the lodge, she can participate too,'' Wise said.

Dennis Abrahamson, Tom's father, said his son tries to get on the slopes as much as possible.

Before the Mankato program, the only adaptive skis available were through Camp Courage. But Abrahamson said they could never coordinate getting the skis in Mankato. Now they have the program at their fingertips.

''His confidence level has gone up since last year,'' Abrahamson said of his son.

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