Skiing and Cerebral Palsy: Graduating Daisy

Skiing for the past year and a half has been a blast. The benefits for helping cerebral palsy improvement have been evident. Improving balance, coordination, flexibility, and more overall ability to move has made skiing well worth the participation. My journey to get back into skiing really began in the winter of 2022. After emotionally healing to a place where going up to the slopes on my own became a reality. Even turning into a healing experience in itself. The locating of handicap parking after my first couple solo trips, changed the entire experience. Turning skiing into an activity more enjoyable than ever before in my life. Walking across the foot bridge at Stevens Pass Resort instead of climbing a flight of stairs to arrive at the lodge, saved considerable energy. The improved parking also removed considerable anxiety from my day on the slopes. Inherently, I knew skiing was an activity that helped my cerebral palsy excellently. The demands placed on the entire body to ski down the mountain, with every limb required to work separately and together, made the sport great. It turned on so many lights inside the brain that my disability couldn’t help but get a positive workout. In my mind, even just having the ability to ski the Daisy chair, made going up to ski worth every trip. And that was only considering the physical aspects of being on the slopes. Finding myself skiing in the mountains helped my mental health challenges, as well. 

The Daisy chair at Stevens leads skiers to the easiest runs inside the resort. The chair has always been the most comfortable for me to ski from. Much of my youth was spent skiing off the Daisy chair and even today, I don’t think of myself much beyond a beginning skier. The easy runs help me stay relaxed in a challenging environment. Thinking of how difficult skiing has been with my disability. I feel as though even sticking to the easy runs remains an accomplishment when skiing with CP. The key in my experience has also been finding a way to be patient with myself. Understand that even if I never move my ski level beyond the easy runs, just being up there remains a cool accomplishment. Sometimes I will look around the mountains while riding up the Daisy chair. Getting lost in my dreams of skiing down some of the more difficult terrain. In those moments, I begin wondering if practicing could lead to improved skills on the mountain. Or, if skiing with cerebral palsy might have a ceiling, not allowing me to advance past the easy runs any longer? At these times, I think back to skiing in my late teens and early twenties. During those years, I was probably at the height of my skiing ability. Spending much of my ski trips with friends, who pushed me to challenge myself on the steeper terrain. I wanted to ski with my buddies, so I went for it, and for the most part could ski the intermediate runs. But, as I got into my late twenties and thirties, that ability faded from my tool kit. Having me cling to the simpler ski runs. 

The practice has turned out to be improving. Like I see with my skills in playing catch with Bernard. The continuation of practicing the movement of making the catch, leads to improved skill. As we spent hours tossing the different types of athletic balls back and forth. My skill slowly but surely shows improvement, getting to the point of catching most tosses. When it came to skiing, I still had reservations. But, following the same kind of trajectory felt like it could yield similar results. When I found the ability to venture up the mountain and ski solo, it felt like my skill could improve. The time could be taken in slowly growing my skill to ski, instead of going off to the challenging terrain in an effort to keep up with buddies. The ski season of 2022 was completely spent on the easy runs. Riding the Daisy chair up and skiing down for around two hours, each time I went up to the mountain. The lift ticket I purchased each day was only for the beginner runs. At times, it had me feeling slightly embarrassed. Frustrated that my skills didn’t feel like they would comfortably translate to steeper runs. But, I enjoyed being up in the mountains and had a joy for skiing. There was also comfort provided by the thought of having cerebral palsy and maintaining the ability to ski. Without the love for doing it, I would have completely quit in my thirties. But, the ten different experiences in the winter of 2022, led me to purchase a season pass. Even if I never moved on from the Daisy chair, it would still be worth it. 

The Sunday before MLK Day had arrived. I didn’t head up to the mountain solo on the Sunday afternoon, with the plan of skiing into the night. The Sunday evening ski had been one of slow crowds in the past couple weeks. However, I didn’t factor in the holiday happening on that Monday. Meaning the kids would be home from school for the day. Pulling into the parking lot, all of the handicap parking spaces where occupied. My first sign that coming up on this particular Sunday afternoon, might not have been the best choice. Out of the twelve times or so, I have used the handicap spaces, I had never seen more than two other cars. Usually, there might be one more car, in addition to mine. I think the number of handicap spots has been four or five. Depending on the manner in which we pull into the spaces. The feeling of surprise as seeing those spaces full was a good description. We pulled up the hill and around the corner, where the road opens up into a full parking lot. Just around that corner we found an open space, not far from the full spaces. It was the first true sign that the evening could be crowded. We agreed, if it looked too full when we walked in, we didn’t have to stay. So, we geared up and trekked into the lodge. Things didn’t seem too bad, leading us to head onto the snow. 

We snapped into our skies and scooted out to the Daisy lift. I’m always thankful to ski with people who have patience with me, happy to ski easier runs. Leaving me to feel comfortable on the slopes. The atmosphere allows the freedom to move up to more complicated terrain when feeling comfortable, enough. My last trip up to the ski resort was a few days before this Sunday afternoon venture. On that Wednesday morning, I felt a leap in my skiing ability. An achievement not transpiring in my ten trips up to the mountain the prior year. In just my fourth trip during the young season, I was skiing faster. Managing to turn more quickly with confidence in my balance and coordinating the movements, at elevated speeds. The new skies, bought at the end of last season, played a significant role. They were turning out to be lighter and much easier for me to maneuver. I was getting myself out of shaky spots with much better reactions, than my prior year. With all of this information playing inside my mind, we approached the Daisy lift. The line was longer than I had seen, ever before that evening. Prompting me to frown away from moving further toward finding the lines end. Instead, in a surprising turn of events, I suggested we skip the Daisy run. It was something I hadn’t proposed before, or felt comfortable about in twenty years, maybe longer. We moved past the Daisy chair and onto the Brooks chair. 

Sliding into the line for the Brooks chair was refreshing. There was almost no line to load onto the chairlift. We might have waited for two groups in front of us to get loaded. As we took off from the base of house, the chair sped away at a much faster speed. The Brooks chair being a detachable quad lift, while Daisy turns at a steady speed. It had probably been a handful of years since being on the right side of the resort. However, Brooks has been known as the next easiest lift to ski after Daisy. Even so, I hadn’t found the confidence in my ability to move to harder terrain. Riding up the lift, after making the choice to bypass the comfort of the beginner chair, there was no choice. I was going to be forced into taking on an intermediate run on my way back down the mountain. There was nervous energy running through my body, accompanied by no shortness of excitement. By the time, we were riding up the Brooks chair, darkness had fallen, and the lights had taken over the evening. The plan was to follow the lighted path back down and hope for the best. The run started off pretty calm, not much added challenge from the paths off Daisy. But, as I got about halfway down the slope, a steeper grade was approached. Having been skied the entire day, it wasn’t only steeper than I was accustomed, there were pretty large bumps on it. I advanced with caution and did the best I could muster.

Making it down that first run relatively unscathed and without falling. I was ready to give the advanced chair another round. Again, we cruised through the entry without waiting behind much more than a group or two in front. The loading process went seamlessly and we were quickly speeding up the mountain. I was feeling pretty accomplished in the moment, having just skied an intermediate run for the first time in years. To make things even better, it was done without falling. During the second turn riding up the Brooks chair, choosing another path down seemed like a fun idea. Thinking of exploring more terrain off of the chair. I kept myself in the light and veered to the right of the previous route. The new path turned out to be steeper than anticipated and covered in even larger bumps. Somewhere in the top third of the steep section, I lost my composure and balance, falling for the first time of the season. It was no big crash, more of a tip and plop onto the snow. But, it left me feeling frustrated, and worried about making it down the run. The person skiing with me gave me some good advice, that I could ski over the bumps, and turn when I was prepared. The words brought calm to my anxious mind and helped me think of advice from years past. I recalled being told that if I got caught in a bumpy run like this, make my way to the side of the run because the sides are usually less skied, and should be easier. Sure enough, I skied over the bumps, making it to the side of the run, and skied out without falling. The aversion of another fall or two provided inspiration to ride back up the chair. This time, taking the easier of the two routes down the mountain.

The blessing of the evening were the crowds. Almost forcing me into taking on the more difficult terrain. I don’t know how long it would have taken me, otherwise. I tend to shy away from pushing my potential as a skier. With many things on the mountain causing me anxiety. Whether it be riding on one of the higher chairlifts, or the fear of becoming unable to ski down the mountain. There have been instances of falling multiple times, trying to descend ski runs that were too hard. Which, might be the reason for spending lots of time skiing off the easy chair lift. Trying to gain more and more experience on my skies, while hoping to add strength and endurance. The chance taken on this night, with the overwhelming crowds, showed me how much the practice can help push me forward. It was amazing to ski the intermediate runs a few times, with only one mild fall to report. I look forward to taking even more chances with the intermediate terrain. The experience also shows me how much the practice helps improve my ability. Similar to all the hours Bernard and I spent playing catch to improve the skills with my hands. All the hours of skiing the easy runs helps me gain the ability to ski more challenging terrain. I believe have cerebral palsy makes skiing more difficult and requires more time practicing. Not unlike developing the skills the catch the ball tossed my direction by Bernard. But, the exciting part of this night was feeling the practice elevate my skiing to the next level. 

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