Skiing with Kids with Down's Syndrome

Please welcome good friend and Dad Mark MacLeod as he shares a guest post with us about teaching his daughter Erin to ski. Erin has Down's syndrome and it hasn't stopped her joining her family on snowy downhill adventures yet! So if you're looking for information on adaptive ski programmes, look no further.

Skiing with kids with Down's syndrome?

Can kids with Down's Syndrome ski with the rest of the family? 


In fact our daughter Erin skied down a mountain before she could walk down one, or walk anywhere really.  It might take a little extra planning, but these choices are no different from the myriad of little changes we all have to make as parents.  They just involve snow.

When Erin was born we continued our family skiing holidays and she was happy either with the non-skiing parent, or in childcare. We always made it clear when booking that she had Down’s syndrome and some additional health needs, but it was never an issue.  

Through 2010/11 we were lucky enough to spend a year living in Canada.  We skied in several local resorts in Ontario and in Whistler, but we still struggled to find suitable ski lessons for Erin.  There are many ‘Adaptive’ programmes, but fewer that have practical experience of teaching young children with Down’s syndrome. 

That’s when we heard about a small resort in Vermont called Smuggler’s Notch.  They confirmed they had taught kids with Down’s syndrome.  The instruction team comprised a specially qualified ski instructor and two volunteer helpers - one who had even mentored the US special winter olympics team.  

Erin skied in an aluminium ski frame; it wasn’t pretty, but by the week’s end she joined us all skiing down the mountain.

There wasn’t a dry eye in our party and other skiers joined in our excitement, shouting encouragement from the chair lift as they went past.  

Erin also joined the other kids in the end of week ski competition.  The sense of inclusion was palpable and the school’s determination to see she had access to the same experiences as every other child a joy to behold. 

"On that holiday Erin definitely skied further than she could walk independently"

On returning to England we recognised that finding a specialist adaptive ski programme would be key.  These can be hard to find, especially with instructors that have actual experience of teaching youngsters with Down’s syndrome. 

Of course each child is different, so all I can advise is that you engage with a potential ski school early and honestly to see if they will be right for your child.  There are UK based organisations that will plan specialist family ski holidays and some links to these and other sites we’ve found useful are at the end of this post.

Erin ready for her ski lesson

Our latest ski trip was last year and we we had an excellent experience with ES Ski in Verbier.  One of their instructional staff is specially trained (and hence busy - booking early, especially at peak periods, is essential) and has many years' experience teaching children with Down’s syndrome as well as other needs such as Autism.  Erin immediately bonded with Nick and had an amazing time skiing the nursery slopes.

Unlike our experiences in Smuggler Notch, Erin, who was now 7 yrs old, had no additional support or specialist apparatus this time - just a ski bungy holding her ski tips together in ‘pizza’ shape.  If you saw her going down the slope you wouldn’t have noticed anything different from the other children learning to ski.

This kind of specialist 1-2-1 instruction is not cheap. Realistically we will probably ski every other year.  Erin will likely never ski a fast, steep black run (well not intentionally at least!) but that’s not the point.  She’ll be able to ski with us, break for a coffee and cake and ski a little bit more. 

We’ll do it together as a family and we’ll all be smiling! 

Contacts and useful information

The National Ability Centre, Utah, empowers individuals of all abilities by building self-esteem, confidence and lifetime skills through sport, recreation and educational programs throughout the year.

Disability Snowsport UK work to make sure that anyone with a disability, may it be learning, sensory or physical, can ski or snowboard alongside other people. They are a membership organisation, and welcome anyone of any levels of skiing and fitness. They cater for complete novices to snowsports all the way to elite athletes.

Freebird Adaptive Skiing, Grimentz, Switzerland.

Challenge Aspen is dedicated to impacting lives by presenting meaningful recreational, educational and cultural experiences to individuals faced with cognitive or physical challenges.

Ski 2 Freedom details a range of worldwide resorts that offer disability snowsports.

The European Snowsport Adaptive Program aims to assist people with disabilities to enjoy the thrill and freedom of snowsports. Whether you have a sensory, cognitive or physical impairment ES Adaptive can help you enjoy the mountain with your family and friends.  

Smugglers Notch, Vermont. 

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1 comment:

  1. Hi! My daughter is 6 months old and is doing very well physically so far. I am from Sweden and so grew up skiing from the age of 2! So the fact that it is possible for little Florence is awesome! Thank you for your blogpost about this! x


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