I absolutely love it when I see a charity doing something so worthwhile but not necessarily a necessity.
To most, going on a skiing holiday is a luxury reserved for those with a few extra quid in their pocket. Not something the average person can say they do every year – jetting off to the French Alps to enjoy a little ‘winter sun’ on the slopes. But alas, you can go skiing in the UK now and Hemel Hempstead Snow Centre is pretty much the real deal.
However, if you’re bound to a wheelchair or even have a level of a learning disability strapping some ski’s on and sliding down the piste isn’t exactly an easy feat – until you do it with Disability Snowsport.
Founded almost 30 years ago – Disability Snowsport was set up to ensure that everybody, no matter how able-bodied, have the opportunity to Ski. For some that may not be conventional or even a necessity, but when you are at the top of a slope with somebody strapped into a bi-ski (a sit down ski mobile) and you watch their faces as they whoosh down – you get it.
But to make sure this all happens, they need the money. So I started my week slightly early in London on Saturday. I rocked up at 8am ready to help out at Battersea Park for the DSUK (disability snowsport UK) annual Santa run. With almost 1,500 people registered to attend I knew more than anything it would put me in the festive spirit. For the first two hours I worked alongside the events company signing people in and handing out copious amounts of Santa suits – ready for the willing runners to get changed and take on the 5k run.
It really was a sight to behold. Watching thousands of people get changed into festive red suits and stretch their legs ready to run in aid of a charity. All bright eyed and bushy tailed on a Saturday morning.
The event went off without a hitch and Christmas music filled the air. Everyone I spoke to was so happy to run in aid of such a worthwhile charity and some just wanted to do their bit and get in the Christmas mood.
But the real work started on Tuesday at Hemel’s Snow Centre. Arriving nice and early, I met James, the charities ski coach at the centre. Having skied for almost 20 years; he had a lifetime of experience on the snow. After travelling to New Zealand a few years ago he decided to take a disability snow course and since returning 2 years ago, he has worked for the charity ever since.
I can see why he loves his job. Our first session was with some Help for Heroes veterans who had either PTSD or physical injuries from being at war. Being Help for Heroes they do everything they can to rehabilitate their band of brothers and skiing was just another string on their varied bow of help.
It was fantastic taking to the slopes with these men and women who fought tirelessly to save our country and if I’m honest, have a little fun.
Some of them were a little shaky on snow, never having been strapped into a pair of ski’s in their life. But, I must admit they took to it like duck to water.
After a good few hours sessions we then returned to the log cabin restaurant for a well-deserved burger and hot chocolate – where I got to learn more about how Disability Snowsport has helped them.
The charity allows them to be “free”. Giving them a sense of fun and excitement outside of the norm. Like I said, not everybody gets the privilege of going skiing so when the opportunity arises, most jump at the chance. But to be able to do it in a safe and secure environment with trained professionals makes it even more enjoyable.
But it was the rest of the Ski lessons that really touched my heart.
Varying in a level of physical and mental disability – we took to the slopes with young adults who either had physical disabilities or learning ones. This is where I got to see the Bi-Ski for the first time.
An ingenious contraption that is basically a seat on ski’s. It allows the user to sit comfortable in a sled like manor whilst getting the thrill and experience of skiing themselves. Assisted by one of the 3 members of DSUK staff, they go to the top of the slop (which I may add it pretty high) and ski down the piste with help and assistance of James and his crew.
You can’t help but smile. Watching the faces of these young adults as they set off over the verge of the slope and slide down to the bottom is exhilarating. Everyone at the centre stopped and stared in amazement as these guys got to experience being on snow for the first time. I didn’t see one person who didn’t smile at one of the young girls screaming in joy all the way down to the bottom. And it was at that moment that I fully understood the importance and impact of such an unusual charity as Disability Snowsport UK.
Being able to give such a level of fun, excitement and exhilaration to people who may never have been given the chance otherwise is truly heart-warming. The whole time I was at the top of the slope, helping and assisting with the technicalities of the Bi-Ski, I felt so proud. Seeing those gleaming faces coming up the chair lift and waiting in anticipation for their next ride down was pure joy.
Of all the causes I have visited, this has to be one of the most instantly rewarding. Watching those faces as they peer over the steep verge of the snow hill for the first time and whizz all the way down to the bottom.
Another cause that I would gladly throw money at and one that I would urge you to do too.