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Disabled skiing by: Ravit Naor,


Anyone who has ever tried their hand at skiing knows it's not so simple. It doesn't matter how much you excelled in gym class or how easily you tore up the terrain in the army, skiing is a different story. You need to learn, to practice, and get some experience under your belt. But, on the way to gliding effortlessly down that addictively blinding white, you have to eat a lot of snow. Just ask anyone who's done it.

Now, try to imagine what it's like to ski if you are missing a hand or a leg. It sounds impossible, right? Well, not for everyone. Take for example Ziv Bar-Shira, a skier with five years of slalom experience. The fact that he is in a wheel chair doesn't deter him one bit from joining ski teams of the highest caliber.

Instead of a snowboard or a pair of skis, he has a mono-ski, a chair personally fitted for him affixed to a set of skis. The contraption is operated through shock absorbers that replace the role of knees in a "normal" skier.

Bar-Shira, like other handicapped skiers, was exposed to the sport by the Israel Outdoor Sports and Recreation Association for the Disabled, otherwise known as Etgarim ("challenges" in Hebrew). Etgarim teaches skiing and rents out the relatively expensive skiing equipment to handicapped people. After gaining a bit of experience, Bar-Shira started joining ski teams that go on ski trips to Europe.

It turns out that the integration of handicapped skiers into groups of able-bodied skiers is a big success. Pingwin Sunorama, the ski vacation department of Sunorama Tourist Services, decided to take on the challenge.

Sunorama is offering this winter, as they have in past years, a ski vacation to people who love the sport, but are physically handicapped. The vacation is in cooperation with Etgarim, which will rent the special equipment to any handicapped skier willing to give the sport a try.

Etgarim also prepares vacationers for skiing through courses and refreshers they offer on Hermon Mountain and ski resorts abroad. After the initial training from Etgarim, Sunorama provides the skiers with Hebrew-speaking ski guides who have been trained in teaching and chaperoning handicapped skiers.

During the ski getaway, the handicapped skiers are placed in a group according to their skiing ability together with able-bodied skiers. During Hanukka, three handicapped skiers will join a group of skiers heading to ski resort in Austria.

Yaron Ohana, manager of Sunorama's ski department, asserts that the inclusion of handicapped skiers into their regular ski groups has no effect on the group's general level of skiing.

"The advantage of our group's is the very fact that all the guides speak Hebrew and all of them have undergone special training for teaching handicapped skiers," Ohana explains. "The groups go abroad during the winter accompanied by Hebrew-speaking chaperones. There is even a Hebrew-speaking babysitter to watch the kids so parents can ski with peace of mind."

During which stages of the process do handicapped skiers have the most difficulty?

Ohana: "Mainly in getting from place to place and in the preparations such as getting on the ski lift, getting to the site, etc. But you grow accustomed. We are all experienced and have pure intentions. Once we are on the snow, there are no problems."

Able-bodies skiers aren't put off by the fact that there are handicapped people in the group?

"Integrated groups are naturally reinforced with more guides. The responses are wonderful and until today there have been no complaints. To the contrary."

Bar-Shira also didn't encounter any special difficulties on the way to the slopes. "There is no doubt that today the lives of handicapped are much easier and more challenging," he explained.

"Up until 10 years ago, a handicapped person was someone restricted to a wheel chair with someone pushing him from behind. Not any more. Today, handicapped people, if they want, can be active in every area. I ski as an equal among equals according to the level I have reached through training. I am addicted to the white, just like any other skier," Bar-Shira said.

For more details about skiing for handicapped and renting equipment, call Etgarim at 03-5615385
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