ISHPEMING - For some people, winter is the best part about living in the Upper Peninsula. But if you have a disability, getting outside to enjoy it isn't easy.
To help those who may be confined to a wheelchair or who are legally blind get outside, the Superior Alliance for Independent Living and the Central Cross-Country Ski Association are putting on weekly skiing lessons available to all ages and ability levels.
Tuesday was the first day of the adaptive skiing program, which features sessions at 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. at the Al Quaal Recreation Area in Ishpeming, all focused on helping people learn to cross country ski either on traditional skis or sit skis for those in wheelchairs.
For those with disabilities, adaptive skiing is a way to get out and enjoy the winter weather. Joey Gavlek, 9, of Escanaba gets strapped into a sit ski by SAIL Adaptive Recreation Coordinator Sarah Peura. SAIL’s adaptive skiing program at the Al Quaal Recreation Area kicked off this week, with weekly sessions available for both kids and adults. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
Joey takes the sit ski for a run. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
"Our winters are quite long, so physical activity is important for all of us," said program Director Jodi Tervo. "It's just easier for some people."
Since a sit ski - a low chair with two skis attached to the bottom - can cost more than $1,000, the program is a chance for new skiers, especially kids, to try an activity they might not otherwise.
"It's fun. I feel like I rule skiing," said 9-year-old Joey Gavlek of Escanaba. "I feel like I'm the ruler of the world."
Normally he gets around with the use of a wheelchair, and a sit ski lets Gavlek get outside in the winter. This is his second year participating in the SAIL program.
The adaptive skiing program provides skis for the participants and a volunteer to ski with to both teach techniques or just provide company.
"I like the experiential learning," Tervo said. "I like to let the participant be the guide."
A similar program is also beginning soon in Houghton.
The program is open to anyone wishing to learn how to ski, but participants are asked to register with SAIL to ensure there is enough equipment and volunteers. Register by calling 906-228-5744.
To learn more about the adaptive skiing program, visit its blog at www.mqt-adaptive-ski.blogspot.com.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.