Disabled Wintersport Australia at Hotham

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The Disabled Wintersport Australia team do a huge job of giving people a chance to experience the snow. Snow Action’s Dave Windsor caught up with Phil Knight, Resort Services Co-ordinator for DWA at Hotham, for the low down & more on how to get involved. We will be following up with more on some of our amazing DWA athletes soon – bet you don’t get close to skiing or boarding at 130kph for example, but World Cup Downhill racer Sam Tait hits those speeds!

Here’s a little taste of how good Sam skis at Perisher this week.

For starters, lets check out more about the basics.

Sit skiers on Disabled Wintersports Australia program at Hotham
Local legend Jason Sauer & newer sit skier Charlie at Hotham © Phil Knight

 What are the goals of the Resort Services program?

The DWA resort services program is all about supporting people with disabilities to come and visit Mt Hotham and ski recreationally with their family and friends at a level of their choice. 

 I take it that it’s highly tailored?

We talk to each individual or their carer/parent about their objectives, their strengths and any constraints that we might need to overcome, such as physical or cognitive ability. We work through the equipment we might use to support meeting their objectives and also the sort of guiding support we might need. Safety is number one for us. Secondly, it’s all about meeting the objectives of the member and if we do those two things then fun just happens.

This year, as in previous years, we’ve been very successful in doing that as we’ve received great feedback and the program is growing dramatically across all of Australia’s 5 major ski resorts – Buller, Falls, Hotham, Perisher and Thredbo. 

We also run managed programs out of Howmans Gap near Falls Creek and Jindabyne Sports & Rec, where we have accommodation and we get disability groups together with groups of guides and groups of carers. We might have 30 to 40 people involved and do a weekend or even mid-week camp. It’s a great supportive way for people with disabilities to get an introduction to adaptive snow sports. The purpose of the Resorts Services Program is to support those that then want to go on and have a ski holiday like anyone else.

Vision impaired skier with DWA guides on the Summit at Mt Hotham
Vision impaired skier Andrew on the Summit at Mt Hotham with guides Jon Hutchins & Paul Sayers;
© Mike Brinkman

So it’s all about accessibility and inclusion?

Absolutely. My role up here at a very high level is to identify the barriers to participation and then remove them, such as physical barriers that the individual might have and also the physical barriers that might be present in the resort. There are psychological barriers and we remove them through provision of adaptive equipment and explaining that it’s really possible to ski and then through the provision of guides to provide a really supportive environment until their skills and confidence grow if that’s what they want or if all they want is to have an experience with their family and friends then we support that as well.

How many guides do you have and are they all volunteers?

Yep, they’re all volunteers. I have 80 guides on the books that have expressed an interest in volunteering at Hotham. Of those 80, 40 have been active this season. The average number of days guided is about 5, though some of the guides will do 20+ days per year and others will do 1-2. This year we’ve delivered 320 guided days. 

Despite having an extremely generous volunteer network I take it that it must still cost quite a bit of money?

It does, and this is another barrier our members face. As for lift passes, Disabled Wintersports Australia has negotiated a concession with the Australian Ski Area’s Association that provides a 50% discount on a day pass for 2 people.

Members are also entitled to a 50% discount on private lessons with the Ski & Ride School because they often can’t participate in group lessons, though that concession varies from resort to resort.

We also receive generous donations from the likes of the Dinner Plain School, Hotham Boardriders, the Snowgies, Richard Neville at Snow Monkey and several anonymous high net worth individuals.

Amy gets photobombed bt the DWA guides at Hotham © Amy’s mum

Wow, that’s quite generous. How long has the Disabled Wintersports Australia program been running and what’s the accreditation process for guiding?

This is the 5th year at Hotham, so we’ve grown from zero to where we’re at today. This year we doubled on last year and hope our trajectory will continue.

We run new guide training over 2 days in which we cover all of the major forms of adaptive guiding, so we are very broad but not really very deep.

The main areas we cover are sit skiing; stand-up or 3 or 4 tracking – that’s where a member might have one leg amputated and they ski with two crutches with little skis on the end, that’s called 3 tracking, whilst some of our members might have both legs but they might be very weak for whatever reason and they also require crutches, so we call that 4 tracking.

We’ve got various other devices that we use with those main tools such as tethers which help us control speed, create rotation and provide the support they need to progress and learn.

We also do a lot of vision impaired guiding and the tools we use there are race poles, ski poles and hoops. We might also ski backwards and of course there’s a lot of verbal communication. We also have to do a lot of work helping people get on and off the lifts too.

What’s the age range of Disabled Wintersports Australia guides?

We have guides from 16 to 70. Some of our guides are also Hotham locals, including John Hutchins the CEO of the Resort Management Board, which also provides wonderful buy in and engagement with the resort and they are very supportive of what we do.

The other great thing is that our guides can do guide days at other resorts and vice versa. Mt Hotham support this through the provision of complimentary lift passes and car parking. It’s also worth noting that our guides aren’t ski instructors, so we work with the Ski & Ride School as they have an adaptive certification and our guides provide them and the individual with the support they need to get the most out of a lesson.

I suppose for a lot of people it’ll be their first time at the snow, let alone skiing?

That’s right, and there’ll be a lot of apprehension too, so it’s about gaining their confidence and just backing off a little bit and being calm and picking the right weather and right runs.

In fact, part of our training includes mountain orientation which involves skiing through the resort and looking at it through the eyes of an adaptive snow sports participant. We talk about slope, pitch, snow conditions, crowds and of course the lifts, as they’re all different.

A lot of work must have gone into removing barriers in the resort?

There sure has. There’s been a lot of incremental improvements over the past 5 years. The big one this year is that all of the resort buses are now wheel chair accessible which then makes the whole resort far more accessible.

I noticed that the other day, it’s pretty impressive of Hotham to be so inclusive. It must be great for families that have someone in their family with a disability who wants to have a crack?

We’ve had lots of examples this year of kids getting out there, and it’s not just on the beginner slopes either. We can take them out to Heavenly Valley or Blue Ribbon and really tour the resort.

And they get to ski with mum & dad and their siblings too?

Absolutely, we also take lots of pictures when we’re out there which is really lovely for the family.

We’ve also had an unbelievable tri-athlete up here 4 times this season in a sit-ski and he’s very passionate about what he does, and he can even ski the blacks. Actually, yesterday for the first time he rode a chair by himself with his fiancée, which is really great that they can do that together, just like any other couple. And that’s what it’s all about.

It sure is mate. It’s truly amazing what you’re doing here and it’s great that the Hotham community are so supportive. You’re a legend, keep up the awesome job and all power to you.

Guide Jane Costello © DWA

More about Disabled Wintersports Australia / Get involved

DWA is a registered charity and welcome tax-deductible donations and new volunteers in support of their growing membership base.

DWA is the accredited National Sporting Organisation for delivering adaptive snow sports and life changing experiences to people living with disability, and their families.

With 1,400 members and 400 Volunteers, across Perisher, Thredbo, Mt Hotham, Falls Creek and Mt. Buller, we have been Australia’s Alpine Adaptive Experts since 1978. From grass roots, first time to competitive and Paralympians. 

We can’t operate without Volunteer Guides! If you are an intermediate to advanced skier or snowboarder who would like an added challenge on the slopes and have some time to volunteer, then DWA has a unique opportunity for you to be fully trained in our Adaptive Snowsport Guide Program.  

DWA’s Volunteer Adaptive Snowsport guide is a fantastic experience and a great opportunity to meet like-minded people. You will be trained by our qualified DWA trainers. You will be able to assist snowboarders and skiers down a run and safely around the mountain as well as have a chat on the chairlift as you experience their joy and confidence build.   

It is a fun group to be a part of and you will create lasting memories and experiences for our participants and your fellow volunteers.

www.disabledwintersport.com.au/volunteering/guiding-faqs/

or email volunteer@disabledwintersport.com.au