All you need on the slopes is a bit of Back-Up

As the Winter Paralympics open in Vancouver, Colin Nicholson goes to Are, Sweden, where even serious spinal injury is no barrier

Tom is perched at the top of a piste, looking down apprehensively. And he has more reason than most to be apprehensive. This is his first day back on the slopes since he broke his neck doing tricks on a snowboard two years ago.

Yet his concern comes not from the fear of hurting himself. He is in an adapted kart in the resort of Are in Sweden, where the ski school specialises in courses for people with disabilities. "I'm just dreading seeing other snowboarders because I think I'll miss it so much," he tells me. But wasn't Tom also nervous about being back on the slopes? "Not really," he says. "That's partly helped by the fact I'm not in control of the vehicle – it's being controlled by someone far more sensible than me."

An instructor is tethered behind the karts of each of the five participants who have come to Sweden with nine volunteer buddies, nurses and carers on a course run by the Back-Up Trust, a charity specialising in activity holidays for the 40,000 or so people in the UK with spinal injuries. The course costs more than £2,000 per head to run. The trust suggests participants make a donation of £999, though carers and nurses are not required to donate, for the programme relies on their technical help with the "lifting and shifting" among other things. When the participants are at ski school, their helpers usually go skiing themselves.

Over the next few days, Tom, 25, hopes to learn to steer his kart with his shoulders, while fellow participants Louisa and Dominic have enough movement in their arms to steer their four-ski karts – although it is hard work. Louisa, 30, who was paralysed after suffering a spinal bleed, challenges Dominic to a race. How much control tetraplegics have over their upper body depends on where in the spine the break occurred. And while Louisa quickly learns to control her speed by carving turns down the slopes, for Dominic the effort involved is much greater and his instructor snowploughs and skids her turns to slow him down. "Beaten – by a girl," sighs Dominic, a 22-year-old Marine who was injured after celebrating the end of a training exercise in Norway a year ago.

Their aim is to learn to ski independently of an instructor. Dave, 42, and 10 years down the line from a diving injury, is taking a test to get the red licence that will allow him to ski independently on the intermediate red runs that make up about half Are's 70km of interlinked pistes that cover a vertical drop of almost a kilometre.

The karts weigh 30kg and although the pistes are uncrowded, they would pose a risk to other skiers if they ran out of control, so Dave must show he is able to get round a tightly spaced slalom course on a red run. It may seem a tall order, but as Dave explains it takes far less training than, say, a mundane chore such as learning to get out of bed in the morning, and the rewards are far greater.

"I'm really just interested in speed," he jokes, after hitting a couple of poles. But it transpires that one of his skis is jamming, so he will take the test again, and – untethered – skis freely down to the bottom of the drag lift, where his instructor hooks the kart on to the T-bar that takes everyone back up.

Glenn, 45, is taking his training one step further, using a sitski – a seat balanced over either one or two skis – and he must balance himself with two ski poles with small skis on the end. Although this requires more effort, it gives him much greater control on steeper slopes than the karts.

"Right, I'm ready for my first fall of the day," he tells his instructor, but, in fact, his modesty belies his ability and determination. Glenn skied six to eight weeks a year before he had an accident two years ago on a seemingly innocuous piste.The Back-Up Trust leads to many more possibilities for people like Glenn. Disability Snowsports trains skiers to compete right up to Paralympic standard, as well as taking them to events such as the Crystal Ski Fest, held every March, where skiers with disabilities can also race against able-bodied friends.

It's highly unusual that so many of this week's participants have had snow-related injuries. More than four-fifths of spinal injuries come from falls and road accidents, only 10 per cent can be termed sports injuries. And skiing, with three injuries per thousand skier days, is far less dangerous than football or rugby, sports which see about 10 and 20 times more injuries respectively.

The nature of their accidents does not seem to have put any of these participants off. "It's different from snowboarding," says Tom. "My stomach was still going up and down because I was so low to the ground that I couldn't see what's over the bumps. But just being on the slopes did it for me."

Glenn adds: "It's not that I've got anything to prove. I just love skiing."

Compact Facts

How to get there

Colin Nicholson joined the Back-Up Trust (backuptrust.org.uk) on its course in Are skistar.com/are). He flew with Scandinavian Airlines (0906 294 7767; flysas.co.uk), which offers flights to Trondheim Vaernes and Ostersund from £237 return.

Further information

Disability Snowsports (disability snowports.org.uk); Crystal Ski Fest (crystalski.co.uk/skichallenge); Swedish Tourist Board (visitsweden.com).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star