Adaptive Snowboarding

Snowboarding - John Hammond making a turn at Alpine Meadows, Lake Tahoe USA by Ripley119
Creative Commons licence text.

Snowboarding - John Hammond making a turn at Alpine Meadows, Lake Tahoe USA by Ripley119

Adaptive Snowboarding will be a paralympic event for the first time at Sochi, Russia, in March 2014. There will be two medal events - Standing Para-Snowboard Cross for men and women with lower leg impairments. The events will be run in a time-trial format, with one rider on the course at a time, and results will be calculated without factors that adjust times based on disability classification.

This is a modified version of the sport, with changes in equipment, rules, and technical specifications that enable persons with physical disabilities to participate in both recreational and competitive activities.

Events include male and female athletes with a physical disability such as spinal injury, cerebral palsy, amputation, and visual impairments. Athletes compete based on their functional ability, allowing athletes with different disabilities to compete against each other

A sling-shot Snowboardcross format provides a combination of both race and freestyle elements, while challenging the athletes regardless of their disability. The sling-shot format consists of a “best-of” 2 or 3 time trial runs. Adaptive snowboarding athletes compete and use the same venue as able-body Snowboardcross events at the provincial series level. The event format is also conducive to a classification process, which will be finalized by the adaptive snowboarding International Federation which has been yet to be determined.

In general, snowboards are chosen on the basis of the rider’s height, weight, and ability level, with the upright board’s length usually between the rider’s chin and nose. While designs are similar, details separate choices into three styles - freestyle, freeriding, and alpine and race boards. Some adaptive riders use outriggers to help balance themselves while they board, but many don't use any special equipment. Also bindings on the board can be moved to help with balance.

Since the early 1990's, Adaptive Snowboarding (ASB) has grown by leaps and bounds. Snowboarding's popularity has continued to increase as more people have become interested in learning to ride. Creative teaching methods and innovative equipment make snowboarding a fantastic mountain activity. People of all ability levels have fun experiences as they learn to snowboard.

The desire to snowboard has come from students of all levels of abilities, who have physical and/or cognitive challenges. The desire to teach comes from able-bodied and physically challenged snow-sliding instructors. These instructors and volunteers have joined together idealistically, intellectually and in spirit to welcome students into the realm of adaptive snowboarding.

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Adaptive Equipment Requirements

Visually Impaired

The movement of sliding laterally may upset or distort the rider's feeling of equilibrium. Aids such as the hula-hoop, sno-wing, horse-n-buggy, tethering, bamboo pole, ski poles, ski pal, outriggers or the tandem board can give students a sense of a stable connection to the ground or 'grounding'. This may help offset any distortion they may have in their equilibrium.

Auditory Impairment

Aids such as the hula-hoop, board buddy, horse-n-buggy, bamboo pole, ski poles, tethers or the tandem board can be beneficial.

Cognitive Impairment

The hands-on technique can be helpful to practice or learn skills, although this population of students may do better with hands-off teaching. Adaptive equipment that can provide support without direct physical contact may include such tools as tethers, hula-hoop, horse-n-buggy, sno-wing, ski pal, and poles. Some students will not need physical assistance.

Neurological Impairment

Adaptive equipment makes riding possible for students who have neurological impairments. Use aids such as outrigger(s), horse-n-buggy, hulahoop, tethers, bamboo pole, ski poles, sno-wing, ski pal or the rider bar. These pieces of equipment provide minor physical support. Outriggers can help to improve balance while walking and sliding. Depending on the disability, an individual may use one or two outriggers. Outriggers and tethers can be used together. Tethering a student gives a feeling of independence, while still providing assistance with turns and speed control. A student who is unable to stand for long periods or has increased weakness with standing may benefit from using a rider bar and/or CADS. A student who is unable to stand at all may benefit from using a bi-ski, mono-ski seat, or mono-ski rig (includes the seat, suspension, and loading system) mounted to a snowboard. With this set-up, students can use outriggers, picks, or their hands for balance and to initiate turns.

Structural & Anatomical Impairments

The tools that can be helpful here depend upon how the students disability affects the upper or lower extremities or both. For balance and turn initiation the bamboo pole, ski pole, or outriggers can be helpful. To aid in minimal support, the dance, sno-wing, ski pal, horse-n-buggy, hula-hoop or outriggers can be used. When the student's legs are involved, outriggers, rider bar, and/or CADS can be helpful (see adaptive equipment below). These tools can assist the student in standing, standing longer or giving support to the leg muscles. When both upper and lower extremities are involved and depending on the degree of involvement, the above tools may be out of the question, the mono or bi-rig set up can be the answer.

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Snowboard Boots

The primary purpose of snowboard boots is to support the feet and to keep the heels down. Boots should be snug, but not overly tight. With a good fit, the movements of the feet, legs, and body will be transferred to the board. Boots should be chosen for comfort and function.

Soft Boots

A huge selection of soft boots is available in a range from very soft to very supportive. The softer the boot, the more ankle flexibility and freedom of movement can occur at the ankle and foot. Increased stiffness provides greater ankle and foot support. These boots can be adjusted for comfort and fit with either a lace or buckle system. The more traditional soft boots use a binding system that has straps to hold the foot in place. Soft "step-in" boots use a fastening system located in the soles of the boots that allows the student to step into the bindings. These boots may be advantageous to many students.

Advantages: Soft boots are easy to walk in, more comfortable, and easier to learn in than hard boots. While the step-in boot system allows for a hands-free entry into the binding, it may require fine motor control.

Disadvantages: Soft boots may need to be re-laced at intervals throughout the day. Both lace- and buckle-style soft boots may not have adequate ankle support for riders who have compromised leg strength.

Hard Boots

This snowboard boot has a hard shell, which is similar to an alpine ski boot. It works best with the alpine board, yet can be worn with any snowboard that has the correct binding set-up. It has a longer sole length, so a more directional stance may be necessary to prevent toe or heel drag over the edge of the board.

Advantages: They give the greatest support to the ankle and foot.

Disadvantages: They can be difficult to fit and may be harder to find than the soft boot styles. In mixed terrain and snow conditions, these boots may be less versatile due to restricted ankle movement.

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Snowboard Bindings

Snowboard bindings attach boots to the snowboard. Some bindings are specific to particular boots. Most snowboard bindings are easily adjusted to accommodate the stance needed by the student. It is important for the boot to fit snugly into the binding since responsiveness of the board is directly related to how little play there is between the boot and the binding. All snowboard bindings are non-releasable. With both feet attached to the same board, a triangle of strength is created between the legs and the snowboard, making the attachment safe.

Strap Binding

Strap bindings are the original type of snowboard binding and they are still the most common. Designed for soft boots, they provide two or three straps to hold the foot in place. The ankle strap can be adjusted to give more or less support to the ankle as it holds the ankle and heel in the binding. The toe strap keeps the foot in place. This style has a high back and the height and angle of the high back affects the amount of support the rider has on the heel side. Usually, the high back can be adjusted to give more or less forward lean, depending on the need of the student.

Advantages: Improved ankle and foot support with the adjustable straps. Forward lean can be adjusted.

Disadvantages: It may be difficult for the rider to buckle his boots independently.

Step-in Binding

The step-in binding works only with a matching step-in snowboard boot. This binding has a fastening system in the sole of the boot, allowing the student to step into the binding. To release from this binding, a clip has to be pushed or pulled, as the foot is pulled out of the binding. This binding works for both soft and hard boots that have the special coupling at the bottom of the boot.

Advantages: This binding may be easier to use for getting into and out of the binding independently.

Disadvantages: The release latch may get frozen or jammed with snow, making it tough to get out of the binding. Also, the bottom of the boot may get packed with snow, making it difficult to click in. This problem is less common with newer bindings. The step-ins may be harder to find.

Plate Binding

The plate binding is for hard snowboard boots (or alpine boots may work well). These bindings are seldom available in rental shops. They have a wire guard where the heel and toe of the boot fits with a latch that secures the boot in place. Ankle support comes from the boot only. The binding provides a solid connection to the snowboard.

Advantages: Easy to step in and provides a solid connection to the hard boot.

Disadvantages: Caters for hard boots only.

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There are a variety of snowboards available. Each board is designed for a specific style of riding. Most boards are generaly very similar. The different types of boards are freestyle, freeriding, and alpine/race boards. The length and width of the board is chosen based on the height, weight, and ability level of the student. For an experienced rider, the style of riding is also considered. The height of an upright snowboard should fall between the student's collarbone and chin for beginners and between the chin and nose for experienced riders. The student's strengths, weaknesses, and capabilities should be considered when choosing the type and length of board.

Freestyle Board (also known as a Twin Tip)

The freestyle board works well for beginners, individuals who are undecided which foot should be forward, and for riders who spend time riding in both directions. It has a symmetrical side cut, the tip and tail are turned up equally, and it has a soft flex. These characteristics offer great versatility.

Advantages: Easily ridden in either direction. This type of board is the most available in rental shops.

Disadvantages: May be too soft flexing for the student.

Free-Riding Board (also known as a Directional Board)

The free-riding board rides differently forward and backwards. The tail has a different flex pattern and it is typically shorter than the nose. Also, the freeriding board has a stiffer torsional flex than the freestyle board. These characteristics enable the rider to hold an edge better at the finish of a turn. The side cut is designed to contribute to stability when riding forward. This board can also be ridden switch.

Advantages: Good for most riders with varied riding styles, terrain choice, or stance.

Disadvantages: Turns may happen quicker while riding switch. Some adjustments to riding may need to be made. Binding set-up may need to be adjusted if frequent switch riding is intended.

Alpine/Race Board

The alpine board is commonly used for carving on groomed terrain and for racing. It is fast to react from edge-to-edge as it is narrower in width. The nose of the alpine board is turned up more than the tail of the board. It is much stiffer than the other boards and less forgiving for beginner riders.

Advantages: Very responsive. Stable on hard snow and at higher speeds.

Disadvantages: Less versatile in different terrain and snow conditions. This board may not allow a beginner to easily experience switch riding and may be more difficult for beginners to ride.

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Adaptive Equipment

Ski Poles (student independent)

Ski poles are used for balance while stationary, climbing, and propulsion across flat terrain. They are also used to assist with the stability, timing, and initiation of turns. Some able-bodied riders use ski poles for confidence, propulsion and slam-free riding. Telescoping poles can be shortened and carried tucked along the forearm, in a boot shim attachment, or in a backpack when they are not needed.

Ski Poles (instructor assisted)

Instructor can guide or cue students by clicking their poles together to develop the timing for when to turn.

Bamboo Pole (student independent)

The bamboo pole is similar to the long pole used by Nordic skiers long ago. The student touches the pole on the snow to assist with initiating turns and, therefore, control speed. The pole is touched on the snow to the inside of the new turn to begin the turn. The contact point is a point around which the board can pivot. While riding, the bamboo pole should be held at hip level to maintain the alignment of the upper body. Using the pole can be compared to using a kayak paddle. The bamboo pole can develop more confidence for heel-side and fakie turns. At an advanced level, the pole can be touched to the outside of the turn to create improved angles and reduce banking.

Board Performance: Ski pole(s), bamboo pole and outrigger( s) are similar in creating at least one more point of contact with the snow. The contact point often becomes a point around which the board can pivot. Giving the rider another 'point of contact' to the snow while utilizing these tools, gives the rider improved stability to tilt the board on its edge safely and with a little more ease.

Horse-n-Buggy, Hula-Hoop, Ski-Pal, & Sno-Wing (instructor assisted)

These four different pieces of equipment assist the student in similar ways. They help with turn initiation, turn completion, and speed control. They also allow the instructor to help the student develop balance. They are all valuable tools for hands-off teaching assistance for students who cannot tolerate, or get distracted by, a hands-on approach. This equipment also prevents a "runaway" student.

The Horse-n-Buggy consists of either two PVC pipes, bamboo poles, or ski poles. Select two poles with an optimum length of six to seven feet. Attach either a bicycle or wheelchair inner tube to the poles at each end of the tube to form a "U" shape. Wrap the inner tube one and a half times around the student's waist (start at belly button, with one and a half wraps, to the small of the back). The instructor stands behind the student and holds the ends of the pipes or poles. This apparatus allows the instructor to rotate the student's hips into a turn and can also be used by the instructor to aid in speed control.

The Hula-Hoop and Ski-Pal offers a little more independence for the student. The instructor holds the hoop and rotates it through the hands while the student holds on, helping with turn initiation (this is while the student is in the middle). The student can be inside or outside the hoop while using the hula-hoop. While using over-the-head rotation of the hula-hoop, 180's and 360's can be taught. The Ski-Pal offers the same support but with a different rectangular configuration rather than the round hula-hoop.

The Sno-Wing is operated much like the two previous devices, but it is attached to the student, not continuously held by the instructor. It looks similar to a wind-surfer boom with a waist belt in the middle that straps around the student. The Sno-Wing helps with the student's hand positioning and gives the instructor a means to assist the student in turns and speed control.

Board Performance: Stability is delivered from the instructor by either the dance position or the use of instructor tools. The dance or other tools utilizes leverage allowing the instructor to assist the student to gain more or less tilt of the board. In addition, these tools may provide support around the waistline and hips. Sometimes, by rotating his hands along the equipment, the instructor can help a student rotate around the midpoint of the board's axis (pivot).

CADS (Constant Force Articulated Dynamic Struts) (student independent)

CADS are pre-tensioned rod and spring-loaded (bungee-type) devices that create an upward-lifting effect on the upper leg area. They are designed to relieve pressure on the knees and quadriceps muscles by providing antigravitational assistance (lifting). CADS benefit injured students, or students who have weak leg strength. CADS are worn on both legs. The fiberglass rods and cords run between a pelvic harness and thick elastic bands. These are anchored to the snowboard boots. This suspension system transfers weight from the legs to the rods. CADS pre-load the snowboard with pressure derived from stretched, specially engineered rubber bands. The bands have a much faster response time than human muscles. CADS can provide support for a student to ride standing upright, or provide the support to ride for a longer duration.

Board Performance: While using CADS may affect the edge angle with more or less tilting while flexing ankles, hips and knees.

Outriggers (student independent)

Outriggers are Canadian-style crutches that have ski tips mounted on the ends. They give the student a sliding platform when the skis are in the down position. The skis can be flipped up for walking. Some outriggers are made of lightweight but stiff materials, which cause less fatigue. Outriggers that have a shock-absorbing mechanism are more forgiving for the upper body. It is very important for instructors to use outriggers competently in order to fully understand how they operate before they teach students. Talk to instructors who have used outriggers for snowboarding rather than for skiing. Increase your knowledge through reading and attending educational clinics. Outriggers can improve balance while walking on icy surfaces, moving onto the snow, and while snowboarding. Depending on a student's balance and coordination, either one outrigger or two can be used. Outriggers can facilitate skill development and lend support to prevent falls. There is not a set rule that specifies the proper stance angles when using outriggers. Utilizing outriggers should promote good body alignment, including standing tall with flexed stance. Comfort and function determine stance. Outriggers are used in two ways: the single rigger technique or the double rigger technique.

For the single rigger technique, the lead arm uses the outrigger. From heel side to toe side, the outrigger crosses over the nose of the board for each turn providing support to the inside of the turn.

The double rigger technique involves a front and rear outrigger. The student stands in a comfortably tall, yet slightly flexed, riding stance. Position the front (lead) outrigger on the snow approximately halfway between the nose of the board and the front foot, on the heel side and approximately 6-12 inches away from the board. This location is known as the magic circle.

Board Performance: The rider is using the single outrigger technique has a third point-of-contact to allow the board to tilt onto an edge; however, because the rider also crosses the rigger over the nose of the board, the rigger creates a pivot move around that axis point. The double rigger technique, on the other hand, relies primarily on tilting the rider's weight off of the uphill edge and rigger to the opposing edge and outrigger.

Rider Bar (instructor assisted)

The rider bar is a horseshoe-shaped device that is mounted to the outside and underneath both bindings of the student's snowboard. The upsidedown "U" shape provides a horizontal bar that crosses in front of the student. The student and instructor can hold the bar for balance and control. It helps to stabilize the upper body and provide support for fore, aft, and lateral movements. The rider bar is adapted from the slider version that adaptive skiers use. This device helps a student who has a diminished control or weaker lower body or severe balance issues. Using CADS along side the rider bar can maximize the rider's ability. The rider bar was designed for students to use upper body movements to control the edge angle of the board. Moving hands in opposite directions (push away with one hand and pull towards the body with the other) twists the snowboard. The twist movement is much more subtle and forgiving than a push or pull of the entire bar. Pushing the bar away from the body engages the toe edge, bringing the bar back to center creates a flat board, and pulling the bar toward the body engages the heel edge. Both methods are effective in changing from toe edge to heel edge.

An alternative use might involve ghost riding. Ghost riding is when the student is riding on his or her own equipment, using an 'empty' rider bar set-up, as an external sliding base of support and balance aid. This is similar to the dance or outriggers.

The instructor assisting a student with a rider bar wearing skis can also straddle the tail of the board, similar to seat assisting a bi-ski/mono ski.

Board Performance: The Rider bar may utilize torsional twist by using a simultaneous push-pull movement (pushing one corner of the bar, while holding or pulling the other corner). To gain tilt to the board while using the entire bar, push (a move to toe edge) or pull (a move to the heel edge).

Tethers (instructor assisted)

Tethers are used to help students start and follow through with their turns. Also, they are used to help control the student's speed. Tethering allows the instructor to be close to the student in a hands-off manner. In this way, the instructor can avoid a runaway student. A blocker provides extra support to the instructor/student team. The blocker can run interference as needed. This position may be a revolving position around the team determined by terrain, traffic, and other obstacles. The blocker watches traffic, guiding other skiers/riders around the team. This is particularly important when a team rides close to intersections or the edge of a trail.

Board Performance: Tethering can create variable pivot points along the length of the board. While using tethers, an instructor can assist the student with gaining some tilt on the board. An instructor generally tethers a student from the nose of the board, the lead foot, or any spot in between.

There are at least four methods by which a snowboarder can seat tether/ assist with sit-down equipment. Seat tethering is made easier by installing a horizontal handle with a 4" to 10" extension, much like a towel rack. The extension handle may be connected to the back of the seat. The instructor controls speed with the shape of their turn.

The four seat-assist techniques are:

Downhill End-Around Technique

Uphill End-Around Technique

Falling Leaf Technique

Synchro or Dance Technique

Tandem Board (instructor assisted)

A tandem board is a snowboard with two sets of bindings to accommodate an instructor and student. Use of the tandem board is primarily for beginning students. They can experience more dynamic riding without the worry of control. They can feel the transition from toe-side turn, to neutral, to heel side turn. After the students experience linked turns, they are ready to begin skill development at the entry-level on their own snowboards. The size and weight of the student must be considered relative to the instructor/ student skill level for this equipment to be safe and effective.

Board Performance: The tandem board relies on weight transfer from heel side to toe side (tilt). The instructor can also twist the snowboard, yet with two sets of bindings (and two people) on the board, the effect is diminished.

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Sit-Down Equipment (student independent)

Sit-down snowboarding is broken into three distinct categories: Sit boarding, bi-skis and mono-boarding-skiing with a snowboard.

Sit boarding: This is a seating interface without loading or shock mechanisms, mounted directly to the snowboard. The seat may face forward or laterally. The rider sits low to snow, and may use hands on snow, hand picks, short poles, highly modified outriggers as balance, propulsion, and or turning aids.

Bi-ski: The bi-ski originated from a split snowboard. It is a forward loading and sometimes having a shock system. This is attached to an articulating parrellogram interface, mounted on two very shaped skis with a 7-12 meter radius side cut. Currently there are many variations and modifications.

Mono-boarding: (not to be confused with the standup monoboard or mono-ski). This is a forward facing seated position, which allows a mono-rig, including shock assembly to be mounted via an interface to various types of snowboards. The rider tips their upper body weight from side to side to engage the edge of the board. Riders can use turning and balancing tools in their hands, depending on the set-up and their preference. If the rider sits low to the ground, hand picks or hands can be used. If the sitting position is higher off the snow, outriggers are used to support balance and turning. Also appearing on the scene is the TwinRider - a snowboard with a side-facing seat that is steered with handlebars.

Board Performance: Using any of the sit-down riding equipment relies heavily on the student tipping his or her upper-body weight to tilt and engage the edge of the snowboard. The student also has to pivot the board to create quicker turns.

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Swivler (student independent)

A Swivler is a rotational device that is mounted under the binding of the lead foot. It provides a quick-release change of position that allows the lead foot to rotate toward the nose of the board. This decreases the inward or outward twist of the lead foot and leg needed for maneuvering with one foot out. Thus a more comfortable position is possible for walking, skating standing in lift lines, as well as loading and unloading lifts. This is particularly useful for those students who choose to ride with their prosthesis as their leading leg. Also, it allows for a quick stance change when riding.

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Prosthesis on the Rear Leg

This stance allows a student to develop a technique for turning by weighting the front foot confidently. This set-up gives a student more flexion and extension abilities in the lead leg while allowing the student to steer the tip of the board actively through turns. Sometimes this stance hinders the student's ability to perform more advanced and complex moves if the ability for the prosthetic leg to flex is limited. Some students are able to use the prosthetic leg for skating. Many students with a single leg amputation prefer this stance.

Prosthesis on the Lead Leg

This stance positions the stronger leg in the back. It increases the student's ability to hop, push, or steer the rear of the board through turns. This stance may increase pressure on the forward residual limb. Once getting into turns, the participant can try to push the toes on the lead foot first and once in the turn push the toes of the rear foot. This creates a twist to the board, easing into the turns. This set-up may allow a student to skate more easily on flats.

Above-the-Knee Amputation

A student with an above-the-knee amputation (AK) may have more support when the prosthetic knee is braced in a slightly flexed position. Use heavy cardboard and duct tape, an Ace wrap, or Velcro to help hold the prosthesis in a flexed position. This will eliminate a full range of flexion, which can cause loss of control. Avoid locking a prosthetic knee into a straight position, which can be awkward, uncomfortable and limit function. ith ace wrap, velcro or duct tape next to the prosthesis. Secure the brace set-up over the student's prosthesis to create a flexed position.

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Creative Commons licence text.

This page derived in part from Disabled World Snowboarding and PSIA

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