National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic brings adaptive sports technology to Snowmass
The National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic brings hundreds of veterans with life-altering injuries and an enormous inventory of adaptive sports equipment to the slopes of the Snowmass Ski Area this week.
Some devices will look familiar to people who have seen adaptive athletes on the hill before: There are sit skis galore and an abundance of outriggers, which look like poles with small skis attached to the end.
But there are also more unique pieces of equipment designed to serve athletes of all abilities — including one device skiers can operate just by breathing.
At the sit ski staging area just above the Snowmass Mall, Dr. Jeffrey Rosenbluth is proud to show off the TetraSki, which allows disabled athletes with extremely limited mobility to ski independently using a joystick or device controlled by the athlete’s breath.
“We use some race slalom skis on there, and when you see it out there, it just always makes this beautiful rail turn right on the edge,” Rosenbluth explained. “It's really cool.”
Rosenbluth is the medical director of the Spinal Cord Injury Acute Rehabilitation program at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center.
He’s also a self-proclaimed gearhead, and the founder of “Tetradapt,” the adaptive sports equipment initiative that makes the TetraSki.
“Really trying to think of equipment that would work well and give us much independence and performance for folks with really complex disabilities, that was the whole goal,” he said.
The TetraSki is kind of like a hybrid between a motorized wheelchair and a traditional sit ski, which skiers maneuver with outrigger poles.
Rosenbluth said it can open up a world of opportunity for people who might not have the strength or dexterity to use outriggers. It even adapts for people on ventilators, enabling skiers of all abilities to ski independently on the mountains.
A tether to the instructor functions only as an emergency brake, but there’s a wireless remote instructors can use to help demonstrate proper technique for whoever’s sitting in the TetraSki.
“There really is this progression, like in any form of skiing, from beginner all the way through advanced,” Rosenbluth said.
The device he’s handling is one of about 14 TetraSkis in existence; it costs close to $30,000, he said. The product could get less expensive if production scaled up, though Rosenbluth noted that it won’t scale up much.
“The world doesn't need 10,000,” he said, but that won’t stop Tetradapt from creating more adaptive equipment. The organization also offers a Tetra Watercraft that allows people to sail independently using similar joystick or breath control options, and off-road bikes could be next.
“We're just going to chip away at every activity and device that isn't modified yet that someone wants to do,” Rosenbluth said.