Adaptive Exhilaration: Equipment from the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic

In 2024, the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, hosted by the Grand Junction VA Medical Center and co-presented with Disabled American Veterans, will donate adaptive ski equipment from the early years of the event to the National VA History Center in Dayton, Ohio. ​

Left: Mono-skier with handheld outriggers​. (VA)

In 1986, VA created an official National Winter Sports Clinic hosted by Grand Junction VAMC. The inaugural clinic at Powderhorn in 1987 welcomed approximately 90 Veterans from 27 states, bolstered by a volunteer staff of about 20. Despite skepticism from many health professionals of the era, the clinic underscored the importance of physical activity for persons of all abilities.​

Right: 1987 Newspaper Advertisement for National Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass, Colorado, March 1-6, 1987​. (VA)

Veterans participating in different events at the clinic. (VA)

Veterans at the Winter Sports Clinic can experience Alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, sled hockey, snowboarding, curling and snowmobiling. They can also take part in kayaking, scuba diving, rock climbing, archery and fly fishing.

Various skier rigs at work. (VA)

The weeklong clinic, held every spring, allows Veterans with limited mobility to challenge themselves. The camaraderie and therapeutic nature of the clinic allows Veterans to experience freedom in a safe, nurturing environment. It also allows Veterans to embrace their competitive side, explore their limits, connect and have fun.

Veterans preparing to ski. (VA)

At the Winter Sports Clinic, personalized adjustments to the Veteran’s gear for perfect fit and feel are a notable part of the experience. After individualized adjustments and fittings at the Winter Sports Clinic, Veterans can return to their local VA clinics with new information and opportunities to continue with recreational therapy and adaptive sports.

Milty Bi-Ski​

Donated Item ​

Invented by Mike “Milty” Miltner in 1986, the bi-ski was created for people with considerable balance and coordination issues. Stability is the key feature with two skis and a frame that sits lower to the ground than their mono-ski counterpart. Handheld outriggers are used to aid in stopping, turning, and propulsion.

Left: Milty Bi-Ski by StarSki Technologies, circa 1986. (VA)

Like its modern version, this sit-ski is compatible with ski chairlifts. However, one marked difference is that newer models are equipped with a shock absorption spring under the seat for a smoother ride down the slopes.

Above and right: Example of modern bi-ski on ski chairlift. (VA)
Four-track skier​. (VA)


Donated Item​

Handheld outriggers, used by skiers and snowboarders with lower extremity impairments, are short skies attached to crutch-like poles with forearm braces. The long versions provide support for standing athletes who enjoy three- and four-track skiing and snowboarding.

Left: Enabling Technologies Outriggers​. (VA)

Three-track skier​. (VA)
Bi-skiing with handheld outriggers and tethered instructor​. (VA)

For sit-skiers who mono- and bi-ski, the shorter outriggers are used for stability and balance and also allows for better agility.

Right: Outriggers mechanism for enabling brake and “walking mode." (VA)

Mono-skiing with handheld outriggers​. (VA)

Models like these come equipped with added features for safety and maneuverability. The short skis flip up for “walking mode,” which allows athletes to propel themselves when not going downhill. They also have brakes to help slow their speed when carving the slopes.​

Left: Outrigger brake​. (VA)

Sit-N-Ski Sled​

Donated Item​

The Sit-N-Ski was one of the first sit-skis used at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in the 1980s. Its design is based on the The Arroya which was designed by Peter Axelson in 1978.

Above and right: Sit-N-Ski by Mountain Man, 1987. (VA)

Mountain Man Sit-N-Ski sled allows those unable to stand on skis to enjoy the slopes from a seated position using mini ski poles or picks. Due to limited steering agility, sledders maneuver down the slope by shifting their weight and turning using the mini pole.

Left: Mini Ski Poles by Mountain Man, 1987. Above: Mountain Man Sit-N-Ski manual, 1987​. (VA)

Snow Picks​

Donated Item​

Handheld picks are used by Alpine sit-skiers who are closer to the ground than those who mono- and bi-ski. The picks allow the skier to steer and propel themselves while descending the hill. The forearm brace provides additional support to prevent wrist and arm injuries when turning. A very early model, seen here without the forearm straps, utilizes a simple bolt as the pick.

Right: Collection of various snow picks. (VA)

Nordic Sit-Ski by Colin Dye, circa early 1980s​

Donated Item​

This is an example of adaptive Nordic, or cross-country, skiing used by the Winter Sports Clinic during its early years. Nordic skis are attached to the frame and the skier uses modified ski poles to move over the snow. Similar designs are still used today with modifications in updated materials.

Left: Nordic Sit-Ski by Colin Dye, circa early 1980s​. (VA)

The sit-ski features an aluminum frame and bucket seat attached to Nordic skis. This allows athletes with lower body mobility issues to traverse cross-country trails. The skier uses short Nordic ski poles for additional stability and propulsion over snowy trails. ​

Right: Vision impaired Nordic skier with guide​. (VA)

Video above: Equipment History of the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic

Video above: Downhill Tour with Chris Devlin-Young at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic

To learn more, check out the National Disabled Veterans Winter Clinic website.

Special thanks to ​

Tersesa Parks, Director, National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic​

Jessica Quackenbush, National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic Adaptive Sports and Equipment Coordinator​

Matt Lucas, former National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic Adaptive Sports and Equipment Coordinator