The Three Track Ski Club and The National Amputee Ski Championships

DUANE G. MESSNER, M.D. WILLIE WILLIAMS, R.N.


In Colorado skiing is the number one winter sport and in recent years it has become increasingly popular. Usually, people engaging in the sport ski on two skis and use two poles. However, even if a person happens to be an amputee, he can still get out on the Colorado slopes by using only one ski and two outriggers (crutches with short ski tips attached at the end on a rocker mechanism) instead of poles. Since 1968 the number of amputees learning to ski has increased steadily. The program for juvenile amputees at the Children's Hospital in Denver is known as the Three Track Ski Club. It was certainly not the first amputee ski program in the United States but, to the best of our knowledge, it was the first all-juvenile amputee ski club sponsored by a Children's Hospital.

A Community-Supported Program

The Three Track Ski Club was organized in January 1968 and has been maintained since as part of the overall rehabilitation program of the Regional Juvenile Amputee Center at Children's Hospital in Denver. The ski program is under the medical supervision of Duane G. Messner, M.D., Orthopaedic Surgeon, and is directed by Willie Williams, R.N. The success of the program derives from a number of sources. Enthusiastic community support makes it possible to offer the program at almost no cost whatsoever to the interested juvenile amputee. All of the necessary ski equipment is donated. Manufacturers such as Head, K2, and Lange have contributed skis and boots. The outriggers, which consist of a ski tip fastened to a metal forearm crutch by means of a rocker base, are assembled locally. Funds to support the Three Track Ski Club are raised by the Spertes Pro-Am Golf Tournament and by many, many individual donations which go to pay for chartered bus transportation to and from the ski area. Not only is all the equipment donated, but so are the lift facilities of the Winter Park Ski Area and the services of a specially trained team of ski instructors who teach the amputees. In short, the skier need spend absolutely nothing except what is necessary to clothe himself.

Case Report

M.K. was seven years eleven months old when he sustained amputation above the knee in a farm-equipment accident. He was treated initially at a local hospital and referred to the Regional Juvenile Amputee Center at Children's Hospital for prosthetic fitting, training, and follow-up in 1967.

M.K. was one of 15 original "charter" members of the Three Track Ski Club. In 1971 he was one of four club members selected to represent the Club in a National Amputee Race at Mount Hood, Ore. He did not win any trophies that year; however, it was quite an experience for an 11-year-old to take his first plane trip and his first trip out of state. On return to Colorado it was suggested by the Winter Park Ski Association that a National Ski Meet be held at Winter Park, Colo., in 1972. After many months of planning and much enthusiastic support and help from many people in the area, the National Invitational Amputee Ski Championships were held at that location on Feb. 26 and 27, 1972. M.K. won a third-place trophy in the Giant Slalom, Junior Class, a second-place in the Slalom, Junior Class, and finished third in the combined times for that class ( Fig. 1 ). Following the races at Winter Park, the racing team ventured to Sun Valley, Ida., for another National Amputee Race. At this race M. K. again won honors in the Slalom and Giant Slalom races and won the first-place trophy for best combined time in the Junior Class. In the second amputee championships which were held at Winter Park, M. K. finished sixth in the Giant Slalom, first in the Slalom, and third in the combined times for Junior Men-Class A ( Fig. 2 ).

The success of a national race depends on the efforts of many people. Due to the overall excitement of an amputee race, there were even more than the usual numbers of persons involved in planning and actually running the races. Many individuals from the Winter Park Ski Area, as well as the professional staff, volunteered to help in the preparations for the National Amputee Ski Championships, both in 1972 and 1973.

National Association Formed

At the time of the races in 1972 at Winter Park, the National Inconvenience Sports Association was formed. Because many areas sponsor a "national" ski race for amputees, it was deemed necessary to have a national organization. It was also decided to include in the Association all types of handicapped individuals interested in outdoor sports. The potential of this organization for future sports programs involving handicapped people is unlimited. Information regarding National Inconvenience Sports Association may be obtained by writing to Doug Pringle, 3738 Walnut Ave., Carmichael, CA 95608.

Film Prepared

The style and technique demonstrated by M.K. and his colleagues have won recognition from other amputee skiers, as well as from prominent figures in the ski world. Many letters and requests for information regarding the technique used by the Three Track Ski Club have been received. As a result we were prompted to make a movie to demonstrate the teaching methods used at Winter Park.* Through the film, and a manual written by Mr. Hal O'Leary, Certified Ski Instructor, it is hoped that amputee skiing will be promoted in other areas.

All Ages

At present the program has 35 juvenile amputee skiers ranging in age from 6 to 20 years. Included are boys and girls with both upper- and lower-limb amputations. The season starts in January of each year and, once weekly for ten consecutive weeks, the slopes at Winter Park Ski Area are bombarded with three-track skiers and the very diligent volunteer personnel.

It is not the intent of the program to have all amputees become competitive skiers. However, it is most rewarding to see the exhilaration on the face of a child with a recent amputation when he skis for the very first time. It is anticipated that assisting the child with a handicap, e.g., an amputation, prove to himself that he can ski, will be an inducement to face the challenges of everyday living as an adult with equal enthusiasm and confidence. As someone once said, "it is better to build boys then to mend men."

Descriptors: Ski; three-track; children; amputees.

Regional Amputee Ski Center, Children's Hospital, Denver, Colorado

Regional Amputee Ski Center, Children's Hospital, Denver, Colorado