Shine news

Travel adventures on the ski slope

20th June 2024


Shine's Support and Development Worker, Chris, shares his experiences.  Recently, Chris Greenhalgh, a Shine staff member with Spina Bifida and a wheelchair user, participated in a ski trip sponsored by Bullen Healthcare, in partnership with Freerider Sports Events. This experience allowed Chris and other wheelchair users to confront their fears and get to grips with the slopes of Italy.

Bullen Healthcare, who Shine partner with to provide our Shine Health Direct service, has long been committed to empowering individuals to lead fulfilling lives. By teaming up with Freerider Sports Events, Bullen has brought to life an adaptive ski trip that introduces participants to the incredible world of skiing. “Knowing that we had experts in adaptive skiing guiding us made the prospect less daunting,” said Chris. Situated in the landscapes of Northern Italy, this initiative was an eye-opening discovery into the possibilities of wheelchair skiing.

Journey to the Italian Slopes

As many of you will know, travelling as a disabled person brings its unique set of challenges and considerations. Embarking on a ski trip to Folgaria, Chris and the nine other participants set off from various airports around the UK.

The airport experience was good with staff on hand to facilitate a smooth transition through the airport. Air travel can often feel daunting for wheelchair users but by planning ahead and clear communication with the airlines the journey from the UK to the Italian slopes was smooth. Chris commented, “The airport staff were incredibly accommodating, making the transition through security and to my gate stress-free.” Chris was fortunate enough to be travelling with a wheelchair designed to stow away in the plane’s overhead lockers, easing his travel worries. “Having a wheelchair that fits in overhead storage is a game-changer for air travel; I felt much more relaxed knowing it was near me”. For those curious about Chris’s fold up and lightweight wheelchair, more details are available here.

 Arriving in Italy

Upon arrival in Italy, the transition from the airport to the resort was seamless, thanks to pre-arranged transportation laid on by Freerider Sports Events. Chris noted “The pre-arranged transportation and on-hand assistance made the journey from the airport to Folgaria really comfortable". The warm reception at Folgaria set the tone for the days ahead, with the group settling into their hotel. Folgaria's resort proved to be very accessible. The hotel and ski facilities were equipped to cater to the needs of wheelchair users, one of the advantages of travelling on a specialised and organised trip meant that every consideration had been given to ensuring that mobility was not a barrier to participation. From accessible rooms and amenities to qualified nurses available on site, as well as supportive and understanding staff, every detail was accounted for. Adaptive skiing equipment and individual ski-instructors were available and on hand throughout all the time on the slopes. Chris was taught how to navigate both a sit-ski and the ski-lift by experienced and supportive instructors.

The Advantages of Specialised Travel

The tailored support and understanding provided by Bullen Healthcare and Freerider Sports Events ensured a seamless experience, allowing Chris and the group to focus on the joy of skiing. "Travelling with an organisation that specialises in disabled travel removed many of the barriers and uncertainties that can come with such adventures," Chris shared, underlining the considerable benefits of specialised travel. By travelling with a company that had considered the needs of wheelchair users made the trip far less stressful than previous travel experiences.

Mindset Advice

When reflecting on the trip and offering advice to others Chris had two clear messages to offer other disabled travellers considering the slopes - resilience and open-mindedness. Adaptive skiing, much like navigating life with a disability, presented its set of challenges. Each time Chris fell, he had to muster the strength to get back up – a process that, while frustrating, reinforced the importance of a resilient mindset. The trip also reinforced the value of open-mindedness. Undertaking an activity that many would deem risky or unattainable for someone in a wheelchair, Chris and the group broke through significant societal and personal barriers. Things did not always go to plan, so the ability to “go with the flow” and not get too hung up on sticking to routines enjoyed at home made for a successful and happy travel experience.

Key Takeaways and Advice

Chris’s key takeaways to make the most of an adventurous trip like this are:
Preparation: Chris highlighted the importance of considering and understanding yourown needs thoroughly,  and just as important - communicating those needs with the people who can help you.
Flexibility: Chris stressed how flexibility and the willingness to adapt to imperfect situations is vital, viewing them as part of the adventure rather than as setbacks. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone whilst being open, and okay that things might not turn out as you expect them to.

Chris’s reflections on the trip shed light on the broader significance of such experiences, “The last week was an  experience that surpassed any expectation I had... At 40, I didn’t think I’d try new things again, and this week opened my eyes to more possibilities yet again, and I couldn’t be more grateful to everyone involved for the opportunity.”

Chris’s adventure to the Italian Alps, alongside Bullen Healthcare and Freerider Sports Events, showcases a story of resilience and new adventures, and highlights something that is available to anyone navigating the complexities of life with a disability, if skiing is indeed something you wish to try.

Want to embark on your own adventure? Applications for next year’s sponsored trip happening in January 2025 are now open! Learn more and apply here: 
Please note: The selection process for the trip is undertaken by Bullen Healthcare against a pre-agreed set of selection criteria.

For more tips and guidance on planning your holiday, including accessible travel considerations, please visit Going on Holiday - a guide if you have Spina Bifida and/or Hydrocephalus.

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