Her patients showed a marked improvement in balance, coordination, core stability, morale and confidence and she decided to start an adaptive ski club…
Now, twelve years later, supported by her husband Dave and fellow physio Jo Inkin, Bethan Drinkall runs the adaptive skiing charity, Ski4All Wales who deliver bespoke adaptive ski sessions every Wednesday, on the dry slopes at Pembrey Country Park, often supporting up to 30 adaptive skiers of varying levels of ability with the help of numerous adaptive ski instructors and volunteers.
Once a year they bring a small group out to Verbier to test their skills on snow and get the full ski holiday experience. Lugging heavy equipment, wheelchairs, medical supplies (and a supply of pork pies for the local volunteers) out to Switzerland is a major effort.
Their recent trip, their tenth, was their most successful yet. Verbier has grown accustomed to this team from Wales and was ready and waiting for them with open arms.
Every achievement by an adaptive skier is celebrated by dedicated instructors, Dave, Lloyd, Mia, Mike and Neil and the volunteers. In a week of glorious sunshine, Cameron’s balance on his snowboard increased massively, Bryan developed great style, John skied longer than ever before, Austin skied a mega-difficult red and Jenny skied all the way to the on-piste après-ski bar 1936, a feat she described as ‘f…… bang tidy’ – Jenny has a unique way with words.
Dr. Mark Barnard was lifted down the steps of the Jumbo in the Dynamique, to nail the run from Col des Gentianes to La Chaux. ‘It meant so much that people go out of their way to help get me to the top of a mountain, metaphorically and in reality. Being in the mountains is so special and to ski with both my children for the first time in 20 years was a fantastic experience.’
Katherine Bliss learnt how to steer the Tessier Snow’Kart and her daughter, Siân, learned to tether so that, in the future, they can go skiing together. ‘For a first-time sitskier, the sense of freedom you get from skiing was still there. I couldn’t help visualising the notion of the sitski as skiing down the mountain in an armchair! The whole experience was awesome, with so many hands, to help and guide.’
The week was peppered with highlights: the group met the CEO of TéléVerbier, Laurent Vaucher, young British freerider, Ethan Davis, and Verbier legend, photographer Jansci Hadik, who volunteered his time for a photo shoot.
There were thrills and spills, drinks at après-ski, in short, your average ski holiday. As Katherine said, ‘Sitting in the sun on the mountain, just great moments of blissful normality. Bonza!’
But the thing that struck me the most, was the kindness I witnessed: the hotel staff couldn’t wait for them to arrive, the Ski Service team was primed and ready to kit them all out and the Médran ticket office was totally unfazed at sorting out 24 passes. The technical staff and the lift operators bent over backwards to look after them on the slopes and skiers, used to hustling through the lift queues, willingly stood back and waited as sitskis and adaptive skiers were loaded. It was as if all Verbier was part of the team: surely the result of a decade of hard work, ‘can-do’ attitude and unique Welsh charm.
This charity isn’t exclusively Welsh (even the English can join in if they pull their weight) but, threading through its roots, is a strong seam of precious Welsh mettle. Their language is punctuated with words of caring, cwtch (hug), cariad (dear) and my latest Welsh vocabulary acquisition – maldod (TLC). The caring carries on into the night with massages and treatment from the physios when needed. Ski4All Wales describes itself as ‘a small charity with a big heart’ – it’s an understatement – Ski4All Wales has a mighty fire at its core.
Adaptive skiing has real momentum behind it and this team is leading the way. Verbier has indicated that it would like to make the resort more accessible to all: great news for adaptive skiers because everyone should get the chance to ski this wonderful resort.
Ski4All Wales provides equipment and access to facilities to enable disabled people to Ski. They aim to promote self-confidence and a sense of achievement by making the exciting sport of skiing open to all. If you would like to support Ski4AllWales you can by donating to their JustGiving page.
Thanks to Verbier legend and photographer Jansci Hadik for the images.
Thanks to Verbier-based Author, Kathryn Adams for reporting on behalf of MadDogSki.com.