Leading Hazel off the side-lines and onto the ski slopes

People might not expect Hazel, who is blind and living with complex disabilities, to enjoy skiing – but it’s an activity she absolutely loves! Tracey, who supports Hazel at Sense TouchBase South East, knew that enabling her to take on this “sensory explosion” would give her confidence in her own abilities and a way to connect with new people.

Hazel is a lot of fun. She’s got an amazing imagination and the warmest smile. Because she’s blind and disabled, there have been times in her life when Hazel’s been a bit isolated and maybe hasn’t had opportunities to join in activities. But at Sense we don’t believe anyone should be boxed in by beliefs about ability. If we had that attitude, Hazel never would have started skiing!

Watch to find out more about the incredible difference skiing has made to Hazel.
Film credit: Inside Job Productions

We know how much Hazel likes being active. Over the years, she’s danced, trampolined and played sensory tennis at her day centre. She’s always up for learning new skills in that space. When the opportunity arose for her to try skiing at a snow centre in Hemel Hempstead, with support from a Disability Snowsport UK (DSUK) adaptive ski instructor, we knew she’d enjoy it.

Skills to help her in the future

Travel is quite a big thing for Hazel. It’s something that makes her very anxious. Her support workers and her parents know that Hazel can be quite challenging when it comes to getting in a vehicle, and that’s a shame because it limits her life.

This was a big barrier for Hazel to overcome. When we started coming to The Snow Centre, she didn’t want to get into the minibus. But, with support from us and patience, she’s overcome every fear.

Hazel, wrapped up warmly ahead of her indoor ski session at The Snow Centre.
Hazel, wrapped up warmly ahead of her indoor ski session at The Snow Centre.
Photography credit: Cameron Ross Hall // Holmlands 

Hazel needs to try new things. Sport improves confidence, family life, social skills – everything. Now she’s got this can-do attitude, which is brilliant. That’s really going to help her in the future, to improve her life when it comes to being open to learning new skills, traveling with her family and meeting new people.

It’s unlikely Hazel would’ve found snow sports without Sense and the specialist ski instructor from DSUK. It’s amazing that Sense has given Hazel the opportunity to try this. Her family are really really happy that she’s doing this.

A man in blue coat pushes a smiling woman in a sit ski down a snowy slope.
Hazel and James, her adaptive ski instructor, zipping down the snowy slopes!
Photography credit: Cameron Ross Hall // Holmlands 

Sports are a way for Hazel to prove how amazing she is

Hazel’s first few sessions were really exploratory. We just very calmly brought her into the vehicle, drove quite slowly and to gradually introduced her to The Snow Centre. It was quite a new sensory experience – the cold, the snow and the voice of someone new, her adaptive ski instructor James.

After that, the next step was to encourage her to touch the sit ski and then to get on. Week by week she got braver until we went down a small slope – James holding on to her and me running next to her holding her hand.

That’s how we’ve worked it up. Now, she’s crunching through the snow, whizzing over the bumps and feeling the air rush past her– it’s a real sensory explosion, she’s so immersed in it. You can tell Hazel loves it, she’s laughing and smiling the whole time, it’s just fantastic. By giving her that confidence to keep coming, to continue and improve, she’s been able to prove to everyone how amazing she is!

Hazel sits in a chair connected to two skis. Her instructor James kneels beside Hazel.
To make skiing accessible, Hazel uses a sit ski. James supports her by holding on to the back of the seat and steering.
Photography credit: Cameron Ross Hall // Holmlands 

The joy on Hazel’s face, the giggles on the last day, it proves that snow sports can be accessible for all. If it’s safe and they’ve got the support, 100% anyone can do it. Just because she can’t see it doesn’t mean she can’t feel it.

If we give up on people with complex disabilities, we risk leaving them sitting on the side-lines and not experiencing these amazing things. She’s better for it – everyone’s better for it, because they’re seeing how much she’s capable of.

Tracey, Hazel and James looking very happy after an afternoon of skiing.
Tracey, Hazel and James looking very happy after an afternoon of skiing.
Photography credit: Cameron Ross Hall // Holmlands 

Do you want to give people with complex disabilities a way to enjoy sport and physical activities?

Sense is dedicated to empowering people with complex disabilities to lead active and healthy lives. If you’ve been inspired by Hazel’s story and want to play a part supporting people with complex disabilities to be active, check out our new training workshop, ‘Complex disabilities in sport’.

We have all the tools you need to create person-centred, meaningful and appropriate activities. Because no one should be left on the side-lines.