Adapting to ski again: A BIST member’s story

Think skiing requires you to have both feet on the ground? Think again. In the first of two winter-activity themed stories by BIST members living with the affects of acquired brain injury, Leslie Bolt shares how she stays active with sit-skiing. A paralympic event, adaptive or sit-skiing allows people with acquired brain injury and others with disabilities to enjoy the slopes.

Leslie Bolt sit-skiing in Breckenridge, Colorado, 2003. Photo courtesy Leslie Bolt.
Leslie Bolt sit-skiing in Maine, March, 2011. Photo courtesy Leslie Bolt.


I admit it, though I had practiced in rehab, when I was fitted in my sit-ski “Mountainman,” loaded on the chairlift and sandwiched between my husband and an adaptive instructor, I was very, very nervous, but excited too.

I had spent weeks and months in hospital and even more time in rehab and while I had been making gains in finding my balance and stability, I had to wonder what in the world was I doing creeping up the Colorado Mountain Range strapped to a chair mounted on two skis? Had I lost my mind? I had been pretty much living indoors and practising taking steps; slow and focused steps. Now, here I was, about to ski.

At the top, we unload and make a turn down the off-load ramp and with my instructors behind me, down we go.

‘Lean into the slope, turn the ski, look downhill, feel the grade switch, weight shift, find your centre, look downhill, repeat, breathe. Don’t forget to breathe.’

I look around at the beautiful Colorado Mountain Range and see Paul, Rob and Charlotte down at the crest of the next overpass. I ski down the next pass, rejoicing in the cold mountain air biting my cheeks, the snow spray stinging my neck.

At the bottom, I smile at my friends and as I catch my breath I happily receive their compliments: “Good for you Les! You were really ripping it up.”

See Leslie carving up the slopes in 2010 at Copper Mountain, Colorado.


As a teenager, I started to experience seizures, the cause of which was swiftly diagnosed as a Brain AVM (Arterial Venial Malformation). Conservative measures were appropriate for a while, allowing me to earn an Arts Degree from the University of Western Ontario (now Western University), as well as pursue a career as an insurance auditor. But following a minor bleed in 1998, with the support of my husband Paul and close family, we decided to go ahead with recommended treatment and I underwent surgery at the Toronto Western Hospital in September 2000. While the surgery successfully eradicated the AVM, I sustained an intracranial bleed on the right side of my brain, leaving me hemiplegic on my left. I survived the surgery and began my Rehabilitation Journey, which continues to this day.

Following weeks of acute care rehabilitation at The Western and after selling our “Tall Skinny House” in Leaside in favour of a wheelchair accessible rental, we came home to begin the long, patient process of rebuilding our lives.
I graduated to TRI, the largest rehab hospital in the country, where I remained in full-time rehab for close to four years.

During this time my husband Paul and I developed this phrase we coined: “Life is the best Rehab.” And now, almost 12 years later, we still live like this.

The notion that the best available rehabilitation is living and experiencing your real life is a very powerful one and for me offered the kind of hope I required to maintain optimism as my family and I experienced my journey as one whose life had taken a radically different path than the one that was initially planned.

Some of my greatest challenges were adjusting to the physical challenges from my ABI and continuing to pursue activities and passions I loved.

One of these was skiing. Like many Canadian youths, I grew up on the ski hill and had spent many a March Break and holidays in the mountains.

I first learned of adaptive skiing through The Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center in Breckenridge, Colorado, when visiting best friends in Denver in 2002. I have been an active sit-skier since that time.

Adaptive Skiing

In the simplest terms, adaptive skiing is to bypass your limitations and adapt yourself — be it with training and or special equipment — to go on and ski.

There are many types of adaptive skiing, but with one thing in common — it’s skiing. And it allows those with physical, cognitive or visual impairments to access the thrill, excitement and challenge of skiing and snowboarding.

Adaptive ski programs are thankfully becoming more and more popular throughout many ski regions in Canada and the U.S.

My husband Paul became a qualified Adaptive Ski Instructor through CSIA (Canadian Ski Instructors Association) and is a volunteer at Ontario Track3 —Ski Association, a non-profit charitable organization that teaches children and youth with disabilities to downhill ski and snowboard.

The Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing is a volunteer-based organization whose main objective is to assist individuals with a disability to lead richer and fuller lives through active participation in recreational and competitive snow skiing and snowboarding.

Finding opportunities to participate in my favourite activity and at some of the most breathtaking regions of the planet was definitely a thrill for me. In the spring of 2009, my family: From 70-year-old father to five-year-old nephew took a Family Ski trip to Sunday River Ski Resort hosts: Maine adaptive Skiing, another program with volunteers, instructors and equipment that allowed us all to happily ski as a family. What a thrill!

Leslie Bolt, brain injury survivor, ABI/accessibility advocate, and founding member of BIST.

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