Skiing with Autism

A while ago I wrote a blog post about why people ski.  Reasons included feelings of freedom, challenge, obsession, others suggested for having fun with family and friends, closely related to aprés ski and beer!  I was pondering the content of that particular blog post at the end of last season whilst skiing with Morten.  Morten has autism.  Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.

I started thinking about why we ski because Morten and I were sharing the lesson slope with several groups of teenagers.  Clearly, they were motivated to learn to ski, firstly, so that they could use the lift which would be much less tiring than side stepping.  Once they had reached that goal they wanted to go higher, further, faster until ultimately they were able to leave the beginner area and start to explore the mountain.  Morten, on the other hand, didn’t appear to have any concept of the need for control of speed and line.

If autism affects how Morten perceives the world, then I wonder what he thought about skiing?  Without doubt he enjoyed it.  He was motivated to continue and didn’t need cajoling at any time.  However, what did he make of turning?  To me, the reason why we turn is clear – to control speed and direction.  But why do we need to control speed and direction?

His parents told me that he has no feeling for risk or danger.  He will walk alongside a road because he has learned that that is the right thing to do.  It has nothing to do with the idea that if he walks in front of a car it will hurt.  He does it simply because it is what you do.

Morten and I started skiing on the beginner slope. In Hochfügen the beginner slope has a fantastic gentle run out.  Generally, unless the snow is very hard and icy, beginners will eventually come to a stop.  So, if Morten didn’t turn there wasn’t a problem.  He would trundle to a stop we would go to the lift and go back up again.  That didn’t stop us trying.  Every run, I would ask him to turn.  Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t.

I’m hoping that with repetition and time he will also learn that turning on skis is a good thing.  Hopefully, he will eventually ski in control without needing help when the skis don’t turn fully across the direction of travel and gravity takes over!

I’ve heard that since skiing here in Austria Morten has been skiing on a dry slope in the UK.  Apparently, he was turning to avoid other skiers on the slope.  This is a fantastic achievement!  Maybe when he comes back next winter he will control his speed and line without the need to have someone watching his every move, or non-move, just in case…