First Lesson with the Dualski

The drive to Risoul was a few hours longer than our previou trip to La Plagne, but was a bit more comfortable as there were seven of us in two vans rather than six in one van.


We arrived late on Saturday night. Tudur's first lesson was booked in for Monday morning so unfortunately he had to stay in by himself on Sunday while the rest of us hit the slopes (harsh I know but what can you do!). But more unfortunately still Tudur managed to food poison himself and when we got back he was looking a bit green. It was touch and go that evening as to whether he would be fit enough to go for his lesson the next day - this was extremely distressing considering how far we had come and the hoops we had jumped through to get there.


We resolved to stick to our original plan, which involved getting up at 5 o'clock in the morning to get to Tessier's workshop in Saint Rémy de Maurienne, a 3-4 hour drive from Risoul.


At 5am we asked Tudur the dreaded question "how do you feel, mate?" and to our relief he replied "I'm OK, let's do it".


We arrived at Tessier's workshop just after 9am. We were met by Remi - Tudur's instructor for the day. It was still nerve racking at this stage - for us to be allowed to hire the Dualski and take it back to Risoul with us, Tudur had to learn to ski in one day and we had to prove that we could help him safely on and off lifts (not so easy on a snowboard). Tudur's previous skiing experience and the fact that he was not feeling 100% did not help either.


We set off to a local ski resort - Les Karelis, a quiet, small resort that is a favorite for French families wanting to get away from the bigger commercial resorts.


The morning was spent on the learner slope with Tudur getting a feel for the chair. His first impressions were good, he was able to balance and stay seated in the chair by himself - something he was never able to do in the last chair. After a few short runs when Tudur was able to slide down the slope and come to a stop Remi decided to take him up to the next slope.


We had to push Tudur a short way up the piste to the bottom of a drag lift. Tessier had perfected a technique for using the drag lift (a technique that we weren't able to master ourselves). A short rope is attached to the ski chair which is attached to the drag lift, the chair gets dragged along and at the end a small tug on the rope releases the chair.


The next few runs went well. Tudur was really surprised by how responsive the chair was - a testament to the 12 years of engineering that had gone into the Dualski. He was starting to link turns and was starting to gain some confidence.


Next was the chairlift. Another great design feature of the Dualski is its ability to lift up and allow the disabled skiier to get on the lift. It pivots at the front and with a small push the chair lifts up and balances perfectly while the chairlift comes around to scoop up the chair. The skier then sits back on the lift and pulls the bar down. With a bit of practice disabled skiers can learn to do this entirely by themselves. At this stage Tudur needed assistance and we had to learn to help him. Getting on the lift is the easy part - we go through the gate, slide into position, lift up the chair and wait for the lift to come around. Getting off the lift was a different story. Even with the lift being slowed down for us it was fairly tricky - especially on a snowboard. The bar comes up and we shift our weight forward and slide off the chairlift, with one foot attached to my snowboard and holding onto to Tudur we came off the lift and somehow managed to come to a stop without falling over! Quite impressive for our first attempt!! Subsequent attempts did not all go as smoothly with one or two ungraceful wipeouts ending up with us in a heap on the snow. But we had proved that we could get on and off the lift safely.


Now that we could use the chairlift we were much higher up and Tudur had a much longer piste to ski down. This is when he really started to get it. On the second run he was skiing completely by himself, but he did not actually believe that he was, he thought that Remi, the instructor, was behind him the whole time but in fact Remi let go most of the time. We had to show Tudur the video evidence to make him see for himself that he was skiing entirely by himself!


This was a big confidence booster. And such a contrast to the teaching methods of the Gostoli ski school in La Plagne. Their teaching methods and equipment meant that most disabled people going there would not be able to ski entirely alone. We found out the reasons behind this. It turns out that Marc Gostoli and Pier Tessier used to work together, they fell out over a disagreement on teaching methods. Marc Gostoli felt that a disabled skiier wouldn't be able to ski without the assistance of an able bodied skiier. Pier Tessier believed that he could engineer a chair that would allow disabled people to ski by themselves.


Because of their disagreement the Gostoli ski school does not use the newest chairs built by Pier Tessier (only older versions like the one Tudur used on the first trip). This is a great shame as the people that lose out are the disabled skiers who, while getting to ski in La Plagne, will not get the sense of freedom that they would if they got to use Pier Tessier's latest version of the Dualski or the Uniski.


And it was lucky for Tudur that we had found this out otherwise he would have given up on the whole thing.


So by the end of ONE DAY Tudur had learnt to ski and we had learnt to safely help him on and off lifts. Back at Tessier's workshop at the end of the day we waited while Remi put the equipment away. It felt like waiting for the results of a driving test! We weren't sure that we had passed. We knew that we had done well but unless they were entirely happy with our ability to ski safely with Tudur they would not let us take the Dualski away with us. So when Remi came out and said "It is OK, you can take the Dualski" we were chuffed to bits.


After weeks of frantic organisation, long journeys and near disasters we had been successful. Tudur had the rest of the week to learn to ski without restrictions and the assistance of a ski instuctor - just his friends!


Read next story - Unleashed on the Slopes

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