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Mono-skiers get their shot at X Games gold

Action-sports athletes are constantly looking for ways to push boundaries, whether it’s completing a 1200 on a snowboard or doing a back flip on a snowmobile.
ASPEN, Colorado — Action-sports athletes are constantly looking for ways to push boundaries, whether it’s completing a 1200 on a snowboard or doing a back flip on a snowmobile.
    Disabled skiers are no different, taking their adaptive skis from racecourses to the boxes and rails of terrain parks, even hucking over 40-foot gaps and dropping off 30-foot cliffs — on one-track skis.
    Now, after years of getting gnarly in relative obscurity, they’ll get a chance to show what they can do on a much grander stage: the Winter X Games.
    For the first time at X, disabled skiers are right there next to the hippest and most talented action-sports athletes in the world, charging down the same courses and pulling off many of the same tricks on their sitdown skis. Mono-skier X was a demo sport at the Winter X Games two years ago and was such a hit that organizers added it to the lineup of high-flying snowboarding, skiing and snowmobiling at the four-day action sports extravaganza at Aspen’s Buttermilk Mountain.
    “It’s been going on for the last four or five years, but it hasn’t really captured the attention of the public like it will this year in the X Games,” mono-skier Sam Ferguson said. “This should take it to a whole other level.”
    Pushing limits has been the credo of the Winter X Games since the event’s inception 11 years ago. Organizers have tweaked the lineup just about every year, trying everything from modified snow-shovel racing — which didn’t work out too well — to freestyle motorcycle jumping to go with staples such as snowboarding and skiing.
    Disabled freeskiing started around the turn of the millennium, when a handful of skiers moved from the racecourses to terrain parks in search of ways — like athletes in any sport — to stretch their limits, progress the level of competition. They started hitting rails, flying off kickers and gaps, tackling halfpipes — anything they could find — and it was added as a demo sport in 2004.
    The event was such a hit with fans and athletes in other sports that organizers decided to give it a shot this year.
    “They deserve a medaled competition,” said X Games general manager Chris Stiepock. “They’re every bit as athletic as those who are next to them with two legs and with able bodies, so we felt it was important to put them on equal standing and really put them in the fold of the medal competition, where I think they’re going to represent themselves really well. It’s going to surprise a lot of people.”
    Disabled athletes have been waiting for this moment.
    It takes courage and dedication to come back from a devastating injury and the ones who persevere typically have a don’t-tell-me-I-can’t-do-that attitude that makes them refuse to give up, to pick themselves up after a fall and try over and over — no matter how much it hurts.
    A common goal among most disabled athletes is to be treated like everybody else and now these select few have that chance, sharing the biggest action sports stage in the world.
    “When we’re here on land in our wheelchairs, we’re living our lives and doing what we need to do, but once we click into our ski and get strapped into our ski, we’re no different than anyone else on the mountain,” Ferguson said. “Our equipment might be a little bit different, but once we get off that lift and we point ’em downhill, we’re right there with them, enjoying the same things that they’re doing.”
    It’s impressive to watch.
    Though the skier X course at Winter X had to be slightly altered to accommodate the mono-skiers — there was fear that their shocks might not hold up over the bigger gaps — these athletes are doing basically the same thing as the able-bodied athletes. And the thing is, they’re doing it on one ski, maintaining their balance as they sail up to 60 feet across a variety of jumps and gaps.
    “You look at me doing a back flip and say ‘no way,’ ” freestyle snowmobiler Chris Burandt said. “I look at these guys bombing down the hill with one leg or whatever disability and I’m dumbfounded. I can’t imagine.”

— John Marshall, The Associated Press

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