Off-Road Wheelchair

Lets go Off-Road
With Team Phoenix

06-17&18-97 Mount Snow, Vermont.

JAY Xtreme/Team Phoenix had an off-road wheelchair camp. It is a series sponsored by ITT Hartford. It is a great opportunity for physically challenged people to try out the sport of mountain biking. I loved it. The team has six off-road chairs for you and me to try, so TAKE IT EASY! The team works very hard maintaining the equipment and teaching us how to ride. If you beat on a chair and break it, the next camp will suffer.

I made it up to the camp on the second day, actually late the night before. We book a room at "The Inn at Mount Snow". It was the only accessible place we could find, and it was great. If you are going to Mount Snow, and you need wheelchair access and a bathroom your chair can fit in, stay at "The Inn at Mount Snow". That was just a helpful tip. Anyway, we arrived at the Hartford trailer in the morning, there was a bunch of off-road chairs all lined up and some team members around them. I just knew this was going to be cool. They had the morning booked up with riders, so I took some pics and some video and got to talk to a lot of great people. In the afternoon it was my turn. I was pointed to a chair and I transferred in it. Sarah Will is on the team and she was coaching me on the do's and don'ts of body position and riding down the mountain. I was so excited to meet her that I did not hear a word she said, "Just kidding Sarah". No, seriously, she was very helpful and very professional. The whole team was great I felt very comfortable with this group, and you will too.

After getting strapped in, and a briefing on how to be SAFE, we were on our way to the lift. The Phoenix seems heavy, but it is not at all. It is pretty easy to push around. The load onto the chair lift was a snap. You un-belt on the lift line. When your turn comes, you roll up to the lift and transfer on to the chair lift. The attendants put your off-road chair on the lift seat in-front of you, and away you go. Oh, they do stop the lift for you to transfer. At the top it is the same. The lift stops, they bring you your chair, you jump in, and get out of the way so they can start the lift again. You buckle up and wait for the group. Once all are accounted for, you're off. Off, Ha! off-road, get it? never mind, Just let gravity do it's thing. Before you know it you're on the brakes, and they are good. Four wheel disc and they will stop you on a dime. It is a very secure and very safe feeling, but be careful. You pick up speed quick and the smallest water rut will launch you in the air. Not a bad feeling but don't get sideways in the air, the landing from a sideways approach is NOT COOL! There is a leader you should not pass. Just keep the pace and have a good time. You are not there to race, just experience the thrill and see for yourself if this is a sport you would like to pursue.

For the first five minutes of my first run I was undecided. I was a little scared. There where lots of big rocks, and I was riding over them and down a hill, shaking and bouncing. For a moment I thought, this is brutal, I don't think I like this. Then I hit the brakes. Your right hand controls the back, and your left the front. I hit the back brake first and it slowed me down to about half my speed in seconds, then the front brake, STOP! WOW, that was cool. The Phoenix has four times the stopping power of an ordinary bicycle. With hydraulic, four wheel disc brakes I felt very secure from that point on. By half way down the two point something mile trail, I was hooked. Six of us, girls and guys, biking down a mountain smiles from ear to ear, hooting and laughing. Non stop thrill. The Phoenix handles like it's on rails. The slightest turn and SNAP!, you're there. Just about at the end of the run, one of the riders got too cocky and hit a water rut with too much speed. He shifted sideways in the air and flipped over. This happened right in front of me and it was not a pretty sight. You must respect this machine. He was a little shaken up. On the other hand the team was one chair down. We went back to the trailer for a safety check. One thing Team Phoenix is very conscious of is safety. After the check we went up for another run. The second run was great. I was familiar with the terrain, and I felt more confident in my ability to control the Phoenix. So I was able to play a little more. Fishtailing in some turns, a little air here and there. I really felt good in this chair. I want one!

The next day we arrived at the trailer. Sarah was checking out the equipment. Chris Wadell, (another hero of mine) was there to give the off-road chair a run. I got to meet and speak with him. A thrill for me. Also John Davis was around. Another mono-ski champ that I admire, and a pioneer in the sport of off-road wheelchair racing. Actually, John was the first mono-skier I ever saw, and I knew that the sport was for me. "Thanks John". Well after some pleasant conversation it was time to get back in the Phoenix. Five of us headed for the lift. I wanted to ride with Chris, but at the lift we were split up into two groups. This was done so we would not hold up the lift for the bikers. It worked out great. Two of us in chairs, and three bikers. We had a great first run and close to the bottom my partner got a flat. We went back to the trailer, changed the flat, did a safety check, and went back to the lift all in about twenty minutes. On the second run my partner got another flat, but this time we were up near the top of the mountain. Michael Whiting, the team leader and designer of the Phoenix, pulled a tube from his back pack, and changed the flat right on the side of the trail in about ten minutes. "This" was mountain biking. Repairs on the trail. "Arr, Arr, Arrr..." (Tim Allen grunt). Before long we were on our way. I was having a great run. My buddy Scott Wilson was cruising the Grove off-road wheelchair (a very cool machine), and we met on the trail. He was practicing for the race so he passed me and went on his way. I started back down the trail. As I came to a water rut I braked to slow down and went over the rut. It felt like the back right wheel was gone. The chair dipped back to the right and the next thing I knew I was on my head, and then on my side in the grass. No pain, nothing. I didn't know what happend. It's a good thing I was not on a rocky part of the trail. Well, there was a problem with the swing arm, and it needs to be repaired. Not a big deal, but I had to get a ride down in a pickup. I was bummed out. I wanted to finnish the run obviously, and I did not want to see another chair down. Especially the one I was using. As the team leader Michael came to me, his first concern was my health. The crash looked worse then it was. That was nice, I did not want him to think I trashed his chair. He was cool about the whole thing. He checked me out to make sure I was okay. Then looked over the Phoenix. He called for help, and a few moments later a pickup came to take me down the mountain.

Back at the Hartford trailer everyone was concerned. Like I said, safety is first priority with this team. It would take some work but the chair will be ready for the next camp. To say I had a great time would be an understatement. To get a chance to try such an extreme sport and DO IT the first time out is unreal. Skiing is awesome and my all time favorite, but it takes time and practice. This sport is instant success. And to also meet the team and some athletes I truly admire, well, I think you can tell by my writing how excited I am about it. Look at the schedule below and find a camp in a state near you and GO FOR IT!

To have a look at the mountain we biked down, click here.


E-MAIL: tom@sitski.com

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