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The Grandfather of Adaptive Skiing

Among prosthetists, Paul Leimkuehler is well remembered as a trail-blazing practitioner who helped establish the standards of the profession. But Leimkuehler’s other major contribution to the limb-loss community was nearly forgotten until last year.

Courtesy of Katie Leimkuehler

That’s when his granddaughter, Katie Leimkuehler, unveiled Fresh Tracks, her documentary about Paul Leimkuehler’s invention of the outrigger adaptive ski in the 1940s.

“It was pretty amazing to interview these elite skiers who had no idea of the history behind this piece of equipment they use all the time,” says Leimkuehler, a first-time filmmaker. “They all had these light-bulb moments.”

The elder Leimkuehler, a one-time cycling and ice-skating champion, devised the outrigger in the 1940s after returning from World War II as a below-knee amputee. He fashioned the first model from sawed-off crutches, refined the design, and became the Johnny Appleseed of adaptive skiing.

Leimkuehler never patented his invention, preferring an open-access approach that kept the barriers to participation low. He also established 3 Trackers of Ohio, one of the nation’s first adaptive ski organizations.

“Without the outrigger, we just wouldn’t be out here,” says Bob Meserve, one of several adaptive ski legends to appear in the film. Monster Mike Schultz, a Paralympic gold medalist and contemporary snowsports innovator, also features prominently in Fresh Tracks.

“Our main goal is for people to come away with the idea that they can tackle any challenge,” Katie Leimkuehler says. “There’s so much opportunity out there for amputees, whether it’s adaptive sports or another field. We hope this will raise awareness.”

Earlier this year, the International Skiing History Association recognized Fresh Tracks as 2021’s best film. You can rent it online at vimeo.com/ondemand/freshtracks or via Amazon Prime video.

5 Places to Try Adaptive Skiing

COLORADO: Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center
The BOEC offers instruction in skiing, snowboarding, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and ski biking. Grab a one-on-one lesson or get social with group instruction at Breckenridge Ski Resort, Keystone Ski Resort, or Copper Mountain. https://boec.org/adaptive-ski-snowboard-program/.

NEW MEXICO: Adaptive Sports Program of New Mexico
With an expansive range of ski equipment and either partial or full scholarships, ASPNM makes hitting the slopes of Ski Santa Fe and Sandia Peak easy. Sign up for private or multi-week lessons that start in January. https://www.adaptivesportsprogram.org.

CALIFORNIA: Achieve Tahoe
Offering private adaptive ski and snowboard lessons for all abilities, Achieve Tahoe can accommodate any disability with specialized teaching techniques and adaptive equipment. https://www.achievetahoe.org/participate/activities/snowsports/.

NEW ENGLAND: Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports
This winter marks the grand opening of their new $2.5 million adaptive sports facility at Sugarbush Resort. You can ski, snowboard, snowshoe, cross-country ski, and more, with lessons and rentals available for all ages and abilities. https://www.vermontadaptive.org.

WYOMING: Jackson Hole Adaptive Mountain Sports School
Anyone can access Jackson Hole’s legendary terrain with the help of trained adaptive instructors and specialized equipment. The school offers private lessons, multi-week programs throughout the winter, and an inclusive Steep & Deep Camp in February. https://www.jacksonhole.com/adaptive.html.

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