In 2010 two adaptive snowboard instructors were experimenting on the magic carpet area of Whistler Blackcomb with some gear for their lessons. One of them was the canadian James Peters, the other was me, Gina van der Werf, from the great indoors (Holland), working my second season as an instructor for Whistler Blackcomb Snow School. We were checking out some tethering techniques, ways of helping a student make turns, but some students need more support. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have proper gear for that? We got stoked on the idea, got together and did some brainstorming on the matter. Paralympian and snowboarder Tyler Mosher, one of the local Whistler heroes, also shared his views on the subject. He told all about the development of adaptive snowboarding as a competitive sport and the community efforts of getting the standing category accepted as a paralympic medal event.
The season ended, and I went back to the Netherlands. I got a parttime job at the local outdoor shop, and an office space at Bink36, an affordable place for startups, freelance artists, designers and small businesses.
One day late december, me and my friend Thatcher, went to the dunes, it had snowed a lot those weeks, and we tested the very first model of the ideas so far. Honestly, this one was quite crappy, barely good enough to get a rough feel before it fell apart.
In Orcieres, during a parasnowboard race, I met Travis who was coaching the US team, and showed him what I was up to. It inspired me to step it up, and a few weeks later Snowworld zoetermeer allowed us to try the second model where I made my first real turns.
At the adaptive snowsports event “wintersportFUNdag” I met a lot of dutchies involved in adaptive snowsports, athletes coaches and guides. Bibian Mentel, Hollands very own parasnowboard champion who founded the Mentelity Foundation for adaptive board sports, hooked me up with Jacqueline van der Linde from the VGW. This adaptive snowsports organisation later on backed up the project, together with SHOS (another adaptive snowsports organisation) and the Dutch Ski Federation.
There I also met KJ van der Klooster, and his honest opinion made me realize how just getting down a hill with the board is not nearly going to be good enough. Our vision for an advanced model is to get the level of independance in getting up, down and around of a modern sit-ski in order to be interesting for a guy of his level and ability.
Thatcher introduced me to Laura Klauss that summer, she just started as a freelance industrial design engineer, and since then she has been doing a lot of 3D CAD work and technical developments for the project. Tim Helming, a human movement technology student who is in a wheelchair (he has Spina Bifida), decided to do his graduation project on the snowboard.
We moved to a new place, Labs55, where we share an office with Sander Minnoye and Erik van Geer, both designers involved in sports innovation as well. A beautiful and inspiring place.
The next big step was getting the funding to develop the ideas further. InnosportNL financially backed the snowboard project, and through the Sports & Technology foundation we got an additional government grant for both the snowboard and the sitski binding projects.
We built models from ideas and with every step we were learning by testing and improving, and the project gained momentum from the energy and ingenuity of all the Delft University students involved.
We went to Austria where the VGW had a holiday camp going on and tested 3 models of the board on real snow, doing our first real beginner runs. Focus shifted from testing different principles to refining the best principles and integrating functionality into a realistic product prototype. A big step was made by a team of students doing the advanced embodiment design course for the delft University, under the guidance of Sander Minnoye, our officemate and a skilled design engineer of sports equipment himself.
Alongside the development of prototypes, we learned more and more about the biomechanics and skills involved in sit-down snowboarding as well as the learning process and didactics involved. Unsurprisingly, it turned out that teaching sitsnowboard is a lot like teaching a regular snowboard lesson, including the same basic steps, common mistakes, and off course beginner crashes.
In the fall of 2012 we’ve focussed on a very basic design specifically meant for the beginner progression, to be used with an instructor on a magic carpet/beginner area. Bart Peeters contributed a lot to the prototype during his internship. It was first tested in januari, shown at the ISPO in febuari, and has been around quite a bit the rest of the winter 0f 2013. We went to maria alm again, this time focussing more on the actual riding progression of both Bart and Tim.
Back with the prototype to where it all began, Whistler Blackcomb magic carpet, where James and adaptive snowboard instructor Glenn had a go at it, as well as a bunch of old friends and even some random people we met on our way down. Tim, part of the team now, showed he was the first wheelchair rider able to make turns independantly. This prototype was the very first twinrider. We went back to the drawing board with a whole bunch of new improvements to be made.
The next year, with the improved version, we went out and got more feedback from several instructors during the annual CADS Festivals (Kimberly ‘14,). In the USA we went to the National Ability Center in park city, where we also met the guys from Adaptive Athletic Specialists. Special thanks go out to Travis Thiele and Charlie Phelan for all their input.
We optimized the rig design for more affordable production this time, as many adaptive programs had turned out to be on a tight budget and our initial rig was still quite complex, making it too expensive for many programs.
Apart from these optimisations, we’ve been working on an independent chairlift-friendly model and a children’s version of the twinrider. check out our news page for the latest developments on that!
– by Gina, founder