Being a glider instructor in the Paris region, I had the opportunity to do a summer placement in Barcelonnette in the southern Alps and this is one of the things that gave me a taste for the mountains. Today I share my life between Courchevel in the winter where I am a groomer for the S3V and Barcelonnette in the summer, where I am a gliding instructor
1st disabled glider instructor Flying was part of my rehabilitation after my accident, and I have been doing it for over 15 years. I used to work as a professional roofer, but couldn’t continue working after the accident, so I was looking for something to do to pass the time and give me a goal. As a kid, there was a flying club near my house so I had always had a desire to fly. Then after my accident I was offered an initiation flight, after which I told myself that was exactly what I had to do! So I followed the usual course to learn to fly alone, became a competitor and then I became an instructor.
Becoming a groomer It’s a passion for machines, as well as the thrill of going where most people can't go and seeing things they will never see. The mountain is a pretty hostile environment for a wheelchair, but the machine makes everything accessible. Imagine, the ski area at night-time, all completely accessible!
The groomer job ans a bespoke fit-out It’s a passion for machines, as well as the thrill of going where most people can't go and seeing things they will never see. The mountain is a pretty hostile environment for a wheelchair, but the machine makes everything accessible. Imagine, the ski area at night-time, all completely accessible! I have a swivel seat to climb into the cabin then a wheelchair-accessible platform to do everything in total autonomy. On the machine, everything has been designed to drive without requiring the use of feet. But it is also completely adapted for a fully mobile person, as I also have a mate who drives it.
It's a great thing; it allows people to develop and flourish. For me, sport has hugely contributed to my rehabilitation. I was pretty athletic before but when you rebuild your life you need to find new things to do, have goals. It is essential to find a way to flourish and sport is one way! The concept of the Paralympics is great for the interactions, the exchanges and also because it helps the equipment to evolve. On the other hand, I think it should be integrated into the main Olympics! Although there are different practices, I do not want to live my life only with disabled people! There was talk of integration, but apparently the concern would be to do with the infrastructure: too many people all at once. And the media coverage? Well, finally they’re getting it right! For 2 or 3 years now, FranceTV has been broadcasting almost all of the events and suddenly it has exploded, as can be seen with the increasing number of athletes. A few years ago, Paralympic champions were medallists in five or six different disciplines because there was so little competition. But now it's starting to get more professional. Unfortunately, people believe that because you are disabled, you can easily go to the Paralympics, but the places are expensive, although the pyramid is narrower! If you don't get in, maybe it's because you're not good enough yet ^^
The 3 Valleys ski area is magical: setting off for a day without doing the same track once is still something quite impressive! For lunch, I really like the Auberge de l'Ariondaz, with Bernard and the great local products he offers. And for skiing, I recommend the Moriond sector. The location is set away from the resorts, so you don't see so many buildings, just the mountains. And the tracks are like real mountain pastures, with rolling terrain: in a chair it's really nice. Not steep, wide space, ideal for carving! Try the Montagnes Russes and Gentiane pistes. Room for improvement? Add more platforms to the gondolas for groups of disabled skiers. Otherwise, when there are several of us in chairs, we have to wait for a complete rotation to join our friends.
I set up a charity called “Accès Montagne eXperience” a while ago, as I want to allow disabled people to be more autonomous in the practice of their sport.
Editor's note: if you want to know more, go to www.amxhandi.fr to give a donation or for help organising a ski trip and/or if you have another idea for a fantastic project like Antoine's!