It’s only takes a few seconds for Josh Dueck to glide up the jump, revolve and stick a perfect landing, arms raised in triumph as he coasts down the slope on his sit ski.
But those few exultant seconds under a brilliant blue sky are the realization of a dream that had been growing ever since a 2004 accident left the former freestyle ski coach without the use of his legs.
“I totally have a passion for doing this type of thing,” he said Thursday in a phone interview. “In the powder, I’m just floating around. It feels like I’ve got no weight in the world. I’m just literally skipping off a cloud. The sensation I got when I was flipping, it really brought me back to a life without barriers.”
But don’t try this at home, he warns. Dueck is a member of the Canadian Para-alpine ski team and the first athlete to complete a backflip on a sit ski.
“Will this kick off a new avenue for adaptive skiing? I don’t know,” said Dueck, who also won a silver medal in the slalom event at the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver. “It would be kind of cool. But at the same time, these type of things take a lot of work and a lot of manpower to get them going. I don’t think this is the type of thing someone should just be trying on their own or at home.”
The backflip was executed Feb. 3 in Whistler, B.C., and was filmed by friend Mike Douglas. As of Thursday, the video was approaching 350,000 views on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xjUUf_sK84&feature=player_embedded).
When he fell doing a demonstration jump in 2004, Dueck says he never considered not returning to the slopes, despite the fact that he was a paraplegic.
“That actually never even crossed my mind,” he said. “It was immediately presented to me that that would be an option to get back into the mountains and that was a huge inspiration for me. It gave me something to look forward to. I think my heart and soul belong in the mountains, so whatever I do up there is beside the point.
“I love being able to downhill ski and ski race and powder ski and everything in between, but even if I was just a cross-country skier or just breathing the mountain air, that’s the big thing, just being up there.”
He started the backflip project about three years ago, but it really got serious after a chat with Nicholas Bass, a high-performance adviser for Own The Podium and a former coach with the Canadian aerial team.
“That really did the trick,” he said. “It instilled the confidence.”
He practised first by flipping into foam pits at an indoor training facility in Copper Mountain, Colo., then moved to the slopes, landing on an airbag.
Dueck says the sit ski even gives him things his legs didn’t.
“I was a good skier before but I’m probably a better skier now in terms of my understanding and ability to make the ski work underneath me.
“It’s like a new set of legs, that’s for sure. It’s a new lease on life having that sit ski underneath me. I can accelerate it and pick up speed while I’m turning and go faster than some people while they’re going straight.”
So what’s next?
“I think something that would be pretty cool to start looking towards is big mountain skiing,” he said.
He’d like to organize a big mountain ski camp for people on sit skis where they could learn things like avalanche awareness and how to get up from a fall in deep powder snow.
“I’m talking moderate and relatively easy terrain still, but a little more into the backcountry,” he said.
And there is also plenty of competition for the national team member, starting in his hometown of Kimberley, B.C., for the Nor-Am Cup races Feb. 16-17.