Backcountry touring is an activity that has been getting a lot of attention in the last few years. People are curious about this way of extending winter, dodging lifts and just getting out and seeing a completely different side of Australia. This is no different for Michael Foti - being restricted to a sit ski wasn’t going to stop him…
This is the story of Michael Foti- a sit ski athlete who truly is inspiring but it is also a story of incredible comradery…
On April 2nd 2014, Michael had a snowboarding accident which although completely changed his life, left one thing in tact and that was his determination. Leading up to his accident he was doing an 11 week snowboarding instructor course in Fernie, Canada. In his 10th week there was an unmarked cut out for a cat track which dropped him 25 feet down, this resulted in Michael breaking his L1 vertebrae and crushing his spinal cord.
He had surgery in Canada and 2 weeks later was flown back to Australia for 3 months of rehab in Sydney. This injury would be absolutely devastating for anybody and no doubt it was for Michael, but speaking to him now you don’t hear devastation in his voice; if anyone had a bag of silver linings it’s this guy. He told us that his mum had never seen snow before and when she flew to Canada after his accident she saw snow for the first time.
1 year after his accident he moved to Jindabyne, NSW because if he couldn’t snowboard he was going to sit ski. He got a job in a snowboard shop and was living in a caravan.
2015 was Michael’s first season and he had his first go on the sit ski at Thredbo with Disabled Wintersport Australia (DWA). After only 4 lessons (8 hours) on the snow Michael was completely independent and competent in his new sport. But again, Michael considers himself lucky because he is only paralyzed from the belly button down, which means he can still use his core to help him maneuver his ski.
After the season ended a mate of his Matt Deck, started a GoFundMe page and held a fundraiser at a local pub, in the space of 2 weeks they raised $14,000 and Michael then bought his first sit ski.
This year (2016) Michael kept training and practicing with his sit ski but also participated in DWA race week. He is best at Giant Slalom but his favourite event is the skier cross.
So when the lifts stop running on October long weekend most people call it quits? Michael and his mate Matt had different plans. With plenty of snow still out in the Mainrange, Matt devised a plan to take Michael out skiing from the top of Etheridge Ridge. I was lucky enough to head out with them.
The day began at about 11am at Charlotte Pass car park. We started with a team of 4, Michael, Matt, Adrian (super dad) and myself. The boys had changed the wheels on Michaels favourite old skateboarding deck to chunky off road wheels then mounted a ski binding to the top and clicked in the sit ski. We got all our packs ready and set off on the road to Seamen’s Hut.
Michael also put off road tyres onto his wheelchair to push himself along the dirt road while we pushed along the sit ski. This worked perfectly until we came across the massive piles of snowdrifts on the road. To conquer these Matt carried Michael over his shoulder, Adrian took the wheelchair and I took the sit ski. Some of these snowdrifts were 30 metres long but there wasn’t even a squeak of ‘too hard’. Once we got to proper snow cover Michael got in this sit ski and the boys pushed him to Snowy River where our army of 4 became 7.
Despite Matt carrying a pack probably weighing 30kgs plus between him and others they pushed him to Seamen’s hut and up Etheridge Ridge as much as they could before it was too steep.
What happened next was certainly unheard of to us. Part of Matt’s 30kg plus pack was everything you need for a DIY pulley system. He secured two star pickets in the ground and created a pulley system which was tied around Michael’s sit ski bucket and he was hauled up the mountain with a couple of the guys behind him for direction and support and the others pulling the ropes up and down the mountain. The pulley system was reset 3 times to get him to the very top, which we reached around 5pm.
It was then time for what we had all been waiting for; Michael’s run down Etheridge. Backcountry sit skiing, something I never thought I’d see. But he nailed it, he got a few solid turns in and it looked like so much fun.
I can honestly say this was one of the best days I’ve ever had at the snow. The effort everyone showed was incredible but better then that was everyone’s attitude. Big shout out to everyone who was there. Michael who is just so driven and we have no doubt will keep going until he makes it to the Paralympics. Matt who was the brains behind the operation, from first raising the money for the sit ski to chucking (sometimes literally) Michael over his shoulder, nothing is impossible to Matt. Adrian (Super dad, because of his exceptional organisation of snacks) who was the muscle on the day, never stopped pushing, pulling or carrying all day. Stefan, who generously donated a pair of skis to Michael. Lucas (@lucaswilko) and Boen (@boenferguson)who took their very expensive camera gear out to capture the day. Please make sure you take a minute to watch their film, hopefully gives you a visual of how incredible this day was, check it out here. Here is our clip from the day, no professional videographer but you can get a feel for the day.
I hope this story doesn’t leave you focusing on Michael’s injury but rather on his courage. We are so excited to have Michael on the Rhythm team, he is off for 3 months to Colorado for training this December so no doubt will be back next year to smash it. He will be competing in a couple of races over there so if you want to follow his progress check out his instagram @fot_11.
*Since this has been written Michael has received word that he has been accepted onto the National Development Team for Ski and Snowboard Australia who work with the Paralympics Australia.
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