The Sheffield Family - Trips to the USA

In April 2006, the Sheffield family set off on a trip to California with their three young children, one of whom has SMA Type 2. It was the first of two amazing holiday, the second in 2007 took them skiing in Whistler, Canada.

We are a family of five. Freddie, who was 8 at the time of the first trip, has SMA Type 2. He has a younger brother and sister (then 6 and 4). A Winnebago (referred to as an RV -­ Recreational Vehicle in the US) seemed to be an ideal method of travel in California, as we could store as much kit and equipment as we wanted. 

We found a great RV company (El Monte RV) who could provide us with a wheelchair-accessible vehicle that we could pick up in LA and drop off a week later in San Francisco. Planning overnight stops and daytime routes was tricky - we enlisted the help of a fantastic tour planning company, Tracks and Trails, who are based in Colorado. Our trip took us inland for 7 days via Death Valley, Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks. After a night at the airport hotel in LA we picked up our RV, stocked up with provisions and headed out on the highway.

The RV itself was huge. Imagine a vehicle the size of a school coach, decked out with beds, comfortable seating, galley kitchen, decent-sized bathroom and masses of storage space. All of us loved it. 

The variety of landscapes and climactic changes from one area to another within the same state was remarkable. The long straight roads passing through rugged desert in Death Valley contrasted hugely with the deep snow and giant pines of Sequoia and the spectacular rocks and waterfalls in Yosemite.

We were sorry to leave our RV in San Francisco as our week had seemed too short. However, we had plans to hire a car (Chrysler Grand Voyager) in San Francisco and motor down the coast to visit friends in San Diego. It was a relief for Tim to drive a normal car again. San Diego was a definite highlight for the children. It has a wonderful climate, and fabulous beaches and restaurants. We also spent a very happy day at Sea World.

On the back of the success of our California trip we felt adventurous enough to take the children skiing to Whistler, Canada, at Easter 2007. Tim and I are fairly experienced skiers and we thought it would be a dream come true to see all three children on the slopes together. 

Whistler came very highly rated as it has a fantastic adaptive ski school; it is predominantly a family resort, it is completely wheelchair-friendly and it has a great range of accessible accommodation within 100 yards of the gondola that takes you up Whistler Mountain. 

There are many levels of adaptive skiing, depending on the person’s abilities. For Freddie, after an assessment by the instructor, the answer was a “sit ski” with two parallel skis fixed under it and a handlebar at the back for his instructor to hold. It takes plenty of skill and strength for the instructor to manoeuvre the sit ski down the mountain with only minimal input from the sit-skiier. 

Freddie whizzed down the mountain at speed,­ Tim and I had to ski fast to keep up. It must have been a very liberating feeling for him. We had countless hot chocolates and plates of chips in the mountain restaurant where a lift took us up to the main dining area. Our fun had only just started though, because for the second half of the holiday all five of us skied together. This was the happiest time; our three children were sharing in the same outdoor sport and all having great fun. Freddie’s instructor helped us all! But it was the patience, expert help and sensitivity of the management at Whistler Adaptive Ski Program that made our holiday. They were, without exception, friendly and welcoming yet somehow professional too.

We came back home with wonderful memories, hoping we would have the chance to return.

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2007 edition of our Inspirations magazine