Darryl Tait, 28, grew up in Atlin, B.C., and has been snowmobiling since he was four years old. Being afraid or seeing “impossibilities” in a challenge doesn’t fit with his life and he continues to push the boundaries in sport.
His older brother, Curtis, did all the sports growing up in Atlin. “I was always trying to be the better little brother, with the tricks I could do,” said Darryl. His competitive drive lead him to a snowboarding career at the national level in Canada. However, he got more into freestyling, in snowmobiling, and shadowed Ross Mercer and learned the ropes. “Freestyle snowmobiling was a smaller industry and I figured I’d become a pro far faster than in snowboarding, to try and build a career,” said Darryl. “I was talented in many sports, and this was the first opportunity for something big, so I went for it.”
He was invited to the eastern United States to Fremont, New Hampshire, to perform for a free-riding event, where, at age 19, in 2009, he crashed his snowmobile while trying to complete a trick in competition, and broke his body. In describing his injuries, it’s impossible to think anyone could survive that; yet Darryl awoke, but without the use of his legs.
During his recovery, it was tough for this energetic young man to imagine much hope for a “normal” life, let alone a life filled with extreme sports. But, at the time, Curtis was in school studying to be a physiotherapist and gave Darryl inspiration through social media. Darryl remembers two distinctive inspirations: Og de Souza, who has polio in both legs and uses a skateboard to get around; and Aaron Fotheringham, who is an extreme wheelchair athlete.
Being able to see that anything was possible, even while being in a wheelchair, was key to pulling through rehabilitation and pursuing more. “For some people, it comes out in their character … they feel the chair dominates them,” said Darryl. “You need to empower it … [the wheelchair is] an extension of myself and, as such, people see me.”
Learning to adapt in the North wasn’t easy; the Yukon didn’t have the accessibility you can find down south. While trying to navigate everyday tasks, Darryl also wanted to pursue his passion for the “exciting” and sport, so he took up sports like adaptive skiing. A sit ski is an adaptive ski—the skier sits in a bucket seat suspended above a ski that allows them to rip turns using their upper body and outriggers, which are attached to the skier’s hands. Darryl refers to his sit ski as a “souped-up toboggan,” and with sit ski price tags ranging from $10,000, it’s not a cheap sport to get into.
“It is definitely a challenging sport for northern communities. [I’m] figuring out how to do things while finding friends,” he said. “There were no instructors at the time. I was falling every fifteen feet. I had to learn with Mount Sima ‘lifties,’ which was a challenge. There was a lot of trial and error [involved] to ride it independently.”
Mount Sima gained a new chair lift in 2011 that has the ability to take a sit ski in most newer lifts and designs.
“I’ve known Darryl forever,” said Sam Oettli, operations manager at Sima. “He came to the hill one day looking to get a sit ski and make sure it fits and works at Sima. [In time] he got better at loading, with practice, and we all get better and better as time goes on.”
Darryl’s sit ski is now part of Sima’s new lift operations procedures, part of the training for new lift operators and is integrated into lift evacuation procedures. However, as Darryl has the only sit ski in the Yukon, Mount Sima relies on him to show up for staff to learn and practise.
“Sit skis are custom, and currently Sima only deals with one [Darryl’s], but we had an opportunity, when the Juneau adaptive ski team came, to see and practise with other sit skis,” said Oettli. “We’re hoping that in pre-season training we could have teams here. I would like to see more of it in the future. If there was more adaptive skiing, it would be great. We want to make Sima more accessible for everyone; we are proud to be accommodating and customizable.”
But there is always room for improvement, and the two men are working together to look at improving Mount Sima’s accessibility. Technology is also getting better.
When asked how he feels now about being a social media inspiration, himself, Darryl replies modestly, “I don’t think I’m an inspiration; I’m just doing my thing. [I’m] living the way that helps keep me sane while encouraging and educating others to keep thriving at what they’re passionate about.”
For more information on adaptive skiing, visit Canadian Adaptive Snowsports at www.AdaptiveSnowSports.ca. And be sure to visit Mount Sima at www.MountSima.com to learn about ongoing opportunities.
(Ed. Note: Mt. Sima’s opening day is November 30. Since print, it has been delayed until December 7.)