As the snow and ice of winter settle in over the northern part of the US, many folks dream of sun, sand and surf and head for the southern beaches. It’s the way of the snowbird. On the other hand, just as many folks pray for snow and head for the hills as soon as the ski areas open. But are winter skiing vacations really an option for wheelchair users? Gladly, they are.

Thanks to adaptive equipment and new techniques, just about anybody can learn to ski. And although you don’t have to be an avid skier to enjoy a winter skiing holiday, it helps to know about the adaptive techniques, equipment, and resources available before you hit the slopes. So here’s a quick rundown of what you can expect to find at adaptive ski schools across the US.

The good news is, there are a lot of options, no matter what your ability. Skiers who can stand up can use standard snow skis and a set of outriggers. The outriggers, which are used in place of ski poles, are mini-skis attached to a pair of adapted forearm crutches. They help with balance and control and are ideal for people with lower-limb weakness.

Skiers who use one ski and two outriggers are called three-track skiers, whereas those who use two skis and two outriggers are called four-track skiers. The “tracks” refer to the number of ski marks left in the snow by the skier. Four-track skiers may also use a ski bra, a small tube attached to the tip of each ski, which prevents the skis from crossing. Four-track skiing is best suited for people who lack balance or have weakness in their limbs, whereas three-track skiing is a good choice for many amputees.

Those skiers who cannot stand up can use either a mono-ski or a bi-ski. A mono-ski works best for skiers who have a low-level spinal cord injury or good upper-body strength. It consists of a molded seat (bucket) mounted to a frame above a single ski. A shock absorber links the frame to the ski, and the skier uses two outriggers for balance and turning. Mono-skiers can use the chair lift with minimal assistance, as the bucket of the mono-ski raises when a lock is released. The chair lift comes up behind the skier and slides under the bucket.

People with higher-level spinal cord injuries or those with limited movement are better suited to the bi-ski. The bi-ski is a fiberglass shell mounted on two independently angulating skis. There is a handle or “power bar” inside that allows the skier to steer and two fixed outriggers near the base that give the bi-ski more stability. The bi-ski is usually tethered by a ski instructor, who is attached to the back of the bi-ski by a nylon strap.

So how do you know what equipment is right for you? Well, that’s the great thing about it; you don’t have to make that decision. Just find an adaptive ski school and talk with the employees about your access needs. They have a wide variety of equipment and their technicians are excellent at adapting and tweaking equipment. In truth, no two skiers are alike and adaptations are customized depending on specific access needs. Some adaptive ski schools charge a minimal fee for lessons and ski rental, whereas others are free. It’s a very affordable way to get a good introduction to the sport, and, if you like it, you can always purchase you own equipment later.

There are a good number of adaptive ski schools across the US. You can also check with your local CIL or other disability-related organization, as they may have a handle on some good local resources.

If downhill skiing isn’t your cup of tea, then consider cross-country skiing. It’s great exercise for both stand-up and sit-down skiers, and it can be adapted for a wide range of disabilities. It gets you “away from the maddening crowds” and, depending on your luck and location, allows for an up-close-and-personal glimpse of the local wildlife. Remember to pack your binoculars, as you never know what you will see.

Participants who can stand up use traditional cross-country skiing equipment: long narrow skis with bindings that attach to the toe of the boot. Skiers who can’t stand up, can’t walk, or have problems maintaining their balance use a sit-ski. Sit-skiers propel themselves with shortened ski poles in this adapted sled-like device.

Not all resorts or adaptive ski programs offer cross-country skiing, so do your research to find one that suits your needs. Some areas are just more conducive to cross-country skiing than others.

No matter what your skiing preference or ability, it’s still possible to have a fun and active skiing holiday. So don’t be afraid to hit the slopes this winter.