More hospitals are using a device invented in Steamboat Springs to help people with disabilities learn how to ski

Steve Harrison, left, and Wes Dearborn pose with an early model of their sit ski simulator in Steamboat Springs. The device allows people with disablities to practice sit skiing before they hit the slopes.
Scott Franz

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Wes Dearborn dreams of someday putting a camper on the back of his work truck and driving around the country with the machine he invented to help people with disabilities learn to ski.

The Routt County resident would travel to hospitals treating patients with spinal cord injuries and other places where the machine could give others some hope.

“When I first built the Sit Ski Simulator, I thought I was just trying to teach skiing,” Dearborn said Tuesday. “The reality is I’m trying to save lives.”

Dearborn noted the high suicide rate amongst veterans, including those who come home from war with permanent injuries.

His machine has helped skiers who don’t have the use of their legs learn the basics of sit-skiing from the comfort of a chair off the slopes.

“These guys get really excited about their monoskiing,” Dearborn said. “It gives them something worth living for and excited about.”

The videos on Dearborn’s cellphone show the joy the machine can bring.

In one frame, Gene Gamber, an adaptive ski coach in Breckenridge, is grinning while testing it out.

Dearborn also saves text messages from those he has helped learn to ski.

Dearborn’s invention started out as a blueprint on a napkin at Steamboat’s Mahogany Ridge bar in 2015.

He was inspired to create it after witnessing how difficult it was to learn how to monoski.

Dearborn then called his water skiing buddy, Steve Harrison, to help create the device.

The first prototype was built in Harrison’s garage in Steamboat in 2012.

An updated version went to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

This year, Dearborn has partnered with Enabling Technologies in Denver to manufacture five Sit Ski Simulators. And there are now six in use around the country.

The Veterans Affairs Hospital in San Antonio, Texas, recently ordered one, and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor ordered a second one.

Dearborn, who has been promoting the simulator at ski events in addition to working in the construction industry in Routt County, is now looking for an investor to bring the simulator to more places around the country.

The inventor acknowledged he faces an uphill climb to get to achieve his dream.

“It’s not ketchup or mustard and it’s not going to be in every home,” Dearborn said of his invention. “It’s a special market that I’m targeting, and it’s not that big.”

Dearborn hopes he can continue to make his machine even more beneficial.

With the arrival of virtual reality devices, he thinks adaptive skiers could soon wear goggles and see simulated slopes move with the motion of the simulator.

“It’s a passion,” Dearborn said of his work on the simulator. “It’s just something I’d really like to do, That’s where it would be nice to get some funding behind me so I can keep working on it.”

Learn more about the Sit Ski Simulator here.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10.

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