Brian McKenna Tetraski Express Redefines What's Possible for Adaptive Skiers

On a picture-perfect day Friday at Powder Mountain Resort, crowds gathered to watch what appeared to be a typical race. The entrants, however, were not quite typical of an alpine ski event. "The racers are athletes with complex physical disabilities," said Tanja Kari, director of TRAILS, the University of Utah Health's Global Adaptive Program. It was the 2024 Brian McKenna TetraSki Express, the second renewal of an event that began in 2022. "We have a lot of different folks here today with spinal cord injuries and neuromuscular disease, muscular dystrophy, amputees," said Jeffrey Rosenbluth, spinal cord injury medical director at University of Utah Health's Craig H. Neilsen Rehabilitation Hospital. Kari said the TetraSki, developed in Utah, has created new opportunities to compete on the slopes. "Some of the athletes are using sip and puff to control the ski that they are skiing," she explained. "You basically, sip air in and puff air out through a straw is the command you're going to give to the ski, and the ski listens to you and does what you want it to do." The race was named after someone who helped to test out the TetraSki. "Brian McKenna was our test pilot, and he was out there when the ski was not very good," Rosenbluth said. "Unfortunately, he passed, and we thought it was fitting to name this race after him." Kari said the race had already grown to include competitors from six different states and Canada. She said France and Switzerland were also expected to take part next year with additional qualifying races. Among those on the slopes was Becca Farewell, who was a skydiving instructor prior to an accident. "The weather got weird on a jump 2 1/2 years ago," Farewell said. "(I) got dragged across the ground and landed on my head at the end and broke my C3, C4 vertebrae." Farewell said she had an incredible time skiing with the TetraSki. "What an opportunity," she said. "It just feels like such a gift to be able to do this and be around such an amazing group of people that are also getting to do fun stuff and adventure after an injury and realize that life does not end with an injury, it just changes. And there's still full fun stuff to do and adventures to be had."