‘It’s Cool To Be Different’ - How Snowsports Can Help Win The Mental Health Battle


Mental health and snowsports. Snowsports….and mental health?

Yup, we get it - it’s not an obvious connection.

But if you know anything about The Happy Place Project, you’ll know that’s EXACTLY what we’re about - THPP was founded by Ceilidh Dickson, Director at AWOL Snowsports, after realising she wanted to make a difference to the lives of young people with mental health issues. Having seen the terrible effects of bullying on a close friend’s son, she had a brainwave: The Happy Place Project.

However, today we want to focus a little more on how snowsports themselves rather than the creative aspect of The Happy Place Project - can help young people in their fight to stay positive, confident and mentally well, whatever challenges they might be facing.

As such we want to tell you about Snowbility, in which THPP is one of their most fervent supporters. Their founder, Richard Fetherston, created Snowbility in 2011 in order to introduce as many people as possible - 10,000 and counting to date - to the benefits of skiing and snowboarding.

But in order to receive coaching from Snowbility, you need to be a certain type of person - in short, someone facing physical, psychological and/or mental health issues, including learning disabilities, autism, dyspraxia and deafness. Whatever your age, level of snowsport experience or complexity of needs, Snowbility is committed to getting you onto the slopes, feeling included, respected, valued and experiencing a sense of achievement.

Of course, the physical benefits of skiing or snowboarding are obvious, but Snowbility takes an integrated approach that helps develop tutees holistically. Clients leave a Snowbility session session feeling tired, yes - achy, perhaps - but their experienced, dedicated team goes further, focusing on social interaction, confidence, self-esteem and motivation depending on the individual’s needs. They offer so much more than a ski lesson: fitness, personal development, listening skills plus a BIG dose of adventure.

We are all different in our own way, each person's quirks will vary to another person. Snowbility have developed a few phrases which flip stigmatisation on its head, championing “It’s Cool To Be Different” and “Be Your Own Hero”. Just because we aren’t the same as each other, doesn’t mean that being different is weird or wrong, it means we are cool and interesting. Just remember to be yourself and be your own hero always.

And if you’re still feeling dubious about the positive effects snowsports can have on mental health, reading the testimonials from young people, families and carers who’ve benefited from the programmes will end scepticism in a heartbeat.

“My skiing experience has made me realise I’m not rubbish,” says Sonny. “I felt happy, proud and, most importantly, I felt I was the same as them,” he adds. Feeling accepted seems to be a recurring theme: “He’s the same as everyone else on the slopes,” says George’s mum. “He’s a skier.” Helen, James’ primary carer, sees a perceptible difference in her son: “The improvements to his verbal and communication skills and his ability to tolerate others has made a real difference.” Powerful, heartwarming stuff, we think you’ll agree.

But of course, the Snowbility magic doesn’t happen without the support of talented instructors and volunteers willing to dedicate their time and energies to this excellent cause. Feel you have something to offer? Head over to their website to find out how you can get involved with the Snowbility Family.

Ceilidh Dickson