For a long time it was difficult for Jim Hall to transport his son Eric to his disabled ski lessons at Snowbird ski resort.
Wheelchairs are difficult to maneuver through the snow, particularly the type of soft powder that falls on Utah ski resorts.
But Hall, whose son suffered a brain injury seven years ago during a ski accident, didn't want Eric to miss the ski program, which had been helping so much with his son's recovery.
So Hall called his friend Lonnie Garner, who runs a small fabrication business out of his Layton home. Together the two crafted sled-like runners that could attach to Eric's wheelchair and make it slide over the snow with ease.
"It works really well on flat surfaces and slight inclines," Hall explained. "It even has a slow-down brake and an emergency brake."
The device has been a hit with Eric and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.
Hall's creation was noticed by a SLOC employee who mentioned the device to Turner Madden — a Washington, D.C., attorney hired by SLOC to make sure the organizing committee follows the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Madden fancied the wheelchair sled and asked University of Utah professor Don Bloswick to perfect the item.
Bloswick, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the ergonomic and safety program and the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, was a natural for the job. He and his students specialize in crafting rehabilitation devices.
They've built tricycles for children with cerebral palsy, devices that allow people to use their legs to propel wheelchairs and another contraption that lets wheelchair users go from a seated to standing position without assistance.
Bloswick and three of his engineering students began to fine-tune the wheelchair sled. They created a better method of attaching the chair to the sled and improved a brake that could be activated by the chair's occupant in case of emergency.
"One of our design goals was to keep it as simple as possible and inexpensive because it was our understanding that SLOC wanted to make a lot of these," Bloswick said.
And SLOC does want a lot, Madden said.
With the new designs, Hall and Garner have received a contract from the organizing committee to make 50 of the devices, which consist of two ski-like runners and some metal gears attaching the runners to the chair.
They also have an agreement to make more if SLOC asks, Hall said.
SLOC will use the sleds at all outdoor Olympic venues to help disabled spectators move about. While the wheelchair-bound will need help from an able-bodied person to help push them around, Madden said the sleds are on the cutting edge of ADA compliance.
"I think the self-propelled ones are the next step," he said.
Until those self-propelled sleds arrive, Hall's patent pending sleds are state of the art, and he can produce them for $450 each.
For more information on the sleds call 1-801-782-3486.