Exploring the South Pole, 100 years later

The South Pole trip -- the first of its kind for adaptive athletes -- will celebrate Roald Amundsen's inaugural voyage there 100 years ago. Keoki Flagg

When an adaptive athlete needs someone to create a sit-ski he can push 100 miles across the frozen Antarctic landscape in minus-40-degree temperatures, the first person he calls is Kevin Bramble. And Bramble, a two-time Paralympics gold medalist in downhill skiing and three-time Winter X competitor in Mono Skier X, will respond with, "That just sounds incredibly uncomfortable."

And then he puts his head down and goes to work.

That is just what Bramble, who is probably wearing a pair of flip-flops and board shorts at his home in Cape May Court House, N.J., does. He is an innovator, and his passion is creating technology for adaptive athletes, like his mono-ski prototype used by riders who hit 60-foot jumps at Winter X Games. His latest effort, the KBG Artik Crosscountry Sit Ski, will allow fellow adaptive athletes John Davis, 40, and Grant Korgan, 34, to make history on Jan. 17, 2012, when they "push" themselves to the one of the most inhospitable places on the planet -- the South Pole.

The trip, which will celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the first expedition to reach the South Pole, led then by Norway's Roald Amundsen, will be guided in January by renowned South Pole explorer Doug Stoup and Alaska heli-ski guide Tal Fletcher. Covering 100 miles in two weeks, it is the first of its kind for spinal cord injury athletes. And like Amundsen, who relied on innovation and technology to surmount a harsh environment, Bramble's contribution is key to the trip's success.

"Bramble is one of those rare breeds of people who has a connection to what we do and can get something like this done," said Davis, also a two-time Paralympics skiing gold medalist. "Someone else might need five years or an engineer might laugh at us, where Kevin is just like, 'What do you need and when do you need it?'"

"I made every single piece and part from scratch," said Bramble, who, after drawing it up on paper and researching the material, created the first prototype in less than two months.

The final product, which weighs all of eight pounds, is made of carbon fiber, 7005 aluminum and 6061 aluminum; the same materials used in mountain bikes and race cars -- materials that Bramble made sure would function in Antarctica's extreme conditions.

The ski is also so small that it can be broken down to fit into a carry-on, while still strong enough to pull a sled with 60 pounds of gear. One of its most innovative features is that each ski articulates independently of the other, enabling an athlete to push through a turn and traverse undulating terrain and side hills.

"There is nothing else out there like this," Bramble said. "The sit-skis they use for cross-country in the Paralympics are like milk carts -- they can't turn or set an edge."

Indeed, the "Artik" not only changes the possibilities for adaptive athletes pursuing high-risk expeditions, but it also changes the quality of participation in sports like cross-country skiing and backcountry skiing.

Before the team departs for Antarctica on Jan. 1, Bramble will create a final set of skis from scratch. "We need to have it in our mind that we have the best equipment with us," Davis said. "We want it as light, perfect and bomber as it can be. I have never been to the South Pole; you have never been to the South Pole. It is not like we can come back and do this again next year." The original versions, which retail for $4,000, will be donated to the High Fives Foundation, a nonprofit aiding winter athletes with disabilities.

While Davis and Korgan continue to prepare for their South Pole expedition with training trips to Patagonia this month and the Black Rock Desert in October, Bramble continues to do what he does best -- create opportunities for his fellow adaptive athletes.

His next project, an expedition wheelchair, is similar in concept to the Artik. Lightweight, durable and transportable, it will allow athletes to partake in remote activities such as kayaking and canoeing, changing the realm of possibilities for disabled athletes once again.