Skiing is a full on all action sport for anyone to get involved with but imagine hurtling down the slopes if you can’t see where you are going. It sounds like a bit of a challenge doesn’t it? It is indeed a challenge but one an increasing number of blind and visually impaired adventurers are taking on with enthusiasm and many resorts are reacting to the demand by offering instruction and guides specifically for the blind.
Skiing is in fact an excellent sport for the blind and visually impaired to participate in as it affords a marvellous opportunity to engage in a high speed activity under their own control. Skiing is liberating, excellent for fitness and gives a renewed feeling of confidence that helps people move on and accept other challenges in their lives. Furthermore it is something the blind can enjoy alongside family and friends without the need for specialist equipment. So the big question is how do they do it?
Becoming a Skier
New visually impaired skiers need to learn the technicalities of the sport in much the same way as everyone else. The adventure starts with a specialist instructor introducing the beginner to all of the equipment using both verbal instruction and touch. The skier then learns to stand on the skis and gain a sense of balance on a flat surface before getting used to their edges and putting pressure on the skis. Once they feel confident is time to move onto the slopes to start skiing and getting the hang of turns, stopping and picking themselves up after a fall, all alongside the instructor. It is particularly important to get used to mounting and disembarking the lifts. Once the skier has mastered the technicalities they can hit the slopes and taste the excitement and they do this with the help of a sighted guide.
Blind skiers always need a sighted guide to take on the slopes with them. Guides need to be good skiers themselves and trained to perform the role but it is something which friends and family can learn to do. Blind skiers need to start off with the instruction and guides offered by specialist organisations and ski schools but if they are to take regular skiing trips it is a good idea to get a friend or relative to train as a ski buddy. Many resorts now offer discounted or free lift passes to ski buddies for the disabled so taking someone down the slopes with you does not cost any extra. The guides can ski behind or in front of their visually impaired partner where the piste is wide and free of obstacles but must ski in front on more challenging runs. The blind navigate via audible commands and also by sensing the movements of their guide if they have some degree of vision. Both the skier and their buddies should wear vests explaining who they are.
If you are inspired to get skiing or to encourage a friend or relative to try the sport there are several organisations worldwide who can help you get things started including the American Blind Skiing Foundation, the International Blind Sport Federation and Ski 2 Freedom. These all offer specialist instruction from qualified tutors, guides, organised trips and all the information you need to get started in the sport. They are also always looking for volunteers to become ski buddies if you think you would like to help. Their websites also have a wealth of information regarding the growing number of ski resorts worldwide who offer facilities, instruction and equipment for disabled skiers. So pick up your skis, put on that Dare2b ski jacket and get going! If you want to understand what is possible you only have to look at the achievements of the Paralympic skiers whose exploits are truly astounding!
Photo by Nico Aguilera