Back On The Slopes!

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Back on the slopes, Season 5, after a ten year break. Happy to report that my 10 week lesson set through ASSP (Adaptive Sports Sun Peaks) last year has stood me in good stead. The first few days of the season were beautiful snow with fog. The guides had trouble seeing but for me fog doesn’t matter anymore, I just see white anyway. The best thing about fog and flat light is that most people stay home. Then we have our own private mountain for those guides adventurous to enough to judge the pitch of the mountain by seeing me in front. Not for the faint of heart, I’m sure!!! Now, on a clear day, I can see the blue sky and definitely see the dark shadows, call them trees, cast along the sides of the runs. These days I get my guides to remind me that the shadow fingers are only shadows. My brain wants me to react as if it’s danger. The verbal communication settles the mind effortlessly.

I started the year off with the correct stance and balance. I was so impressed that the instruction had stuck in my head and muscle memory so I did not have to start from the ‘back seat position’ again this year. My last year’s lesson team of: Joanne O’Bryan (instructor), Veronica Connors (guide) and Lana Degaust (tail gunner) were with me for 2 hours once a week for 10 weeks. It really paid off for me. I have spent years skiing in the ‘back seat’ nervous to lean forward far enough. But…what an incredible difference my stance has made to meet confidence and balance in a variety of conditions and on a variety of runs. The familiarity with the terrain also allows me to have a mental picture of the run before I begin my descent. Of course, the guide gives me the once over on what they see that day and what stands out for them visually. Then they decide our approach and I proceed.

Great ski guides and tail-gunners!
Great ski guides and tail-gunners! CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO PLAY A VIDEO AND TURN ON YOUR SOUND

The Adaptive Sports program at Sun Peaks is fabulous. The program is gifted with talented volunteers who are constantly upgrading skiing and teaching skills to facilitate access for all disabilities to the mountain. We especially excel in VI guiding and sit ski training.

Last year we skied most the year with a beeper and head sets. I followed the beeper as a target. This year I prefer to ski in front of my guide on a 2-way Bluetooth motorcycle headset. They are clear and can be worn in wind and ice conditions with little effect on our ability to communicate effectively. For a blind or visually impaired skier, this opens up the window on the times and conditions that can be skied. On an icy day, for example, the beeper is difficult if not impossible to hear over the scraping of the skis. On windy days the gusts can pick up the sound and throw it around creating a safety concern with my direction-finding.

I love to ski into the ‘white’ on my own—knowing a trusted and competent Guide is behind. It is FREEDOM. Just moving and reacting to the mountain as I descend. It’s magic. A University student is making a short video on blind skiing so I will post it in a future blog.

Highlights of runs last year included Headwalls, The Chief, Sting, Broadway (all black diamond runs) and Exhibition (a blue.) We also ran three works shops on VI (visually impaired) guiding with great feedback and the request for more.

Last season, I was involved in two CADS training sessions, assisting Veronica Connors and Dick Taylor with the indoor VI session and the on-snow orientation and demonstration of guiding and tail gunner techniques. We’ve got a couple of great potential guides for the young VI students in our adaptive ski program at Sun Peaks. How exciting! Read the next blog for this year’s adventures in instruction and tweaking blind skiing techniques. It’s a balance and a lot of hands-on explanations from my instructors, as “do it this way” accompanied by a body position means little to me. However, when I feel my instructor’s position I can replicate it. Then hands on hips, knees or whatever, the instructor moves me as I would move skiing. I also think about being in a tunnel. Moving knees and ankle joints instead of going up and down. It’s technical and creative problem solving on the fly. Lots of fun and potential. Read my next blog for more blind skiing.