It is such a privilege to work with these folks. Without them, those of us who are blind and visually impaired would not have access to the joy and freedom of skiing.
The Canadian Association of Disabled Skiers (CADS) has developed standards of knowledge and practice which we use to structure our training. Canadian Ski Instructors’ Alliance (CSIA) provides the technical references regarding ski progression and advancement consistent with all skiers. We adapt the teaching methods to accommodate the various disabilities we work with through Adaptive Sports.
This session is about blindness and visual impairment. So for example when demonstrating a body position or a skiing skill we must be creative in getting this information across to our students depending on two things: 1. Level of vision and 2. Experience of skiing. We use hands to emulate the angle and movement of skis through a ski arch, snow plow, parallel etc. We also use hands and body position to explain angles, edging throughout the turn. These skills vary in importance depending on the slope of the hill, the terrain choice and the level of skier. So it is always fun and challenging to find out what language and physical touch works for who and when.
Our program works with skiers who are absolute beginners. This year we have a young girl from Egypt who has never felt snow. She has been totally blind since birth and is an active bright woman in university. So it is hands on, literally, from the snow to the ski boots and poles. Then the challenge of describing a ski hill and run. The other end of the spectrum is a couple of us here who have lost our vision and once skied independently. Through the teamwork of guides and adaptive sports knowledge we have advanced with our teams to ski bumps, powder and everything our hearts desire. This level of skiing is for me like it is for all skiers. A practised skill which needs revisiting with a competent Instructor/coach/guide who can watch and let me know what I am forgetting to do if the smoothness of my style becomes compromised.
Those of us who are advanced skiers, ski with 2-way headsets, first developed for motorcyclists. The guide is behind and the language is simple: “You are centered (on the fall line), good to go.” “The run falls away to the left, 3 count turns right and 1 left” and the guide adjusts this as the fall-away changes throughout the run. When passing obstacles on the run we often use tight turns, 1-counts till we are by and then centered and wide open. Language is something you as guides and skiers will develop together. “STOP” is the only non negotiable word. All blind and visually impaired skiers I know can stop on a dime even at speed.
Go out there and enjoy the team experience of skiing with blind and visually impaired skiers. For both parties this takes trust, guts and bravery to name a few emotions. The reward is the energetic connection of the team and the adrenalin rush of a great run together. We rocked it!!!! The smiles and hugs say it all to the passing skiers who may watch us go down the mountain.
Thank you to all who give their time and effort to getting us out and on the mountain. The mountain is a magical place of freedom and healing.