“There is no such thing as fear itself. There are only fearful thoughts and avoidance behaviours.” —Dr. Wayne Dyers
“On the other side of fear is freedom” — anonymous
Each year I take ski lessons. There is so much to learn, and the structure of a lesson ensures I am tweaking my technique and learning skills to take my skiing forward. Because truly, until a few runs are under my belt and that freedom feeling flows in my blood, a little voice whispers, “How is it going to go this year?” Great! I coach myself, breathing in confidence and courage while exhaling doubt and fear.
All ASSP lessons are student-centered and goal-oriented. I focus my lessons on maintenance of my advanced level of skiing and as a vehicle to do this. I wanted to challenge myself by skiing powder and off-piece. I am a strong technical skier but I’m Blind, the blindness plays a big role in going off the predictable terrain of the groomers. My team and I agreed this would be a great goal for us all. I had not skied off-piece or powder since I was able to see about 10 times more than I do now.
We started off with little off-piece areas on Broadway. After a few tries at what Mike was going to describe to me, we decided that once I knew I was in the broken-up stuff, the best was for my guide to say as little as possible. This level of blind skiing is trial and error. There are no rules. We talk a lot as a team, about what I am feeling and what they are seeing, and then we make a plan and go forward. It’s an amazing demonstration of cooperative teamwork. We found that if there was too much information, I was not feeling my skiing and the fluidity required for this type of terrain. I was listening and then reacting.
My guide kept me aware of where I was in regards to the trees for example, so If I had to suddenly adjust I knew what side I had room on. Mike let me know when the bumps or terrain were going to change significantly so I could adjust my stance and balance. Other than that he encouraged me to feel the hill, ski in my feet and be aware of athletic positioning. We did this until I did not get thrown around by bumps, trippy snow, death cookies, pre-tracked areas…. I found myself having to be coached into feeling the correct position. This re-connection and balance has a very visual piece. We look around and then relative to what we see we adjust our bodies. As the last bits of my vision deteriorate, I am having to learn new ways of knowing I am back in the correct position. I am becoming acutely aware of my hips, knees, ankles, back, shoulders and head and how they are stacked on each other as I move through space and terrain.
Yoga is a great training ground for learning and experiencing changing positions in space and re-balancing. Hiking and paddle boarding are two sports I enjoy and find great cross-training in the off season. Yoga on a paddle board is an incredibly valuable place to challenge balance, and if all goes south I simply get a swim in the lake.
Each week we practiced increasingly unpredictable terrain. It’s amazing recreationally and, in a lesson. I found this fun as long as I was relaxed and fluid. As soon as I stiffened up I was frustrated by being thrown all over the place. Some days I wanted constant information about the terrain as this quelled my anxiety. But as I relaxed into my body and felt the hill, my guide pulled back on what they said to me. Our practice was with the goal of taking the developing skill set into powder.
Well the night before my next lesson the sky opened and we received 30 cm of powder! No time like the present. Got to take the terrain when you can get it. Wow! This was it. The day!
We traversed over to lower Chute, a steep run which Neil, my instructor, thought would be good for momentum. Trevor was tail gunning and made sure no one was coming from behind. Mike coached me into the middle of the run and then we stopped. He described the field of sparkling fresh powder. I could see the white and his description filled in the detailed beauty of what was in front of us. I was excited. We turned our skis downhill and were off. It was amazing. So quiet and smooth. Like floating, effortless. I expected to fall as I had been told when you first start powder skiing, balance may be an issue; and with my blindness I was realistic. There were no falls, I was in a different zone. It was Mike and I, moving as one, hovering on top of this playground as we descended. I was hooked.
We had incredible snow this year. The night before another lesson we got another 30 cm dump of powder. This time we headed for 5th Avenue, another steep off-canted run; lots of challenge for us all. At the end of my lesson we headed back to Chute for our last run out. By now, fog had rolled in, lots of fog. You guessed it; we were suddenly all in the same boat. I was on it. Stoked to do it again. For once I had the advantage. Turns out my team really likes to see when they ski –go figure! It was my turn to hear trepidation and uncertainty in their voices. A rare occasion as my team are incredibly confident good skiers.
Mike figured he could see just enough to pick out the sides of the run and knew this run well enough to keep me centered and safe. Safety is first, and blind skiing is a team sport so we make these types of decisions together. But the other two really were not sure. I laughed and encouraged them to ski in their feet, feel the hill-angulation, stay over skis, use all joints. Down we came. Me in front and three great male skiers trailing behind.
Later I was in the bathroom. A woman in the next stall knocked on the wall.
“Are you guys making a movie?”
“A movie?” I questioned
“Aren’t you the one I saw skiing with that blind skier vest today”
“Why were you skiing in front of those guys in those conditions on that run?”
I giggled and understood
“No movie; it’s true, I am really blind.”
She gasped “You are kidding!”
“Sadly no. I am a blind skier and in today’s conditions with fog I am the best one to lead. I am used to skiing without seeing more than some whiteness.”
We chatted over the sinks as she watched me feel around for the faucets and later paper towel.
I always take the time to talk to people who are curious about what we do. It’s an opportunity for a change of perspective in how they view people with disabilities and our abilities. In 2018 it’s true that people see the disability still first. The ASSP program is filled with positive, like-minded people who love the freedom of skiing. The more we can get this word out, the more people hear and may embrace the opportunity.
Thanks to all the volunteer instructors who give their time so we can experience the mountain and the freedom on the hills. Thanks team to another great year!
A special thank you to Mike and Melanie, Guides extraordinaire in the time and commitment they give to me and my skiing. At this point my skiing ability is centered on confidence in myself and my guide. These two human beings are special and infuse me with a belief in myself and in our team that we become connected in energy and descend the mountain as one. There are no words…… yet so much gratitude.