This year we have received amazing snow at Sun Peaks. Fresh powder week after week. It’s hard to take a day off. This season I am working with Neil Connors as my instructor. I am guided again by Veronica Connors and tail gunner Lana Degaust. This consistency has allowed me to focus on my lessons right out of the gate. There is no settling-in period to learn a new guide’s voice intonations, develop a shared language communication and trust or get used to a new tail gunner’s style. I would not have thought about the absolute value of this consistent approach until I experienced it.
Well, now to instructor Neil. He is a gifted observer and teacher. My tips to date are:
- smile and have fun,
- keep wrists open, this relaxes my entire body and stance,
- use ankle and knee joints for movement—ski as if in a tunnel with my head on a constant plane,
- trust my own ability, stay on the flat ski transition longer,
- carve a clean arc and let the ski do the work.
Confidence is so important to all of our abilities to perform and be active. We need to trust our own abilities. I tend to feel anxious with the quick speed pick up when running a flat ski, but Neil has taught me that I am actually in more control when weighting and un-weighting correctly.
One day when I was practicing with one of my guides, Kirk, we resorted to the beeper in front as the run we were skiing—Headwalls—suddenly got busy as soon as we crested the top. Kirk’s call was to use the beeper so I have a target to ski to. I prefer the headsets. This difference of opinion is typical of a trusting relationship—the type required for blind skiing. My approach is that a happy confident guide makes for a happy confident skier. Both methods are safe, reliable ways down the mountain. I feel it is my responsibility to have confidence in my skiing and remain flexible to different types of guiding. A sure thing is that an unhappy or uncomfortable guide means a bad ski day for us both.
Veronica, Neil, Lana and I have done the Headwalls on many occasions; in the triangle method of guide behind on head sets, tail gunner to left of me and tail gunner to right of me. Essentially the blind skier is in a triangulated cocoon. It’s a great feeling.
This year I have been blessed with new and old trusted guides once again. Each relationship is so unique and gives me a different experience on the hill. A big thank-you and hug of appreciation for their trust in me goes out to Robert Zadra, Melanie Pouliott , Mike Hall, Thor Grundell, Myrna Hastings, Kirk McMillan, Jim Alix, Lana Degaust and of course Veronica Connors. A special thank you and shout out to the many tail gunners who have kept me safe all year.
Sun Peaks hosted 3 out-of-area blind skiers this year: my brother and 1984 men’s downhill gold medalist Mark Bentz, Vivianne Foret, an ex-paralympic downhill blind skier and Donovan Tildsely, an advanced recreational downhill skier. ASSP was able to provide guiding to all these visitors who are advanced skiers and happen to be Blind or Visually Impaired. Hats off to Adaptive Sports at Sun Peaks for their commitment and time devoted to developing guide skiers for the blind. I took my Canadian Association of Disabled Skiing Level 1 instructor’s course under our two extremely competent course instructors: Veronica Connors and Dick Taylor. I am the only Blind skier in Canada to achieve this status. Through ASSP we have graduated a sit skier who now instructs, a leg amp who now instructs and an arm amp who also teaches in our program. This of course is as well as the 45 able-bodied instructors who are amazing to work with. Hats off to ASSP for having the “vision” and flexibility to adapt their teaching styles to include us. Sun Peaks shines for blind skiing.