“Trust is like blood pressure. It’s silent, vital to good health, and if abused it can be deadly” Frank Sonnenberg, author of Follow your conscience…
“Let go, Lisa” calls the ski patrol from below the chair lift.
I knew this was coming and still my heart did a sudden skip and a dance. I slowly turned my body to sit sideways in the chair to hold onto the back edge, coached and encouraged by Veronica. Then I was perched precariously on the edge of the chair, the T-bar held in one hand and the seat just touching my right leg. I knew the next push would sit me into the evacuation equipment and dangle me far above the ground. I had the advantage of being with a very good friend and ski guide Veronica whom I feel 100% confident with. I can only imagine this request to let go should I have been with someone I did not know or trust. Also imagine if I were on a chair with people who were themselves freaked by a blind skier and guide. I would then be dealing next to their unsettled energy at a time when I need stillness and focus.
Each year I volunteer for our local ski patrol department to practice lift evacuation with our adaptive sports program. I am one of several instructors and students who volunteer our time.
Prior to uploading on the chairlift we all meet. I like to tell the newly arrived patrollers to treat people who are blind and visually impaired as they would anyone else. Do the assessment on their ability to cope in regards to age, severity of disability and who they are on the chair with. Blindness is a disability of familiarity. Being in a familiar environment is a totally different experience than being in an unfamiliar one. So I volunteer for the ski patrol and myself. Call us volunteers selfish…I have skied for 50 years and had no incidents—touch wood—but you never know.
One thing I learned which I did not expect is that being lowered from the chair to the snow was smooth. I had no idea that I was moving. When I felt the ski patrol touch my leg and say “you are almost landed” I jumped. I thought I would have a sense of movement but no. I don’t know if this is true for all blind and VI folks but it is something to be aware of.
Things to remember:
Blind people are as varied as able-bodied people; comfort, reactivity, emotions…
Use our name: “Lisa…” then we know you are speaking directly to us. In an emergency situation we are listening to everything and interpreting every noise and movement we hear. If the Blind or VI person is so nervous they are not hearing you, contract with their guide to communicate directly with them on the chair.
When giving directions, be specific “I need you to move to the right, left, forward or back…” Phrases such as “over here” and “over there” mean little to the blind and VI.
Don’t leave the blind or VI person alone on the ground after they are lowered from the chair. Stay in physical contact until a ground person is identified. The evacuation experience may shake them and their usual skill sets in orientation and mobility may be less than you have known them to have.
Here is a video talk down we did last year. The Sun Peaks Ski Patrol staff were fantastic and patient with their engagement and evacuation with every volunteer I heard them with. Congrats!!! Thank you Sun Peaks Ski Patrol for your dedication in keeping us safe on the mountain!!!