Skiing for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Blind Skiers

A blind skier and his guide

Many people who are blind or have low vision continue to enjoy the sport of skiing:

  • According to the International Blind Sports Association, "Alpine (downhill) skiing is one of the rare opportunities available that allows the blind individual to move freely at speed through time and space. It provides the opportunity to embrace and commune with the primal force of gravity, thus experiencing the sheer exhilaration of controlled mass in motion, in a physically independent setting."
  • You can also try cross-country skiing. Cross-country skiing is equally challenging; the primary difference between cross-country and downhill skiing is that cross-country generally occurs on smaller slopes and hills than does downhill.
  • Use a "safety skier guide." The guide is responsible for describing the surroundings, choosing the line of descent, and providing verbal instructions to the skier who is blind or has low vision.

There are two primary ways to orient and guide skiers who are blind or have low vision:

  • The guide remains behind the skier, orienting the skier with verbal descriptions and instructions. This system requires wide slopes with few obstacles.
  • The guide precedes the skier and provides orientation through verbal instructions as the skier follows the outline of the guide's body and movements. This system requires fewer precise instructions, since the skier primarily follows the voice and movements of the guide.
  • A lightweight, portable amplification system, such as the Amplivox PA System, can help the guide and skier remain in close communication.

In both cases, it is important that the distance between the skier and the guide be kept to a minimum. It is also important that the skier and his or her guide wear vests that identify them as a blind skier and guide, respectively. This prevents other skiers from attempting to ski between them.

Other hints for skiers who are blind or have low vision include:

  • For both cross-country and downhill skiing, enroll in a "learn to ski" clinic for beginners or for persons returning to the sport with a vision impairment.
  • Use properly fitted ski equipment and clothing. Many ski resorts or clinics offer equipment for rent.
  • Ask your eye doctor about lenses or goggles that can help reduce glare when skiing. Lenses can be tinted in a range of colors to decrease various wavelengths of light that can cause glare.
  • For more information about tinted goggles, absorptive lenses, and other types of low vision devices and training, see What Is a Low Vision Examination?, Low Vision Optical Devices, and Vision Rehabilitation Services.
  • Learn more about Brooke Sexton in this YouTube video. Brooke is a blind skier at Snowbird in Utah.

Resources for Adapted Skiing

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