Ski for Light, A Thrilling Experience

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Editor's note: You may wonder why this post is going up in August. After all, you may be sweltering! But just thinking about the cool air on your face may help those summer doldrums. At any rate, you need to get in line now if you are going to be able to enjoy the experience of skiing that Mary describes in this post. Skiing slots go fast!

Are You a Winter-Lover

Are you a winter-lover? I used to hate winter, until I learned to cross-country ski. And when I learned, at age 37, I was totally blind. I had been physically active all my life, so when I heard about a program called Ski for Light, where skiers who are blind or visually impaired ski along side sighted guides, I was intrigued.

What is Ski for Light?

You can read all about it on their website, but here’s a little info to whet your appetite for one of the most life-changing vacations you’ll ever experience. Ski for Light is a full week of cross country skiing, for visually and mobility-impaired adults, held in a different location each year. This year, we’ll be in Grandby, Colorado, where the snow is deep and fluffy, the skies are truly blue, and the air is crisp and clean. Sometimes, when you’re skiing through a stand of pines or up to the top of a mountain, it can be so quiet that you can actually hear the snowflakes as they land on your cheeks.

mary and her guide standing on the slopes

How It Works

Each visually impaired skier, or VIP, is paired at the beginning of the week with a guide, who has been chosen to match the VIP skier’s ability and expectations for the week. Each new skier is paired with someone who enjoys teaching and doesn’t mind skiing at a slower pace. Some VIP skiers who have years of experience and plenty of energy are matched with a guide who prefers to ski fast and for longer distances. In other words, each pair agrees on their goals for the week, and there is no pressure to ski the same distance or at the same rate as anybody else. On the last day, there is a 10-k race, 6.2 miles, and also a 5-k rally, for those who wish to ski at a more comfortable speed without the exhilaration of racing.

What Does the Guide Do?

Each VIP skier and guide ski in deeply set tracks on one-way trails over meadows, up and down hills, and through the woods. The trails are wide, and the tracks help keep the blind skiers secure as they glide along. The skier does not hold onto the guide. He skis independently, with verbal directions from his guide. The guide describe the scenery and give important information to his blind companion. He will let the skier know if there is a hill coming soon and whether it’s a downhill or an uphill. He’ll let the skier know if the tracks are turning to the right or left or if there’s a long straightaway, so the skier knows he can really stride out. The blind skier sets the pace. If the skier is just learning the sport, the guide will teach him basic skills, like double-poling, the diagonal stride, herring bone, and snow plow. Most of the pairs of skiers ski for about an hour and a half in the morning, have a hearty hot lunch together with the whole group, and then go back out on the trails for an afternoon ski. Shuttle busses bring skiers and guides back to the hotel at half-hour intervals. Some like to ski all day, and others like to scurry back to get ready for afternoon and evening activities.

What Happens in the Evenings?

Each afternoon, there is a special interest session, which could be about a variety of topics ranging from the joys of tandem cycling to how to give a really good massage to learning how to use your iPhone. The event is usually held where there is a hot tub, which is my favorite after ski activity. After dinner, there is often dancing and socializing with friends. The culmination of the week is an awards banquet, held on Saturday night, following the race.

Who Comes to Ski for Light?

You will meet people of all ages, from 18 to 88, from all over the world. About 250 guides and skiers gather each year to share their love of cross country skiing or to learn to love this vigorous and healthful activity. And we all come to reconnect with friends from previous years and to make new friends.

How Ski for Light Has Enriched My Life

Okay. Learning to ski was thrilling in itself. I love learning new skills, and I discovered that being outside in winter can actually be fun. . But at Ski for Light, for a whole week, I can forget that I’m blind. Many of the first-time guides have never been with a blind person before, let alone over 100 of us, but they quickly learn, not only from us, but also from the experienced guides, that we are people first. They soon understand what help we need and don’t need, and they respect us as adults. They learn how to guide us and make sure we are safe, but they also consider us equals. At Ski for Light, we are given the opportunity to exceed our own self-imposed limitations. In no other place do I feel the joy of freedom of movement and the satisfaction of being as independent as I want. All around me are smiles and hugs and a positive attitude that just won’t quit. In fact, the motto of Ski for Light is "If I can do this, I can do anything."

How to Become a Winter-Lover

Visit Ski for Light and fill out the application. The time to do so is now, because the spots fill up fast and November 1 is the deadline. See you out there on the trail.

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