From green runs to steep runs: How visually impaired skiers get their turns

There are different levels of visually impaired skiing, but the goal is the same: to get more visually impaired people onto the slopes.

A few weeks ago, Revelstoke Review Report Tyson Rettie and Mark Bentz – Two Blind Skiers Take a Heli-Ski Tour to the Selkirk Mountains with Great Canadian Heli-Skiing for Braille Mountain Initiative to raise funds. The pair skied an area near Rogers Pass in the Selkirk Mountains as part of the Great Canadian Heli-Skiing tenure. Rettie details how the two skiers navigate the challenging terrain and explains what he sees as symbolic of a trip like theirs. Before jumping on a helicopter, it’s critical to understand the adaptive options available to visually impaired skiers that can make skiing easier.

Corinne Risler, Snowbility and Athlete Development Manager for BC Adaptive Snowsports (BCAS), talks about the different ways visually impaired skiers navigate the slopes. Risler talked about how BCAS teaches instruction.

“We teach you how to lead someone in a variety of ways,” Risler said.

Voice guidance is common in adaptive skiing for the visually impaired. Guides will ski in front of visually impaired skiers and provide them with information as they descend. These commands are often just one word, such as “left, right, stop or hold,” Risler said. The guide stays close and may slide backwards in front of the skier.

Voice guidance is the key to keeping skiers comfortably moving on the mountain. Initially, guides will work in low-risk areas, such as beginner slopes. Once the skiers get used to the commands, the guides take them to higher ground.

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In larger terrain, guides must be spread out from the skier, so some technique is needed to aid communication.

“We use motorcycle helmet headsets for voice guidance,” Risler said.

Using the headset, the guide can keep distance from the skiers while giving them directions.

Some visually impaired skiers may have partial vision, so another adjustment a guide can make is to wear a high-visibility vest to make it easier for skiers to spot them.

Rettie’s vision loss is the result of mitochondrial disease.

“My eyesight was declining very quickly,” Letty said.

It took only a few weeks for the disease to affect his right eye and less than a year to affect his left eye.

After years of guiding, mostly in the mechanized industry, Rettie was eager to get back into skiing, but that came with challenges.

“Initially, it was a very slow and stressful process – there was a real lack of confidence and fluidity, and I had to work really hard to build up the confidence level to make sure I didn’t crash the car or hit anything,” Ray said. Dee said.

When Rettie founded the Braille Mountain Initiative in 2020, he wanted to get blind and visually impaired people involved in wild mountain sports.

“The idea is that we want to create an environment where people have the opportunity to gain the necessary skills and experience to continue participating in these sports without the ongoing help of the Braille Hill Initiative,” Retti said.

When Bentz and Rettie go on a trip, they don’t have a guide at all. Traveling like they do isn’t an entry-level expedition, but Rettie says that’s the point.

“It’s something you’re going to see on the horizon as a goal to work towards. I think it’s something that everybody needs. We all need something to work toward,” Rettie said.

Their ski trip was to raise money for the Braille Mountain initiative, which helps fund expeditions to remote areas for the visually impaired. Rettie and Bentz will return to Sorcerer Lodge in mid-April.They are still raising funds for their projects Blind Heli Ski Challengeand all contributions are welcome.

For adaptive skiers at resorts, Risler says the best way to help other skiers is to give them space when they see them.

“Sometimes, if someone is partially sighted and someone is flying past them, they can’t necessarily see them out of the corner of their eye. So, it’s a little bit of a surprise to them,” Risler said.

Whether it’s high up in the Selkirks or at the resort, Risler sums up what BC Adaptive Snowsports and the Braille Mountain Initiative have in common.

“We should always provide opportunities for people with different disabilities to enjoy adaptive snowsports.”

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