‘A life-changing experience’: international event for visually, mobility impaired skiers returns to Granby
January 26, 2019
Pairs of skiers will flock to Snow Mountain Ranch next week to experience the crunching of snow-covered trails, the rustling of wildlife and the crisp mountain air as part of a cross country skiing event for skiers with visual and mobility impairments.
Ski for Light, a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching and supporting cross country skiers with visual and mobility impairments, is hosting its annual week-long cross country event at Snow Mountain Ranch from Jan. 27 to Feb. 3. The event pairs skiers from around the world with sighted guides to explore the 90 kilometers of trails at the ranch.
"The motto is making the impossible possible," said Melinda Hollands, the event's publicity and public relations chair. "It lets you know that life is relative and your disability is not what limits you, it's yourself."
This year, 273 people, including 117 differently-abled skiers and 133 guides, have signed up to participate in the week-long event, which consists of ski classes, trivia nights, dances and celebrations, special interest sessions and, of course, plenty of time for skiing. Ultimately, the week culminates in a 10 kilometer race and a five kilometer rally.
For the event's 44th year, it will include a United States Association of Blind Athletes biathlon, which combines cross country skiing and rifle shooting. The biathlon provides auditory laser rifles with headphones to help participants with visual impairments compete.
"They submit beep noises so you can hear how close you are to the target," Hollands explained. "The closer you get to the center (of the target) the pitch goes up and when you think you have the highest pitch you can get, you pull the trigger."
The event is open to skiers age 18 and up, regardless of their skill level. Hollands said the abilities of the participating skiers range from never having cross country skied before to a skiers who have decades of experience.
Guides not only help beginners learn to cross country ski, but also provide companionship and detail the surroundings so skiers with visual impairments can get the full experience.
"My one guide showed me tracks in the snow where there had been a moose and so I got off the trail and knelt down to feel how big they were," Hollands, who is visually-impaired herself, said. "That's stuff that we might miss otherwise."
In preparation for the event, auditory beacons have been placed around Snow Mountain Ranch, along with detailed written directions and a three-dimensional map to help participants move around the ranch. Ski for Light also hired volunteers to care for the guide dogs while their owners ski and explore.
Aside from Snow Mountain Ranch being able to accommodate the event, Hollands said Ski for Light continues to return to the ranch because it provides the most important aspect of any winter sporting event.
"It's one of our favorite places because there's very consistent, beautiful snow and beautiful trails," she said.
Between the snow and the atmosphere, Hollands said what makes the event special is being able to provide skiers with an opportunity they otherwise might not get and it helps to boost their confidence and independence.
"The most popular quote is that it's a life-changing experience," she said. "It's such an indirect benefit that you grow as a person."