Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

From Canes to Ski Poles: Winter Sports for People with Vision Loss

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

While people with disabilities will be featured next week in the Australian Open, winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding now rule the roost here in the Northern Hemisphere. Fortunately, those with vision loss have a plethora of options for learning at a variety of ski resorts across the country. For those who are visually impaired, lessons usually involve one or sometimes more coaches with one learner. The coaches, who typically must complete a certification such as that offered by the Professional Ski Instructors of America and Association of Snowboard Instructors (PSIA-ASI), give instructions and physical feedback, guide the learner through turns with a system of verbal cues, and travel backwards in front of the student to judge form and ensure they detect obstacles in time to give a warning. An additional person, known as a shadow, often accompanies to assist with loading and obstacle detection, and can be a staff member or a parent, family member, or friend of the learner. Many programs are run by volunteers, in which case the payment for lessons, which is often discounted, goes to the resort. Some lists of programs are available, such as this one listing several across the U.S. and Canada and this one dealing with New York programs. Others, not listed in the links above, include STRIDE Adaptive Sports in Massachusetts and New York, Summit Adaptive Sports in Connecticut, Adaptive Adventures in the Midwest, and Jack Frost Big Boulder Resort in Pennsylvania. These are just a few of the programs available, as the number of adaptive programs of various types is quite large and is growing. Programs in any individual state can easily be found by doing a Google search. This trend is gratifying to me, as I’ve had personal experience with both STRIDE and Summit, as well as two programs in Vermont which can be found in the lists above, Vermont Adaptive and Smuggler’s Notch.