Skiing for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
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 systems are available to 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.
Five 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.
Tips for Cross-Country Skiing with Visual Impairment
Section contributed by Tara Annis
Choices of Trails
The trails offer different terrains and more variety than downhill skiing. The sport also allows skiers to choose flat trail skiing or hillier terrain, making it possible for people with different fitness levels and degrees of expertise to participate.
Skiiers should wear goggles or sunglasses and a hat to block the glare. The glare comes both from above and below the skier.
Talking GPS devices can map the trail. They can be programmed to give specific directions such as “sharp turn.”
Having a Good Guide
Having a good guide is critical. Since time is short, guides should offer descriptive but very pointed information. For example: “sharp turn ahead to right” or “steep hill” or “large object directly ahead.” Guides also need to wear brightly colored clothing to stand out against the snow and use an MP3 player or wear a bell so that they can be heard and followed.
Guide Services and Organizations
Many local ski slopes offer guide service now and some agencies for the blind are also offering ski outings. So check ahead.
Resources for Adapted Skiing
- American Blind Skiing Foundation: Educational skiing programs for blind or visually impaired people
- Foresight Ski Guides, Inc.: Cross-country skiing for blind, visually impaired, and mobility-impaired people and their guides
- Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation: The largest year-round adaptive recreation program in the state of Maine for adults and children with physical disabilities.
- Ski for Light, Inc.: Recreation opportunities for visually impaired and blind skiers
- The United States Association of Blind Athletes