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Blind Skiers See the Light
About three hours west of Denver lies Snow Mountain Ranch, one of the top cross-country ski centers in the United States. Known as the "YMCA of the Rockies", it boasts a large ski chalet and over 90 kilometers of packed and groomed trails.
From January 30 to February 6, 2005, the center will host the 30th annual Ski for Light International event, a week that brings blind and mobility-impaired adults together with sighted ski instructors for cross-country skiing and fun social activities. Participants come from the United States, Norway, and several other countries to either learn skiing for the first time, or improve on previously developed skills.
The first Ski for Light was held in Norway in 1964, and was so successful that a nonprofit all-volunteer organization was formed. Chapters began spreading to other parts of the world, and the program was first introduced to the United States in 1975. The idea is to provide the blind and mobility-impaired a chance to experience the freedom and benefits of physical activity through cross-country skiing.
At the beginning of the event, each skiier is paired with an instructor/guide, according to experience level. Beginners are taught basic fundamentals of the sport, while more advanced skiiers work on improving their techniques and endurance.
Skiiers navigate the slopes in pre-set tracks or grooves in the snow, while their instructors ski on a parallel set of tracks. The guide advises when to change direction, speed up and slow down, and describes any changes in the level and direction of the tracks. Skiiers with mobility impairments use sit-skis, while their guides give instructional tips and offer physical assistance if needed. In addition to cross-country skiing, mobility-impaired participants also have the chance to learn the sport of sled-hockey during the week.
The sighted instructors are volunteers from all over the United States who pay their own way to attend, just like the other participants. Duane Farrar, a blind skiier and chairman of Ski for Light's Public Relations Committee, says their role is vital to the success of the program.
"They are there because they love cross-country skiing and wish to share that love with someone like myself who otherwise might not have the opportunity to experience the sport and the exhilarating sense of freedom that it brings," Farrar explains.
The highlight of the event is a 5-K rally and 10-K race, complete with national anthems and Olympic-style finish line. Skiiers get the chance to showcase the skills they've learned during the week over a measured distance, but don't have to be competitive or athletic. The only thing asked of them is to give skiing a try, and have fun.
Mary Kozy, a blind clinical social worker from Chicago, was a bit apprehensive when she attended her first Ski for Light in 1978. But it didn't take her long to discover the joy of learning to ski, and meeting other people with positive attitudes.
After attending Ski for Light, I caught the "if I can do this, I can do anything" attitude, and went on to love skiing," Kozy recalls. "It is a real high to go to SFL for a week and be around so many enthusiastic people."
While skiing is the big attraction, it is only part of the total experience. After a day on the slopes, skiiers and guides return to their hotel for dinner, talent shows, music and dancing, or just lounging in a heated pool or hot-tub. Even poor snow conditions can't stop the event. In cases of extremely low temperatures or not enough snow, participants organize games, field trips, exercises, and other activities.
Many skiiers believe the most rewarding aspect of Ski for Light is the memories and camaraderie they share with each other and their guides.
"The friendships I've made through SFL are deep, and those I will have all my life," Mary Kozy says. "People come through town and visit, and we are now like a big family."
Deborah Kendrick, a freelance writer and devoted participant, agrees. "I believe there is no other environment in which participants suspend, so completely, the sense of who is and who is not a person with a disability," she says. "People of all walks of life come together for that one week to share a love of skiing, the outdoors, learning, and loving life."
To find out more about Ski for Light, or the upcoming event in Granby, Colorado, visit:
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