Winter Social Meeting 'Skiing For The Blind', November 7th 2014, Talk and Slideshow By David Lewis
Reporter: Ann Wright
This was an inspiring presentation covering the practicalities and the highs and lows of guiding with this group of skiers.
David is a SCGB leader and while out in Val D’Isere heard about guiding for the blind. He first volunteered to guide disabled skiers joining the Uphill Ski Club on a holiday to Andorra. However, he returned to his original intention to help the blind. He rang around and found Vitalise, a company who run holidays for the blind, arranging to go on an advanced level ski trip. Induction training was the day before departure and involved wearing glasses to simulate different forms of visual impairment (VI) including tunnel vision and peripheral vision, and learning the vocabulary. Commands for the skiers include “and come to a stop” for a gentle stop, and “sit” for an immediate halt. The skiers are called Vis.
Skiing takes place in groups of five, two Vis each with their own guide and a sweep to fend away general skiers who seem not to notice the group despite the fluorescent jackets worn. Vis learn to ski “on pilot”, the pilot described as a “plastic door frame” which pivots when turning. There are four guiding methods. Some Vis choose to continue with the pilot, others a “stick lead”. The “music box” is another tool where speakers are attached to a rucksack carried by the guide and the Vi follows the bleeping noise which is partially covered with music. The fourth is “voice” in which the guide calls instructions from behind the VI.
White outs naturally pose no further problems for the Vis and David described an exhilarating white out skiing experience. Steep edges, icy mogul fields and narrow tracks (where the Vis seem to ski far faster than sighted skiers!) feature in David’s list of nightmares.
Vitalise no longer run skiing holidays, so David volunteers with Vitality Vacations. They don’t advertise as they are unable to take on new customers needing more guides.
David admits to regularly having “his stomach tied in knots” with incidents on the slopes but asks how else could the VIs have a wonderful skiing holiday. All involved are quite remarkable.