Submitted by Scott McCall, Ski for Light Vice President
Most people don’t typically use the words blindness and skiing in the same sentence, but Ski for Light (SFL) does. Since 1975, Ski for Light, Inc. has been teaching blind, visually and mobility impaired adults how to cross-country ski in an atmosphere that encourages participants to recognize that they can usually accomplish much more than others may have told them, both on the snow and in everyday life. The blind and mobility impaired adults who attend each Ski for Light week come from all over the U.S. and from several foreign countries. Many of them come to Ski for Light with a desire to become more physically fit and active, and to find recreational opportunities they are lacking at home.
Each year, Ski for Light, Inc. conducts a week-long event where adults are taught the basics of cross-country skiing. The event attracts upwards of 300 participants and guides. The location of the event changes from year to year in an effort to spread the Ski for Light philosophy and idea to as many parts of the country as possible.
The roots of Ski for Light go back to the beautiful country of Norway. Some say that Norwegians are born with cross-country skis attached to their feet. I can’t vouch for that, but having visited Norway on two occasions, I do know that cross-country skiing is truly the national pass time there. The idea of teaching blind people to cross-country ski began in Norway in the 1950's with a blind Norwegian musician named Erling Stordahl. His work led in 1964 to the creation of the Ridderrenn, which today annually attracts more than 1,000 disabled participants and guides from around the world to the mountains of Norway for a week-long event. In 1975, Olav Pedersen, a Norwegian American, brought the Ridderrenn concept to Summit County Colorado, and Ski for Light was born.
During the Ski for Light week, each disabled skier is paired for the entire week with an experienced, sighted, cross-country skier who acts as ski instructor and guide. While the guides have had lots of experience on skis, most of them have never known or guided a blind person. So prior to the week of skiing, Ski for Light provides a day and a half of intensive training for new guides. They learn basic information about blindness, sighted guide techniques, methods for teaching a blind person to ski, and practice guiding a blind skier. The disabled person skis in tracks or grooves in the snow, while the guide skis in a parallel set of tracks.
The guide offers instructional tips and suggestions, support and encouragement, and describes the countryside. While the tracks help the blind skier follow the trail, the communication between guide and skier is the most critical factor. The guide must communicate clearly and precisely about the trail and changes in the terrain. For example, the guide might say, “approaching a left turn in five yards followed by a gradual downhill.” With this information, the blind skier must get in the correct body position for a left turn and apply the appropriate technique for going down a hill.
The volunteer guides who attend Ski for Light are a very special group of people. They pay the same event fees as disabled skiers so that they can share a favorite activity with someone who would otherwise not have the opportunity to participate. Most of these guides discover that in the process of giving of themselves they are getting as much or more back in return. Many of them return to each event, year after year.
I recently returned from an exhilarating week of skiing at the 38th annual SFL event in Bellaire, Michigan. While skiing is the primary focus of the week-long program, numerous opportunities exist for non-skiing activities and socializing. In the 32 years that I have been affiliated with SFL, I have made many lifelong friends from throughout the U.S. and several foreign countries. Each year I look forward to renewing these friendships and developing new ones. I have always been a physically active person. However, as an adult with family and work responsibilities, finding time for regular exercise was always a challenge. Once I became involved in SFL, I was motivated to stay in good physical condition throughout the year because cross-country skiing is a physically challenging activity that can range from a walking to a racing pace.
In addition to serving as a motivator for exercise, Ski for Light has afforded me numerous opportunities to develop leadership and management skills that have had a positive impact on many aspects of my life including employment. Whether it’s skiing, producing the annual event, or managing this large non-profit organization, partnerships between the sighted, visually and mobility impaired individuals are central to the experience. In other words, the barriers to full participation and the discrimination that exist in many environments is absent at Ski for Light.
You can learn a great deal more about SFL by visiting www.sfl.org. If you have specific questions or would just like to learn more about this organization that has become a very meaningful part of my life, you may email me at Scottmccall3@comcast.net.
Here is a short video about Ski for Light: