Its frigid out there, and I hear theres some snow, but I wouldnt know, because Im house bound for a while. Each time I open the door to let Pippen out, I feel the cold on my cheeks and fantasize about skiing. Somewhere, there are people out there, basking in this wintery beauty, gliding across the snow, and loving it. If I werent recovering from recent spine surgery, today is the day Id be traveling to participate in a cross country skiing event called Ski for Light.
I first got involved in 1986 and have missed only 3 of the annual events since then. Once you experience the joy of learning to ski and the kinship in sharing the sport with like-minded folks from all over the world, youre hooked for life. Its hard to describe in words what happens at SFL, but if I take you along while I imagine what Id be doing over the next week, you might get a peek at the magic, from my perspective.
Today, Id be traveling to Shanty CreekMichigan in time for the first meeting of the guide trainers. At SFL, blind skiers are paired up with sighted guides to ski in machine-set tracks that wind through forests, climb and descend hills and valleys, run alongside creeks, and wander over prairies. The sighted guide warns the blind skier about turns in the tracks, changes in elevation, and any other information needed, like a track being washed out, a skier down ahead, or a low hanging branch. A good one will also describe the scenery, and for new skiers, coach and instruct. And he does all this just with words as they ski side by side but without touching. Most guides are experienced cross country skiers, but few are experienced in guiding blind people on skis or even inside a building. Thats where the guide trainers come in.
Before the new guides arrive on Saturday night for this weeklong ski, the guide training teams , meet on the Friday night to plan the training session for first and second year guides. Each team of one sighted skier and one blind will lead a group of 5 or 6 new guides through guiding techniques and reviews of skiing techniques that they will be using during the week. Some brand new guides are apprehensive about being responsible for the safety of a blind person on skis. Others are eager and excited about the challenge. All are there to share their love of skiing. Tomorrow, the guide trainers will ski the 5 and 10 k course and make note of where there are good places on the trail to review uphill and downhill techniques with their new guides. They practice teaching these techniques to each other and remind each other of what has worked well with teaching a new blind skier. For instance, some blind skiers like to use the clock method for making a turn, as in, The tracks are turning now to about 10:00, and some prefer a more casual direction, as in slight curve to the left.
On the Sunday, the new guides will go out to the ski area with the guide trainer groups and practice guiding one another with blindfolds on. The blind guide trainer in the team skis with each new guide and evaluates his or her guiding skills. These evaluations are considered when the matching of guide/skier teams are determined and announced Sunday night.
I love arriving on Friday night, because at that time, the group is relatively small. There are board members, guide trainers, and a few folks who come early just to get in some extra skiing. By Sunday night, there will be over 200 people, so its fun to reunite with old friends and drink a toast to the coming week, a week that will change all our lives, in one way or another.