It’s all about the Guides

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Once again, I have returned from a magical week of cross country skiing in Colorado called Ski for Light. If you are interested in my other experiences at Ski for Light, SFL, you can do a search and find about 5 other stories. When I told my local granddaughters that I would be skiing the next week, the 16-year-old asked if I would be snow-boarding. Well, I might be a pretty hip Grandma, but that’s a little too wild for even me. In fact, I tried downhill skiing once and successfully got to the bottom of the bunny hill, still vertical, and still breathing, but that was enough terror to last me a lifetime. Cross country skiing is work, which is the reason a lot of people don’t like it, but I love the feeling of gliding over the trails, pushing myself to get to the top of a rise, and then hearing my skis sing as I accelerate going down the other side. No, that’s a lie. Going downhill still scares me, but when I have a competent guide by my side, encouraging me with affirmations that I’m doing fine and keeping me informed about how much curve there is to come and how much farther to the bottom, and when we’ve come to the flat, and then when we are starting up again, it’s actually fun.

I’ve been to SFL almost every year since 1986, and I’ve had some pretty terrific guides, and John, pictured here with me, is one of my favorites. When I’m just about to run out of gas toward the top of a hill, John tells me jokes and sings silly songs to keep me going, although sometimes it’s hard to laugh and ski at the same time. John also has a talent for making sure I’m still in the tracks and prepared for turns while describing some interesting sights along the way. On one trail, he told me about 2 trees that had separate trunks, then grew together and then apart again. It would have been a great photo op, but I’m afraid all we have today is a picture of 2 happy skiers. John and I were guide trainers together for 9 years, teaching new guides how to guide blind skiers. Over the years, we have developed a vocabulary that makes our skiing together smooth and efficient. If the curve in the tracks is a gradual one, he’ll say “long right” or if the tracks turn sharply to the left, he’ll say “sharp left, starting now.” When he says, “half track right,” I know to sidestep once, and I’ll be back in my tracks. It saves a lot of words, so there’s more time to ski.

This year’s skiing was a little more challenging than in other years, because of strong winds and blowing snow, not to mention altitude issues and the old sciatica returning. But sharing stories over dinner with another 100 visually impaired skiers and 100 guides makes us forget about the huffing and puffing up the hills. We greet old friends, make new ones, and share in the glow of overcoming the challenges we met that day. As the SFL motto goes, “If I Can Do This, I Can Do Anything.” But I’m not quite ready for the snowboard.

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