Skiing is an exhilarating winter sport that many of us enjoy, with 6.3 million people from the UK going skiing in Europe alone in 2016. But would you ever dare to go down the mountain blindfolded?
With the Winter Paralympics 2018 set to come to an end this weekend, we wanted to celebrate those that dare to race through the snow with as little as 5% vision capabilities, at speeds of around 100 km/h.
So how do they do it?
All visually impaired skiers will have a guide skiing close to them, who will give information on their surroundings, the type of descent they are taking on and also relay instructions that will guide them down the course. There are two main ways guides navigate visually impaired skiers
- A guide remaining behind the skier - The guide will be able to navigate the skier down the mountain by verbally giving out instructions and describing the surroundings. This kind of skiing requires wide slopes that have few obstacles
- A guide leading the way in front of the skier - The skier will follow the outline of their instructor’s body and movements, whilst also listening to any verbal instructions they are telling them. This style requires less instruction, as the skier is able to follow the movements and body of their guide in front. Often the guide will wear something bright, for the skier behind to try and catch easily whilst descending
Whichever method is used, it’s crucial that the distance between the skier and the guide is kept to a minimum to ensure that communication can be maintained. Skiers also use audio equipment, such as portable, lightweight amplification systems that can ensure the skier and guide remain in close communication with one another.
Here are our top tips for those who suffer from visual impairment that want to ski:
- Visit your eye doctor about specific lenses and goggles that can help reduce glare when skiing. By tinting the lenses to a variety of colours you can decrease the wavelengths of light that can cause a glare
- Whether you want to do some cross-country or downhill skiing, it’s a great idea to sign up to a ‘learn to ski’ clinic or course for people returning to the sport with a visual disability
- Make sure you are wearing all the appropriate fitted ski equipment and clothing. It’s pivotal that you have a guide and that you both wear vests that identify you as a visually impaired skier or an instructor. This ensures nobody skies in between the two of you
2018 Winter Paralympics Blind Skiing Success Stories
Not only is daring to ski down a mountain with a visual impairment a huge achievement, but to win medals at the global Winter Paralympics is a monumental accomplishment. Here are some of our own who have won gold, silver and bronze from the last two weeks.
- Millie Knight and Brett Wild got silver medals in the women’s Super G for visually-impaired skiers
- Menna Fitzpatrick and Jen Kehoe came in at third in the same competition as Knight and Wild
Both medalists are just teenagers and have 5% vision, communicating with their guides during the race using Bluetooth headsets
With over two million people in the UK living with sight loss, the Winter Paralympics 2018 act as an inspiring reminder that anything is possible.