Teaching the blind to ski: Ski for Light turns 10 | SierraSun.com

Teaching the blind to ski: Ski for Light turns 10

Minus the views, Bob Slauson skis for many of the same reasons everybody else does.

“I like the exercise and exploring the terrain,” he said recently over a strong cup of morning coffee. “And like everyone else, I enjoy the smell of the pines.”

Slauson didn’t mention the scenery, because he is blind.

But thanks to the Sierra Regional Ski for Light organization, he and dozens of other skiers across Northern California can still hit the slopes, feel the cold air on their face and smell the pines.

Part of the International Ski for Light program that started in Norway, the Sierra Regional group was born in 1992 thanks to the determination of Regional Coordinator Betsy Rowell, her husband Monty and the generosity of volunteers who guide and assist visually impaired skiers.

“A group of us from California had gone to the International several times and we thought wouldn’t it be neat to have our own group in California,” said Pat Slauson, Bob’s wife of 38 years.

The groups will meet again this weekend at Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski Area, marking the 10th anniversary of Sierra Regional Ski for Light’s weekend outing.

The organization also sponsors several day outings every winter.

Approximately two dozen skiers are expected this weekend, with an equal number of guides.

The Regional, like the International, is nonprofit and all volunteer.

The event pairs volunteer guides with visually-impaired skiers, providing each skier with a pair of eyes and lots of encouragement. While assisting the skier, the guide also describes the terrain and the views.

The organization also provides transportation and assists in arranging lodging.

“We get them there,” Pat said.

Once there, Bob said if the conditions are right, he and the other skiers enjoy a high level of freedom.

“If it’s a good track, we can just go and go,” Slauson said.

In fact, he goes so well, Pat says, “I have to tell him to slow down.”

Like any skier, Slauson says his biggest obstacle is maintaining balance.

“Balance is very important, and it is developed over time,” he said. “At first I fell a lot, but now I do OK.”

Not only are the group’s outings meant to help visually impaired skiers overcome the disabilities, they also give participants a chance to showcase their abilities.

“The biggest misconception about the blind are that their handicaps are more than just being visually impaired … that they are different,” Pat pointed out.

Helping the skiers dispel those myths are two dozen guides from all over Northern California, with several living locally.

In fact, the bulk of the junior guides attend Tahoe-Truckee High School, Pat said.

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