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Look Who's Skiing - How Does He Do That?
By Tom Ferry
Edited by John Ferry

loading photoTwo boards attached to his boots and a snow covered hill—that's all that are needed. My son John has been skiing for about four years. We have enjoyed skiing together the past two years. How did we get started?

About six years ago, I would not have thought John would be able to ski. However, while skiing out west (lucky me) I saw some blind skiers on the slopes. I stopped to inquire and as a result I was invited to observe a lesson the following day. That next morning one of the instructors was advising the volunteer guides for the blind and visually impaired skiers on what to expect. It went something like this. "Watch this one, he likes to ski too fast." "This young man wants to ski the bumps." As she went on describing each of these young skiers, I was getting more and more enthused. I began asking questions about the organization sponsoring this activity and learned that there are a fair number of ski areas that have adaptive skiing for many different types of disabilities, including quadriplegics.

When I returned home, I contacted a group that was located at Jack Frost Ski area in Pennsylvania. A few weeks later we received notice that a mobility instructor from the NJ Commission for the Blind was arranging a ski trip for their young constituents. We jumped at the opportunity.

Learning to ski for John and the others that day was not so different than for other first time skiers. They had to get the feel of having these boards attached to their feet and moving slowly on fairly level snow. They learned how to put their skis in a V, called a snowplow. The instructor would be in front of them skiing backward and holding onto their hands. After the skier got comfortable, the instructor would then ski at their side with both holding onto a pole. The second year of skiing, John was able to ski without the need to hold on.

The instructors have used two different methods to guide John on the slopes. John is visually impaired, but has some vision in one eye and can see color and forms, so the instructor can ski in front of John and he follows. The instructor can also ski behind John and call out "left" "right" or 'hold" (meaning continue in the same direction). I understand there are helmets with radios in them for communication. We're not that sophisticated yet.

The people on the slopes are very encouraging. Some people are very surprised to see John skiing. We're not surprised because we know John can do most anything he wants. Because of John's ability now to ski independently, he and I can enjoy a winter weekend together on the slopes. It's a blast to be able to share the experience with him. The only problem is that John has such a busy schedule with all his activities that it's difficult to find more time to hit the slopes.

We owe a great deal of thanks to folks like O & M instructors Joe Cutter and MaryAnn Delaney for getting our kids together and off to a good start on skis. MaryAnn organized the New Jersey group for several years at Jack Frost and Camelback in Pennsylvania. There are other programs in Windham, NY and Greek Peak in upstate NY. Also, there are a number of areas in the midwest working with adaptive skiing.

Oh, by the way, John asked if he could learn to water ski this summer. I was racking my brain about how could we accomplish it. Well, as should be expected, I met a blind water skier who was more than happy to help us get started. You only need to identify an interest and keep asking "how to" questions. There are many supportive people out there who have the answers and the willingness to help you get started.

See you on the slopes!



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