Editor’s note: It may be March but snowy weather is ever present! So take a tip from Ashley and enjoy!
Snowboarding even with vision impairment can be an amazing adventure! You do not have to give up the things you love to do because of vision loss, or think that you are not able to try new things.
When Did I Begin Snowboarding?
At the age of 11, I tried skiing with my siblings and hated it, but one of the staff members at the hill we were skiing at suggested I try snowboarding. I gave it a try and was hooked. I have ocular albinism and was visually impaired when I began snowboarding, but I was still able to snowboard unassisted at the time.
As my vision deteriorated, I was not able to continue the sport on my own and I did give it up for a few years. This was mainly due to life getting very busy and having three young kids at home. As my kids got older and I had more time to do the things I loved, I decided it was time to get back on my snowboard.
Snowboarding as a Stress Reliever
Snowboarding had always been a stress reliever for me, and I wanted to see if this would still be the case. I also wanted to prove to myself that I could still do it.
How Do I Snowboard?
Skiing or snowboarding with vision loss can be done with a human guide. The guide will ski or snowboard in front of you only a few feet away and will use voice commands to steer you down the hill. More often people use a headset with a microphone. In that case, both the guide and the person who is blind will wear sets to ensure constant uninterrupted communication. The concept is the same either way. The guide uses voice commands such as “left,” “right,” “pitch,” “drop off,” or “stop” to guide you safely down the hill. Good communication is the key.
If you are visually impaired but still able to see the person in front of you and follow them, then you have the option of following the human guide down the hill, using the voice commands when necessary. This is a great option for those who have some vision but just don’t feel safe going it alone. The guide is there to make sure no one cuts you off, and that you stay a safe distance from obstacles like trees and other things that may be on the hill.
Now, I do not have enough vision to follow my guide down the hill so communication and trust is key. I personally use a combination of voice commands with no headset when we are on a small hill with few people. When I am on a larger hill or it is very busy with lots of people then I will use a headset as this is the safest option.
There are a few challenges when doing a sport typically done by people who are sighted. The biggest obstacle to me to snowboarding was my mindset. I needed to trust the person guiding me and trust that I could do it. Fear can keep us from doing many things that we want to do. I have definitely had to work through the fear in my head and almost let go of that need for control. Since you are not using a cane or a dog guide, and you are not tethered to the human guide at all, this can be a big obstacle for some people and cause a lot of fear.
Using a Dog Guide Gave Me Confidence
As I began to lose my vision and relied on my cane to get me from point A to point B, I wasn’t a very confident person. I tended to second-guess myself and wanted someone with me. When I decided to get my dog guide that all changed. I became a confident traveler, and a much more independent person. I was able to let go of the need to have tactile information from my cane in my travels. I believe this is what gave me the confidence and courage to use a human guide and trust that they would get me safely to the bottom of the hill. Before getting my dog guide, I don’t believe I could have done this. I relied too heavily on that tactile information from my cane and felt lost without it.
As people, sighted or not, we don’t always think that we can do things. But the reality is that we are capable of much more than we think we are. I believe that if you put your mind to it you can do it. The only person stopping you is you!
How Do You Get Started?
Luckily, there are many organizations that will help you get out on the slopes and enjoy a great sport, depending on where you live. There are a few organizations like the United States Association of Blind Athletes and the Canadian Blind Sports Association. I encourage you to do your research and find the organization in your area that will best work for you. If you have a ski hill in your area, contact them. They may know of some organizations that use their facilities and will maybe be able to point you in the right direction.
The Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing