Resort welcomes skiers with visual impairments

MENDON, Vt. (AP) — It was Audrey Lester’s second time skiing.

“I thought it was going to be much easier,” the 34-year-old from Washington D.C. said as she stood in line Saturday for the lift up Pico’s bunny slope. “It’s an unnatural position to be in, to lean forward into your skis.”

Lester was one of 35 people at Pico Saturday for an event organized by Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports for skiers with visual impairments.

“I am challenging my body to do something new,” she said. “I have not fallen today. Last week, I fell three times. I’m making significant progress.”

Kim Jackson, Vermont Adaptive’s communications director, said the group was a mixture of newcomers and veteran skiers.

“If you’re passionate about sports, regardless of your ability, you should be able to do them,” Jackson said. “Learning to do something is empowering. … The cool thing about sports is that you’re doing it with friends. You’re all on the same playing field. You’ve got people who are guiding you, helping you, but everyone’s having fun. … I think everybody needs to have those goals and those experiences. That’s what life’s about.”

Jackson said each participant skis with a group of four to five instructors — a lead instructor, and assistant and two or three “shadows.”

“They’re kind of blocking and making a cocoon around the skiers,” she said.

Mika Pyyhkala, 47, of Boston, said he had been skiing on and off since elementary school.

“Last year was the first time I came to Vermont Adaptive,” he said. “It sells out a lot. You’ve got to get you’re name in early to get in.”

He said he loves the energy of the group and the skill of the guides.

“It’s good outdoor activity and exercise,” he said. “The thrill of skiing and the camaraderie … You get a lot of stories. People come from all over the country.”

They also come from close by.

Mac Janney, 44, of Rutland, who has narrow tunnel vision in his left eye and none in his right, said he has been skiing since 14. He said visually impaired skiers have differing preferences on how they are guided down the mountain. His particular preferences involves directions being called out with a cadence — “and left” — that gives him just enough lead time to prepare for a turn.

“I’d say I’m a good intermediate skier,” he said. “If someone calls out when I’m centered in the trail, that’s all I need. I can go back and forth. If there are obstacles in the way, they can guide me with call turns.”

Janney said skiing gives him a sense of independence.

“I love being outdoors,” he said. “Sitting inside doesn’t give me any satisfaction. Going and doing stuff gives you a better sense of what’s around you. Someone with a disability, if you’re able to ski, you’re able to do anything. Having the wind ripping in my face, knowing I’ve worked so hard for it — it’s fun.”

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