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Blind athletes carve slopes at Mt. Hood Meadows posted on 04/01/2020

An enthusiastic group of visually impaired athletes enjoyed the sensation of gliding down the slopes at Mt. Hood Meadows ski resort on Saturday, March 7 as part of the Northwest Association for Blind Athletes (NWABA) final ski event for the winter season.

The NWABA hosted nine ski events during the winter season of 2019-20, pairing blind athletes with Mt. Hood Meadows instructors for adaptive lessons. For many of the participants these lessons where a first-time opportunity to experience skiing, while for others it was a chance to revisit a cherished activity they enjoyed before the loss of vision.

“I never had the chance (to ski) when I was fully sighted because I never lived by mountains before,” program participant Anita Thomas said. “For someone who started two years ago and being 70 years old, it’s terrific fun. It’s worth getting up at five or earlier in the morning.”

The NWABA provided all equipment, slope access and transportation from Vancouver or Portland for the two-hour events. The organization partnered with Mt. Hood Meadows to provide one-on-one guidance for the athletes from resort instructors who have received training as part of the resort’s adaptive skiing program.

The adaptive training allows instructors to make snow sports accessible to people of all abilities. The instructors assist individuals with visual, cognitive or physical impairments in closely guided lessons or snow sport sessions.

“It’s very similar to how we teach an average snow sport lesson, but the coolest part of it is how it emphasizes strong communication and really listening to the individual,” said Emily Hearle, training and adaptive supervisor for Mt. Hood Meadows.

The NWABA is a Vancouver-based nonprofit organization founded in 2007 with the mission of offering “life-changing opportunities through sports and physical activity to individuals who are blind and visually impaired.” This winter marked the fifth year the organization has hosted ski events.

“We had close to full rosters for all our ski events this year,” said Mary Holmes, programs specialist for the NWABA.

“It’s a great experience. We’ve seen a lot of growth with the athletes coming back and doing the program each year,” she added. “People have a good time on the slopes with the instructors from Mt. Hood Meadows; they’re very knowledgeable. We definitely want to continue the program next year.”

In addition to skiing the NWABA offered a winter snowshoeing program in Eugene this past season and hopes to expand it to Mount Hood next year.

With the ski season completed, the NWABA will soon offer spring programs for blind athletes including hiking, tandem bicycling, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking and a running program.

For more information, visit www.nwaba.org or https://www.skihood.com/en/lessons-and-rentals/adaptive-lessons.

By Ben Simpson/MT

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