By: Sierra Romero
(March 11, 2019) – As snow began to fall the first weekend in March, thousands of people were taking to the slopes. Skiing and snowboarding is a sport that is enjoyed by around 9.2 million people in the United States this past year alone. Within this large number, there is a subgroup of skiers and snowboarders who take on additional challenges to enjoy the slopes as well.
According to the National Federation of the Blind, there are approximately 7.6 million people in the United States who are either blind or have a visual impairment. While it is more difficult for a person with a visual impairment to engage in activities like this, there are organizations across the country that work to provide resources to support an active lifestyle.
Led by the United States Association of Blind Athletes and sponsored by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Colorado, the 12th annual Winter Ski Festival occurred in Breckenridge, Colo., Feb. 28-March 3. There were 15 participants, including four veterans from across the U.S, ranging in age from 5 to 59.
The event itself was split into three days of alpine skiing and one session of Nordic skiing. Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center provided each participant two personal instructors who guided them down the mountain, creating a welcoming and supportive environment. Regardless of the skill level, each participant was able to ski down the mountain and even throw in a few jumps here and there.
Trevor Hahn, 42, a snowboarder from Fort Collins, Colo., expressed his delight with the guides. “I was so stoked at how my guide and I worked together to give me the most independence possible.” he said, “ I felt alive and had purpose, proving that dreams are reachable to others facing barriers.”
In between skiing, there was a lunch and dinner hosted by Anthem, special guest speakers 3-time Paralympic medalist Danelle Umstead, and ample space to meet others in the program. Participants, family, instructors, and sponsors were able to talk with one another on an individual level, creating a dialogue of experiences.
David Fair, 29-year-old snowboarder from Spokane,Wash., said, “The best experience I had at Breck this year was the same one that blew me away last year: Listening to everyone tell their stories and seeing just how important the camp is to them.”
Events like these carry a significant impact on the community that participates in them. Having the opportunity to fly down a mountain on a pair of skis or snowboard and feeling the wind whistle in your ears is something that should be accessible to all, regardless of visibility.
“It’s very much something we are passionate about at Anthem which is helping people be healthy and productive. And being able to give back to our local community and support an organization (USABA) like this and all of these athletes. It’s awesome.” said Tracie Foster, director of product and business development for Anthem.
USABA and sponsors like Anthem have helped provide the additional resources needed to establish a an environment where fun activities like this are available.
Encouraging people to step out of their comfort zone and accomplish things they never would have thought possible is at the core of the Annual Winter Festival.
“This event is the type of event that could put enough confidence in a person to set them on a path to seek out other goals they might not have attempted,” added Fair.
Providing a space to engage with the outdoors and an active lifestyle allows people with visual impairments to continue to interact with the world they live in. It carries an impact that goes beyond the event, giving a sense of confidence in daily life.
As the weekend came to a close, many participants were already expressing their excitement for next year’s ski festival. Dave Bushland, father of 13- year-old participant Mary Rose Bushland, said, “She went from being totally petrified on her first day on the slopes to feeling free and excited and wanting to come back again next year.”
In 2019, USABA will continue to create an atmosphere where anyone with a visual impairment can have the resources to interact with the sports and world around them. For more information regarding upcoming events check out https://www.usaba.org/events/.