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Feature - Blind Skier

A lesson in teamwork



Trust is the foundation for the bond between a blind skier and his guide

Picture this: You are standing on your skis at the top of the double black diamond Couloir Extreme run on Blackcomb Mountain. As you peer over the edge, you note how the ground drops away in front of you – the narrow entry, followed by a steep face of moguls. It’s a long way to the bottom and many turns before you reach an easier blue run.

Now, put on a blind-fold and drop in.

Among his many sporting achievements, 16-year-old blind skier Donovan Tildesley from Vancouver ranks skiing the Couloir Extreme as his greatest personal triumph. Blind since birth, Tildesley was first introduced to skiing at the age of three by his father and coach Hugh Tildesley, who was determined not to let his son’s disability interfere with his chances to savor life’s opportunities. The initial lessons he went through were special disabled skier programs on Grouse and Cyprus mountains, prior to taking on the bigger terrain on Whistler and Blackcomb.

"Ever since I was 10 and heard about the Couloir Extreme, that 57 degree angle and if you fell on it you didn’t come up alive and all these horror stories, so I’d always wanted to ski this run."

His chance came last season when there was enough snow to make the conditions soft and safe, and an instructor game enough to join him. Tildesley says his training for the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, where he won bronze in the swimming individual medley, meant his legs were strong enough to take the continuous bumps of the Couloir.

Jody Chan, a local ski instructor and volunteer with the Whistler Adaptive Ski Program, recalls making the run with Tildesley – it was also the first time she had taken him out skiing.

"My heart was pounding and the entrance was a little tough," she says. "We sort of walked in until we could get that first turn but yeah, I was more scared than him."

However, when asked if she is still nervous about where Tildesley will want to ski next, she doesn’t hesitate.

"Oh I’m not scared anymore. I trust him as much as he trusts me and wherever he takes me next will be fun."

Trust is the foundation that blind skiing is built on. Blind skiers rely solely on the judgment of their guide to get them down the slopes, over the bumps and around objects, including other skiers. A wrong call or loss of concentration can have serious consequences.

"As a six year old skiing with my dad I couldn’t hear him over the wind on one of the local mountains and went over a powder cliff," Tildesley laughs. "That was the catalyst for us to say we need more than voice commands and got these walkie-talkies. And once we figured out how to work them, which took one more cliff, I couldn’t ski without them."