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Feature - Blind Skier

A lesson in teamwork

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For the record, they still ski together.

The walkie-talkie system used by the Whistler Adaptive Ski Program comprises a speaker and microphone set-up within the blind skier’s helmet, while the instructor wears a mike headset. Generally the instructor skis behind, giving commands such as "turn left and right" and warning of the type of terrain coming up. Both wear bright reflective vests labeled "blind skier" to alert other riders and skiers of their presence. Fundamentally it is the skill of the instructor that makes the difference between a great or a bad day on the slopes.

"The guide is the one saving me between life and death in many ways," Tildesley explains. "If the guide is confident and can give directions and stay calm about it, then I have a lot more trust for them. But if they are unsure of themselves it can be scary." All the guides in the Adaptive Ski Program have been great, he adds.

Watching Chan and Tildesley ski together is lesson in co-operation and teamwork, but it also raises questions – for instance, how can a guide monitor his or her own progress on the technical runs while keeping up and instructing at the same time? Chan says it all comes down to experience.

"I’ve been skiing and instructing so long that I don’t really worry about myself and just try to be his eyes – that’s my job, just to look out in front of him."

Tildesley says feeling the bumps with his skis and poles also helps him get down the mountain safely – and most importantly, quickly.

"I go incredibly fast, faster than most people on the mountain, I’ve been told," he enthuses. "I estimate over 30 km/h when I’m really going for it, and that’s my favourite part of skiing."

Putting some more technical ski runs under his belt is another key ambition.

"To me the Couloir Extreme ended up being just another run because it’s not as big as people make it out to be," he says.

Tildesley says his ultimate dream is to represent Canada again at the Paralympics – not just at the summer Games, but also in the winter competition in the downhill, super G, GS and slalom. However, he realizes achieving this goal relies as much on his guide as his own abilities.