It has been snowing hard for the last 24 hours and 16 inches of goofer feather powder has fallen on top of several thousand acres of perfectly groomed runs. Im riding on my super fat helicopter skis and hit a big drift, do a couple of somersaults and am jabbed under the armpit by the guy skiing behind me.
Normally, I dont like anyone skiing this close behind me, but in this case, its okay because Im skiing with a friend who only has 20x1000 vision. When he was four years old, he blew both of his eyes out in a carbide explosion. Two years ago, though, he had some sight restored to one eye by some miraculous breakthrough in surgery. Now, when we ski together, he can see a dark blur or shadow as long as it is less than 15 feet away.
Mike May owns a company that employs eight people, five of whom are totally blind, just as he was for 40 years. He has a great wife and two kids who are usually his guide. His wife is dyslexic; she can read, but she cant write, so she had to dictate her college graduation thesis to him.
Mike certainly hasnt let his limited sight limit his skiing. He has won three Olympic gold medals and three bronze medals in various events at the Paralympics. I met Mike 15 years ago during the world speed trials at Snowmass, Colorado.
Mike and his coach drove to Snowmass from Northern California and they were all set to try and set the world speed record on skis for a blind person. They certainly stood out from many of the other competitors who had sponsors and equipment gurus to wax and tune their stuff. Jon Reveal was the mountain manager of Snowmass at the time and had prepared a very fast course.
The day before the trials started, the insurance company told Jon that if Mike May went through the starting gate, they would cancel the insurance for the entire event. Of course, Mike and his coach were really bummed out and so was I because I saw a great movie opportunity evaporating under the cold winter sun.
After hearing the bad news, I had lunch with Mike and his coach and came up with an idea. I reminded them that the insurance company had said that if Mike went through the starting gate , the insurance would be invalid. I suggested that if he stood beside the starting gate, someone else could stand in the starting gate and start with him. That person would trip the wand and since he would be timed by radar anyway, he wouldnt have to go through the starting gate and the event insurance would still be valid.
We did just that. With his coach skiing in front of him looking over his shoulder and shouting directions, Mike set a record for a blind skier at 75 mph. Its a record that still stands almost 15 years later and I have great movies to prove it.
Mike certainly hasnt slowed down since then. He and I skied all day in the deep powder while his wife and two kids skied in front of us, behind us and alongside of us, laughing and giggling all the time.
After lunch, we returned to one of my secret runs for the second time that day. When we arrived there at 2:30, ours were still the only set of tracks in the powder snow. We stood at the top of the run and Mike asked, "Havent I been down this before and if so, is it okay if I go first?" Remember, Mike only has 20x1000 vision in one eye and can barely read 36-point type if it is three inches away.
I told him to go for it. Without hesitation, he shoved off down the slope and hollered, "Just ski behind me and shout if I am heading too close to a tree."
I was speechless. Before I could get underway, Mike was 200 feet ahead of me, carving good turns in the delightful, untracked powder on top of a perfectly groomed ski slope with no bumps anywhere for the first time in his life. Mike had found the total freedom that you and I can only imagine. I skied behind him, silently in awe of this blind man making turn after turn for almost 300 yards in a display of something that I cant find the right words to describe.
Mike, his wife and two children and I probably made at least a dozen runs that afternoon. I couldnt help but think of how many of us almost religiously complain about snow conditions, lost gloves, cold hamburgers, muddy parking lots, expensive lift tickets, and the thousands of other potential negatives to just making turns on skis.
The next time you complain about anything, think about Mike May skiing in untracked powder snow down a ski slope that he couldnt even see.