About Blind Skier's Edge
In the last ten years, the number of totally blind skiers has decreased on the ski slope. In America, totally blind skiers (B1's) are practically absent from ski competition. Specifically, the best blind skiers are coming out of Europe and Australia, far surpassing the U.S in innovation and technique. A variety of reasons account for this downward trend. We believe part of the problem lies in the current way totals are guided in recreational skiing and the overly difficult process used to transition them into competition.
When it comes to recreational skiing, 99% of blind people are guided from behind by their sighted guide. The argument for this is "safety," since the guide often feels more comfortable seeing the blind person and the slope below - all without turning his head. With this technique, however, the blind skier has to constantly turn his head back in order to hear the quick and must-heard commands. By turning shoulders and craning backwards (not facing down the slope) it promotes bad posture and defensive ski position. Further more, at a high speed, it is difficult for a blind skier to hear a guide's calls from behind him. Obviously this limits progress, over-all confidence, and pleasure.
Just as a sighted skier is taught to focus down the slope, a blind person should be focusing on audio cues down the slope as well. With a guide in front, the blind skier also never needs to turn his head back, and his skiing position improves quickly and dramatically.
With the current system, when skiing through crowded resort situations, the blind skier is attempting to rely solely on verbal commands to navigate through a complex network of obstacles. With a guide in front, the blind person has voice commands to actually follow, as well as the helpful sound of the guide's skis. By skiing behind the guide in a consistent trajectory, with a consistent ski turn width/radius, it gives the blind person the capability and security to easily ski through those crowds. Also, with the guide in front calling commands, he and his voice becomes a crowd clearer, in other words, parting the seas. Eventually, the blind skier can actually begin to ski in the precise track of his guide, further readying him for a race course. Watching two skiers moving fluidly together in total unison is a beautiful sight to behold, and totally achievable.
With a blind person relying on verbal commands called from behind, there's often lot's of stopping and starting, repositioning, and realigning. It's difficult to get into a consistent ski rhythm where the blind person begins to feel comfortable and relaxed – in other words, "in the groove. With the guide in front, it’s possible for the duo to ski from top of the slope to the bottom, without stopping.
Rather than round carving turns, most blind skiers perform what is referred to as "Z-turns." This is partly because they can't rely on visual modeling to see good skiers making proper round turns. With a blind skier behind his guide following round carving turns, the guide can actually improve the blind person's ski technique. The guide becomes a quasi-instructor, helping the blind skier to feel the kind of turns which will best improve his skiing. The guide can also model the appropriate turns and speed for each kind of pitch and terrain.
Regarding the language of calling turns- most guides call turns in two syllables: "Turn left… turn right." With only two syllables, it contributes to blind people again making Z-turns. However, Jeff and Erik have found that a three syllable command works best. When learning, blind and sighted skiers are taught about the three sequential parts of a turn: getting the skis up on edges to initiate the turn, facing down the fall line, and bringing the skis around for the finish. When guiding, each word in the three syllable command should translate to a specific part of the turn. Jeff's command may sound like this: “Turn.. a.. left! Turn.. a.. right.” With each syllable, the blind skier knows precisely where to be in the position of the turn. Jeff will also elongate or shorten the call to indicate what size turn to make. For instance, A gradual turn, “Tuuuuuuuurn.. aaaaaaaa.. leeeeeeeeft.” In addition, by drawing out different syllables, he can navigate the blind skier around obstacles. This three-part technique, in combination with the guide modeling turns from the front, will dramatically cut down on Z-turns and improve a blind skier's turn shape.
Lastly, when it comes to race competition - almost 100% of blind skiers are guided from the front. The precision needed between blind skier and guide is of utmost importance. If guides were taught to guide blind skiers from the front as an option for recreational skiing, the transition between recreation and competition would be made much easier.
Currently, this technique is not being promoted. Jeff and Erik are excited to lead a clinic to introduce blind skiers and guides to this innovative technique.
Jeff Ulrich developed these guiding techniques over 15 years of adaptive ski experience. He was also a ski instructor in Vail for 11 years and was part of the U.S. National Disabled Ski Team as a guide.
Erik Weihenmayer is the only blind person to climb Mt. Everest and the "Seven Summits." He's also skied from the summit of 18,500-ft Mt. Elbrus, the tallest peak in Europe, 10,000-ft from top to base camp. Jeff and Erik recently skied the Haute Route, 80-miles over the high Alps, from Chamonix, France to Zermott, Switzerland.
To enquire about a potential clinic, please contact us.Back to top
Erik Weihenmayer is the only blind person to climb Mt. Everest and the "Seven Summits." He's also skied from the summit of 18,500-ft Mt. Elbrus, the tallest peak in Europe, 10,000-ft from top to base camp.
Read more about Erik at his official website www.touchthetop.com
Jeff Ulrich is a P.S.I.A. Fully Certified Alpine ski Instructor and Level 2 Adaptive Certified Ski Instructor. His love for the outdoors and adventure allows him to travel around the world and share his passion with people who might not be pysically able.
He has represented the United States at the 1997 International Congress of Blind and Visually Impaired skiers in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. In addition, Jeff was an athlete / guide on the United States Disabled Alpine ski team for Theresa Fancher during the 1999-2000 season and placed 2nd overall in the Disabled World Cup.
Jeff has also spent 11 seasons as an alpine and adaptive ski instructor in Vail, Colorado and two seasons for Challenge Aspen in Snowmass, Colorado.
Currently he is a clinician at Disabled Sports USA Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, Colorado.
“Erik Weihenmayer and Jeff Ulrich did a fabulous job introducing "Guiding from the Front." Many of our staff realized that guiding from the front is not just for racers anymore, but a way to create proper stance/technique, as well as a safer skiing space, for the recreational skier. The three part command is essential to affect the skier's turn shape and size. We were thrilled that Erik let us all try this technique by guiding him! Thanks Erik and Jeff.”
Kristen Caldwell, CTRS
Ski Program Manager
National Ability Center