Blind Quebecers learn cross-country skiing in Bromont
One limb at a time, Sylvain Miville propels himself forward on the cross-country ski trail. Decades ago, he picked up the sport in the army, but now he's relearning to ski after partially losing his sight following a series of concussions.
Miville falls backward onto the snow, but under the guidance of a volunteer skier, he gets back on two feet and glides down the path nestled between the trees.
On Saturday, he was one of the six blind Quebecers transported to ski at Parc des Sommets Bromont, lent ski gear and shown how to cross-country ski in a way adapted to their needs. It's the second edition of the outing organized by the Adaptive Sports Foundation and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.
Audrey Larroquette, assistant director of the Adaptive Sports Foundation, says cross-country skiing may be a competitive sport, but the day's goal is for the participants to have fun and ski at whatever level they are at.
"We're going to support them with volunteers that are good skiers who are going to give tips and tricks to get better at skiing," she said.
Barbara Andres is one of the volunteers.
The degree of help provided to the skier depends on the person's needs, she says, and communication is key.
"We're just continually talking, making sure that they know what the terrain is like," said Andres. "I used to be a teacher, so I'm used to talking," she added with a laugh.
Part of the training to do this was skiing blindfolded, which really helped her understand what the participants felt like.
"We don't see the tracks," said Miville. "Like today, everything is white. So it's hard to see where we're going, but with a nice person to guide us, it's easier."
Although getting up after a tumble is a challenge, he plans to return for the next outing.
"I'll be coming back," he said. "It was fun."
Noah Silletta used to be a competitive cross-country skier. Partially blind after suffering a concussion from a road accident two years ago, he appreciates the support on the trail.
WATCH | Partially blind skiers hit the trails with help of volunteer guides:
"Having a guide kind of keeps everything less stressful," he said. "If my vision has to adjust all the time to like distances and the brightness of the environment, it takes some of the mental load off to have people giving me cues instead."
But the outing is about more than sport.
From the smell of the burning fire to the frosty touch of the snow, it's a sensorial experience, Larroquette says.
"It's good for the soul. It's good for the body. It's good for your health," she said.
Making outdoor sports inclusive
Aside from sight, access remains a major barrier to skiing and other outdoor sports for many blind Quebecers.
For Silletta, the equipment and guidance provided to him and others facing the same obstacles— especially those with limited incomes — mean a safe way to get into the sport.
Larroquette agrees. "The challenge that they're facing is the transport, often access to equipment, access to some ski trails," she said.
"It's not because you can't see or if somebody has a physical challenge that you don't deserve to go outside," she said. "It's really important to be included."