Para Nordic

Paranordic Day at GNSCC

Paranordic skier and guideParanordic skier and guide

By Emily Fells                     January 2016

The Georgian Nordic Ski and Canoe Club hosted its first Paranordic Activity Day on Jan. 17.  The morning workshop, “Introduction to Guiding for a Blind Skier”, was put on by Patti Kitler - Cross Country Ontario and the Northern Ontario District Paranordic Chair, Jerry King -a visually impaired athlete and coach at Highlands Nordic, and Ken Norris – CCO Southern Ontario District from Orangeville. They were aided by Linda McLean, Laurentian U nordic coach, Emma Norris – a guide, Rory, a blind Mayfield HS skier, and his guide Chloe, also a Mayfield HS skier. This incredible team introduced 12 GNSCC members, including 5 PSHS Nordic team members and JackRabbit coaches and assistants, to the challenges facing visually impaired skiers, special concerns about clothing and ski equipment, the location of the guide compared to the skier, radio communication devices, and common commands.  The thread that connected every one of these topics was the importance of the guide-skier relationship and the excellent communication.  Jerry King had a few cogent anecdotes that drove this home, including a head on collision with a member of the US ski team who had not realized Jerry could not see him until it was too late.  The true test for the new guides would be applying all the theory and clear commands out on the snow.

Then the guides-in-training were taken out on the trails to practice.  Some were blindfolded being led by a partner. That was the best training as the talk about the importance of timing and precision of directions was put into action.  As a blind-folded skier I felt completely at the mercy of my guide as we went down the small hill to the swamp area. Another guide found that she did not have her usual good sense of balance. It was a long and arduous process as I unwittingly drifted always to the left.  I was startled to be hit by a low snow laden branch (trimming these way up and back is on the GNSCC to do list) that my guide has easily ducked for.  I still cannot imagine how Brian McKeever, a visually impaired Olympic nordic skier and past national team member, could manage to ski down steep descents in a pack of racers at high speed.  He must have had a fabulous relationship with his guide and nerves of steel. Skiing in the track set was much more comforting, but still I needed to hear my guide’s voice often. After switching I learned that there is no time for many fluffy details.  Directions had to be short and sweet to be effective.

Watching and listening to Rory be guided by Chloe was really great.Even though they hadn’t been working together for too long, one could tell the communication was good and the special relationship was growing. Some of the guides-in-training had the experience of guiding a visually impaired skier who was used to being guided.Hannah Culter found that is was very educational. She was impressed how this blind skier put his full trust in her to keep him safe on the trails. It is a steep learning curve.

The final part of the workshop was for the JackRabbit guides to be matched up with their visually impaired skiers, have a visit and then go for a ski together under the supervision of the other experienced guides. The little kids really wanted to get out and ski.  Their guides were a little nervous, understanding that the safety of the skier and the enjoyment of this new sport hinged on the success of this first outing.

Can do!Can do!

No fear!No fear!

The mother of the little girl was nervous watching a newby guide forget to warn the child of the doorjamb, and she stumbled a little but was steadied by her guide.  They managed to get the little one’s skis on together and had a get-to-know-you ski for 20 minutes. Now the visually impaired kids are looking forward to coming to Jack Rabbit and being part of the action on Saturday mornings until March Break. The GNSCC would like to thank the workshop participants for their offering to share their love of skiing with the paranordic skiers who come to our club.  These include Hannah Cutler, Lindsay Raymond, Miranda Cole, Maddy Green, Mackenzie Elwes, Ron Chase, Katja Mathys, Gord Cole, Nicky Dennys, and Heather Zschogner.