Feeling free – blind skier hits Vail slopes | VailDaily.com

Feeling free – blind skier hits Vail slopes

Veronica Whitney
Bret Hartman/Vail DailyAmanda Aswell, blind skier from North Carolina, enjoyed the slopes last week.

VAIL ” Skiing is just one of the few things she does that makes her feel completely free, said Amanda Aswell, a blind skier from North Carolina visiting Vail this week.

“You feel so much looser because you’re not attached to anything,” said Aswell, 25, of North Bragg, N.C. She’s skiing Vail Mountain with the help of Foresight Ski Guides, a local nonprofit that provides guides on the mountain for blind people.

“There’s always something I’m tied to to help with my mobility “my guide dog, a cane,” she said.

Even when she raced tandem bikes in high school, she didn’t feel the same freedom as when she skis, said Aswell, who was 9 years old and living in Colorado Springs when she had an allergic reaction called Stevens-Johnson syndrome and lost her sight.

“Somebody has to be steering the bike,” Aswell said. “(Skiing) is one of the few things where you really are on your own.

“You have to do it safely, though. That’s an important part of the program and I always felt safe doing it with Mark’s guides,” she said, referring to Mark Davis, founder of Foresight Ski Guides.

Providing a push

And Davis, who is slowly losing his sight as well to multiple sclerosis, is the man who makes Aswell’s skiing possible.

“When you’re guiding a blind person, the most important thing is to be precise and be in constant communication,” Davis said.

Three years after founding Foresight Ski Guides, Davis and his volunteer guides have helped hundreds of blind and visually impaired people ski again or for the first time, he said.

His guides even got a blind skier to come down the steep Pepi’s Face last winter.

For a $100 contribution, Foresight Ski Guides provide transportation, ski guides, lift tickets, equipment and lodging for five days to people who can see well or are blind.

“I did other four ski programs for blind people before and Mark’s got the best guides in the state,” Aswell said.

Davis humbly said his program just provides a venue for people with vision problems.

“What we do is all about challenge recreation,” Davis said. “It’s providing people with a structured and safe place to push themselves. We know it works when people are pushed and we provide a fun way to push yourself.

“Then you can look back to the lessons that you’ve learned in our program and you can apply it to other parts of your life,” Davis added. “You can feel more self esteem and confidence.”

Missing Drew

This trip, Aswell said she has plans to start skiing the Back Bowls and some bumps. She already can ski Riva, The Slot and Avanti, all black and blue runs in Vail.

Aswell, who had never skied before she became blind, started skiing when she was 10 at Vail and Beaver Creek.

“I’m horrible on bumps so with this powder I’ll try,” she said Wednesday after Vail got 9 inches of new snow. “My goal is to become a better skier. There’s always room for improvement.

“I can ski groomed blues and some blacks,” added Aswell, who is also an avid horseback rider and water skier.

Although she’s having a lot of fun in Vail, Aswell said she misses her husband, 1st Lt. Drew Aswell, who left before Christmas for his third tour of duty in Iraq.

In March, Drew, 25, who graduated from West Point, came with Amanda to Vail and learned to ski ” and to keep up with his wife.

“He had a great time, I hope he can come next year,” Amanda said.

Drew and Amanda Aswell have known each other since 10th grade. Both are Army brats who are used to adjusting. They’ve moved more than a dozen times.

“We knew he’d be going again,” Amanda said of her husband, who will may be gone for a year. “You’re always concerned, but he’s got the best equipment, he’s been there before and he’s a confident leader. You got to be adaptable.”

While she waits for her next trip with her husband to Vail, Amanda is already planning to come back in March with her brother.

“I think it’s neat for people to come see how the whole guiding works,” Amanda said. “A lot of people ask, ‘How do you ski if you’re blind?’ I couldn’t do this without trained guides. They need to keep you and the other skiers safe.”

What’s in stock for Aswell when she conquers the Back Bowls?

“I’d like to learn how to telemark,” she said with confidence.

Staff Writer Veronica Whitney can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 454 or vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

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