Foresight Ski Guides kicks off summer camps for visually impaired kids
Campers are spending the week hiking, horseback riding, fly-fishing, paddle boarding and more around the Vail Valley
Since 2001, Eagle County-based Foresight Ski Guides has been helping visually impaired and blind youth and adults get onto the mountain and experience skiing. And now, it’s bringing even more opportunities to its youth participants with a new summer camp offering, which kicked off Monday out at 4 Eagle Ranch.
Foresight was started by Mark Davis, who had been skiing for Vail since the 1960s. His long tradition of skiing was temporarily halted when in 1999, he woke up one morning to find his vision nearly gone due to Multiple Sclerosis.
According to Foresight’s now executive director Christine Holmberg, he quickly discovered the guided method of skiing through the Colorado Ski School for the Blind program at Vail.
“It was truly transformational for him; it gave him his confidence back, it allowed him to regain his life,” Holmberg said.
However, soon after the adaptive ski program began to dissolve, and so Davis decided to start his own: Foresight Ski Guides. The program initially was created for adults but quickly it added opportunities for kids.
And since, “the kids program has actually grown to be bigger than the adult program,” Holmberg said, adding that Foresight Ski Guides partners with many Front Range school districts as well as the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind to provide theses adaptive recreational opportunities for visually impaired students.
As the kids’ program grew, so did the desire for the organization to provide new opportunities.
Long-time Foresight Senior Guide Mark Masto — who has been serving as a guide for nearly 40 years after answering a Westword ad for the Colorado Ski School for the Blind in 1982 — said that ever since he’s been guiding he’s had kids ask, “What are we doing in the summer?”
For nearly 20 years, the answer was a disappointing “nothing.” But then, last summer the organization decided to host its first summer camp.
“It was something new we wanted to do to attract kids who ski with us but also to attract those people who aren’t skiers or snowboarders. And so it was an opportunity to expand what we do and still provide transformational opportunities for these kids,” Holmberg said. “Especially after COVID and some of the kids that came last summer, that was the first thing they had done in a year they hadn’t been out, they hadn’t skied, they hadn’t done anything, and so to provide them with that opportunity was pretty amazing.”
The summer camp allowed Foresight to explore Eagle County outside of Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek and introduce the kids to numerous summer activities from paddle boarding and fly-fishing to rock climbing and archery over the course of two days.
And, the kids enjoyed it so much, the camp is returning this summer for two, three-day camps — the first of which started on Monday at 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott.
“Everybody, including us, wanted more time,” said Bill Murphy, a Foresight senior guide and board member. (Murphy incidentally responded to the same 1982 ad and started guiding on the same day as Masto.)
The group of 10 kids — who have varying degrees of sight from high vision to completely blind — kicked off this week’s camp with a day out at 4 Eagle Ranch. The campers went horseback riding, went on a scavenger hunt, and more. On Tuesday, the group headed to Piney River Ranch for a day of paddle boarding canoeing, hiking, and exploration. And on Wednesday, they will take to Camp Hale for rock climbing, archery, and fly-fishing.
Throughout the camp — similar to how its ski days work — Foresight pairs each kid with a guide that “will be responsible for the safety of that camper for the duration of the camp,” Holmberg said.
The second camp will take place later this summer from July 11 to July 13.
And while there are other similar camps around Colorado, what makes Foresight stand out, Holmberg said, is that it offers the camps at no cost.
“That was one of the areas that our founder felt pretty strongly about. He didn’t want financial barriers to prevent blind and low vision individuals from participating in activities like skiing — which we all know is very expensive — and even to put a camp on like this is very expensive to put this on,” she said.
In the future, Holmberg was optimistic that Foresight will be able to continue growing and continue adding experiences. However, the organization’s limitations are volunteers and guides, as well as money and resources.
“We’ll continue trudging ahead with what we can do and hope that having this new offering will help us in the fundraising sector to raise more money, so we can continue to offer these experiences for blind youth and adults,” she said. “We’re still trying to get some adults out this summer, hiking and standup paddle boarding, because the adults should be able to play too, not just the kids so we’re working on that as well.”
Valuable life skills
Outside of giving these kids a chance to try new and summer sports, the camp also has a number of activities to help them build skillsets that aren’t always taught or impressed upon visually-impaired youth in traditional classrooms.
“It’s often, you will find that kids that are visually impaired if they’re in a school setting, they’re kind of off by themselves, they can’t join team sports often, and all that stuff,” Murphy said. “This is all geared toward trying to help develop skills.”
The skills Murphy is referring to are ones identified by The National Agenda for the Blind that students should have before they graduate from high school. Also known as the Expanded Core Curriculum, these nine skills include assistive technology, career education, compensatory skills, independent living skills, orientation and mobility, recreation and leisure, self-determination, sensory efficiency as well as social interaction skills.
“There’s a lot of intentional activity that we have planned this year to really help them practice those skills and master those skills so when they graduate from high school they are able to move on to be very independent adults,” Holmberg said.
Having an overnight camp helps campers learn social skills by interacting with not only the Foresight guides but the other campers, the hotel staff and the activity guides, while by trying new activities in new places, they practice orientation and mobility skills. Overall, Holmberg said the winter and summer camps check off around seven of the nine skills.
Plus, the camp helps students achieve skills outside of the core curriculum as well.
“Some of the kids were able to conquer some activities that they were afraid to do, and anytime you’re able to break down a self-imposed barrier — whether you have sight or you don’t — is vitally important,” Holmberg said. “I think they definitely learn that determination and perseverance, being able to push through your fears, knowing that you’re safe.”
For Murphy and Masto, both said that the reason they’ve continued as guides for nearly 40 years is the kids themselves, and seeing and hearing all they gain from the camp.
“I just got a thank you card in brail from a little kid that could hardly write; it’s the cutest thing. And then his mother had to do a sticky saying we’ve given him so much confidence and he’s just conquered so many things,” Masto said. “For me, we get more than we give. It’s that type of program.”
Murphy answered by simply showing a picture of one of Foresight’s winter and campers, with a huge smile, posing on the slopes.
“They’re just cool kids; they’re regular kids, that’s it,” he said. “They’re irreverent and they tease each other and they generally have a pretty good time.”
Cedar McMurry has been attending Foresight for skiing for four years now and decided, at the suggestion of her mom, to try the summer camp this year. While her favorite part of the skiing is “beating my sight people down the hill, because I beat them every time,” she was excited about the variety of the activities in the summer camp.
On Monday, she was eager to get out on a horse and go for a real ride — having only gotten to ride around an arena previously — and to having fun at the sleep-away camp.
Quincy Mattick, 21, attended last year’s camp and returned this summer in more of a mentor role for the other campers. Mattick is one of two attendees this year that are completely blind. She attended camp with her seeing-eye dog, Tessa.
For her, the best part of last year’s camp was trying two new activities: paddle boarding and fly-fishing. This year, she was most excited for the horseback riding, which while it was a new activity for the camp was something she had tried before but couldn’t wait to do again.
“It’s just good to get out and do things, because, being blind you can’t drive yourself so it’s good to just get out and do stuff,” Mattick said. “And you do team-building and stuff is all worked in, but I think it’s freeing and fun, because you get to be active and do activities that you like to do.”
Mattick is currently a senior in college getting her bachelor’s degree in health science with plans of next pursuing a master’s degree in Social Work. Coming back to the Foresight summer camp this year was a way to give back and help others — something she also hopes to achieve in her future career.
“I’d like to work with kids with disabilities,” Mattick said. “The place I see the biggest gap where people fall through the cracks is people who have sudden disabilities — so a sudden traumatic injury of some kind or tumors, sudden onset — people don’t know what to do, they get discharged from the hospital, they don’t know what to do next. I see that as one of the biggest gaps in our system, so if I could get into a position to help people like that in that area maybe would be one of the things I would like to do.”
However, she’s looking forward to exploring this area and others as she continues through her education and future internships.
And while she’s excited about being able to help others as a mentor with Foresight this summer, Mattick also emphasized her favorite part of the experience.
“It’s a really empowering experience and it’s also fun at the same time — like it’s fun but you learn a lot,” Mattick said.
To learn more about Foresight or to volunteer or donate, visit ForesightSkiGuides.org/
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at email@example.com.