Foresight Ski Guides wraps up season in Vail
VAIL — After skiing for 20 years, Denver resident Bill Murphy began to wonder what it would be like to descend the slopes without vision.
The year was 1982.
“I had this fear of losing my sight,” he said. “I wanted to face a fear.”
Murphy’s wife, Gayle, noticed an ad in Westword Magazine to train to be a guide in Vail with the Colorado Ski School for the Blind. Seeing an opportunity to help Bill face his fear, she encouraged him to give it a try. Murphy overcame his fear quickly after skiing with blacked out goggles as part of the training, yet found himself wanting to come back again and again.
“He would come home jubilant,” Gayle Murphy said. “Every time, there would be a connection formed out there that was really meaningful.”
Close to 200 days
Mark Davis has been skiing Vail since the ‘60s, and used to say he could ski it blindfolded. Little did he know how true that would become.
After living with Multiple Sclerosis for years and experiencing minimal symptoms, Davis woke up one morning in 1999 to find his vision nearly gone.
“It was like looking through wax paper,” he said.
He attended the program, which made him feel better about his situation and through it met Murphy.
As the Colorado Ski School for the Blind program started to dissolve, Davis, who holds an MBA, found himself uniquely qualified to begin his own program to help blind skiers access the mountain.
“I interviewed 50 other ski resorts, and categorized what everybody did and what the costs were,” he said.
He enlisted the help of several others including Murphy, as well as Mark and Jan Mastro, who also had been with Colorado Ski School for the Blind. Foresight Ski Guides was born.
“This is our fifteenth season, and we did close to 200 ski days,” Davis said.
An EFFECTIVE AD
The 1982 ad in Westword, which solicited skiers to try working with Colorado Ski School for the Blind and was discovered by Gayle Murphy, was effective. So effective, in fact, its impact is still felt today.
Mark Mastro also responded to the ad. He began traveling up to Vail to help guide the blind and began carpooling with Murphy. The two have remained close ever since.
“Now both of our families are very good friends,” Mark Mastro said.
Mastro married his wife, Jan, a decade and a half after seeing that ad, and she also became a guide for blind skiers. These days, she’s on the board at Foresight Ski Guides.
“We’ve been able to get a lot of the school districts to come up this year that haven’t been able to utilize the program,” Jan Mastro said. “Now we’re hoping those schools will be able to come more often.”
Davis says cross-participation with school districts is the most important element of the program.
“By working with the department of education and the school districts in the Denver metro area, it helps us bridge confidentiality issues,” Davis said. “Because otherwise, how would we find (eligible kids)?”
One of the individuals who helped most was the late Randy Witte, who was a teacher at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind and helped bring Foresight Ski Guides into schools.
“After we introduced the off-season exercise program, the students had a lot more stamina skiing in Vail with Foresight,” Witte said. “Prior to the program, the kids would start to lose their energy by lunch time, but Foresight’s new exercise regimen really increased their ability to maintain that energy on the slopes.”
‘FASTER MAKES IT BETTER’
Witte, who passed away in 2015, is honored in the annual Randy Witte Champions Weekend at Vail, which culminated Monday at Golden Peak. Children who have excelled in Foresight’s program are invited to Vail to take part in a race and lunch in, as Foresight wraps up operations for the year and celebrates the season.
The kids who participated in the champions weekend are models for the program, Mark Mastro said.
Seeing the kids skiing with their families brings Mastro the biggest rewards, he says.
“My personal goal was always to get the blind child to reunite with the family to go skiing, because they were always dropped off and then the family went skiing,” he said.
Among the families in attendance were the Millers, of Highlands Ranch, whose 16-year-old son, Keaton, started skiing with Foresight at age 8.
“Keaton could ski with us, but when we got him the vest from Foresight, that identified him as a visually impaired skier and his confidence shot through the roof,” Keaton’s mom, Dawn Miller said. “So then that enabled him to ski with us, because he was so much more confident.”
Keaton’s brother, 12-year-old Cade, pointed out the most obvious difference.
“Now he can go a lot faster,” he said.
Keaton said with the speed has come more fun.
“Faster makes it better,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
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