Skier doesn’t need to see the slopes
VAIL MOUNTAIN – Fred Siget, 85, cruised down Gopher Hill on skis, pausing at the lift maze to reflect on the 48 years of his life he’s been blind.”You take a person for who they are, not what they look like,” Siget said.
Siget is considered the oldest blind skier by Foresight Ski Guides, a nonprofit group of that brings the blind down the slopes of Vail and Beaver Creek mountains. Siget, who is from Pennsylvania, headed west to Vail this December Vail with Bill Murphy, whose been a ski guide for 25 years. The two use simple commands to steer around obstacles. A turn is “left three,” for three o’clock or “right one,” for o’clock.Siget’s retinas were detached when he was blasted in the eyes by a firehouse while working as volunteer firefighter in Lancaster, Pa. in the late 50s.He took up computer programming in the 60, and eventually went to work for Koppers Industries, a producer of chemicals and carbon compounds for various industries, where he stayed for 25 years. “Some of the programs I wrote there are still running maintenance free,” Siget said.In 1968, a coworker asked Siget to ski at Seven Springs, a small ski resort in an hour southeast of Pittsburgh. “He knew this instructor who liked to teach people with handicaps,” Siget said.
At Seven Springs, Siget got the feel of the skiing equipment, but the size-8 boots on his size-9 feet troubled him. “I said ‘Wow. This is a helluva sport,’ ” he recalled. “I don’t mind the sport, but these boots are awful.”The instructor taught Siget how to get up from a fall, and how to make turns, but at the top of the tow rope Siget had misgivings. “I was scared and sat in the snow – I couldn’t go down,” Siget said.Siget was told the instructor’s father – missing one leg below the knee – skied down the hill. “I thought, ‘If that guy can do it, I can do it too,’ ” he said.The instructor told Siget to get into the snowplow position, which also troubled him. In Siget’s seeing days, v-shaped snowplows weren’t on the roads. He only knew the straight-blade plows. Frustrated, Siget asked the instructor to position his legs in the snowplow.”That’s not a snowplow, that’s a wedge,” Siget said to him.By the time he skied to the bottom, he said he had a smile on his face and returned three weeks later for his first ride on a chair lift.
On the slopes of Vail, Siget methodically cruised down Gopher Hill, Murphy behind him calling out directions. Siget senses the hill through his feet, checking his speed or moving faster at the appropriate time.Siget might not be the fastest skier, but he has gotten around Vail for more than 30 years, he said. “I was the second blind person on Vail the way everybody’s talking,” Siget said.Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14622, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado