‘Almost a spiritual connection’: Dozens gather in Kananaskis for blind and visually impaired ski event
When Dave Wilkinson clips into his cross-country skis and takes his first strides, he’s right where he wants to be.
“It’s almost a spiritual connection for me. I love the feeling of my body in space, the movement as you’re gliding across the snow. There’s just nothing that competes with it,” Wilkinson said Wednesday, right before an afternoon of several kilometres of skiing.
He’s come from Kentucky to Kananaskis this week for the annual Ski for Light event, a week-long program for blind and visually impaired skiers.
Wilkinson, like half of the skiers taking to the snow at the William Watson Lodge, is blind. The other half of the people at the resort are the sighted guides, leading their partners around the tracks.
“As a person with no sight, when I’m cross-country skiing, it’s a real liberating experience for me,” said Peter Quaiattini, a skier and vice-president of Ski for Light.
“Because of the tracks — the classic cross-country tracks groomed into the snow — I get my skis in them and it’s like a train on the tracks,” he said.
More than 70 people are in Kananaskis for this year’s event, which brings together skiers from across Canada, the U.S. and a few visitors from Norway and the U.K.
The week is full of socializing, training and racing.
There are three races — a 2.5 kilometre trek, a five-kilometre and a 10-kilometre race — with skill levels ranging from beginner to long-time skiers.
“The races are fun races, but it’s always nice to test yourself against your peers. Then, the rest of the time, we enjoy skiing out on the trails. Camaraderie and socializing as well,” said Jen Tweddell, one of the sighted guides and president of Ski for Light.
Some people have been returning to the event for more than two decades, while others are testing out the skis for the first time.
While it’s the skiing that brings the group together, it’s the community support that keeps people coming back, year after year.
“It’s the only sport I do that I’m not attached to someone or on the back of a bike or something. It’s just me and my body and the space around me,” said Wilkinson.
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