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January 2022

My Life-Long Love of Skiing: Braille Mountain Initiative Participant, Peter Quaiattini

Guest Author: Peter Quaiattini

Photos: Bruno Long

Somewhere in the early 70s, around when I was age 10 or so, my little ski hill just south of Sudbury, Ontario reached out to the local CNIB with an offer to introduce blind youth to alpine skiing. This was revolutionary for the time; until then, blind people just did not go skiing. Every winter since then, with only a few exceptions, I have enjoyed getting out onto the snow. Thus, the imagination of that ski school director has resulted for me in a life-long enjoyment of the sport, and a fun pastime for the winter.

While living in the GTA, the Toronto Ski Hawks facilitated my ongoing passion for both alpine and Nordic skiing for a dozen or so years. Several private resorts in the Collingwood area generously supported the program by offering guides and skiers complimentary passes to their hills, which, being less crowded than public resorts, made it much easier.

Arriving in Calgary in the 90s, I joined the local chapter of CADS – Canadian Adaptive Snowsports. Having access to “real” terrain, over the years, I continually improved my ability to ski and improved my capacity to tackle even more challenging terrain. Believing in the value of the initiative, I joined the CADS Board of Directors and served in a variety of roles for many years; both locally and provincially. I continue to be involved with Calgary’s local program by serving as a “crash test dummy” – helping new, sighted volunteers overcome their trepidation of guiding a blind person down a ski hill by providing them the opportunity to hone their freshly-acquired guiding skills on me.

Ski for Light Canada – which promotes Nordic skiing for persons with vision-loss – helps to quench my need for getting out onto the trails. Classic Nordic skiing is, for me, a beautiful undertaking as the tracks alleviate much of the need for ongoing guidance; I can ski independently for kilometers without my guide needing to provide any direction.

An old dog can learn new tricks. A few years ago, I signed up for a series of lessons with Rocky Mountain Adaptive – Sunshine Resort’s adaptive ski school. My goal wasn’t necessarily to learn how to ski harder terrain or to ski faster, but rather, as I am not getting any younger, I wanted to be able to ski with less effort and more grace. It wasn’t easy; years of skiing the “old” way are hard to unlearn, but I do believe it made a big difference.

January 2022 offered me an opportunity of a life-time; I was invited to participate in Braille Mountain Initiative’s inaugural week-long foray into back-country alpine touring for blind individuals. This was an opportunity that I could not turn down and it expanded my horizons immensely. Experiencing the freedom and sensation of floating, quietly, over meter-deep powder, without any of the risks of conflicts with other skiers, was euphoric!

Of course, I could not undertake any of my on-snow adventures without the committed assistance of many friends and volunteers who serve as my guides and get me safely down the hills and across the trails. I am extremely grateful to them for their commitment of time, talents and skills.

For me, skiing provides me the opportunity to move through space with both independence and speed. Of all the many and varied sporting activities in which I participate, skiing is where, of my own control and volition, I am most able to move fastest and most independently.

A Week at Purcell Mountain Lodge with BMI

In my nearly 50 years of skiing, I cannot recall having a more impactful adventure than the one I undertook last week with Tyson Rettie and the many fine individuals with Braille Mountain Initiative. The week I spent was overwhelming for me; a spectrum of emotions spanning frustration to glee; inadequacy to competence; adrenalin to exhaustion.

At the outset, appreciating that I was undertaking an activity completely new for me, in an environment mostly foreign to me, and with a group of individuals whom I had never met, I went in with a fair amount of trepidation. However, from the outset, I was reassured by the competence and commitment of all of the individuals and the complete attention to planning detail and safety that was evident.

My dedicated ski guide, Kate, whom, prior to this trip, I had never met, facilitated for me an outstanding experience both on and off of the snow. Although she had never guided a blind person before, she quickly learned the essential skills for doing so.

On the snow, Kate described to me the relevant features of the slopes upon which we were skiing and safely guided me down +30° pitches of near meter-deep powder. Patiently, she took the time to draw to my attention, and helped me to explore through touch, features such as flag trees, bowed-over trees, sastrugi, hoar frost, wind slab and many other features related to the back-country ski experience - features that, as a totally blind individual, I would have been completely unaware. As a newbie to back-country alpine touring, I fell many, many, many times; each time Kate was there to pull me out of the fluff and encourage me back on my way. She was a very competent instructor and helped me to learn the skills necessary to both get up and down the hills.

All of the others in the group were equally supportive and more than friendly. We enjoyed our time outdoors, be it undertaking avalanche safety training or skinning up and skiing down another untracked slope, or sharing conversation and company around the dinner table or the fireplace.

In an effort to "walk a mile in my shoes", one evening, all of the Braille Mountain Initiative members undertook a "dark table" experience - eating their dinner while being blind-folded. For all of us, including those with sight-loss, the experience was very memorable, and I think those without sight-loss found it a very "eye-opening" experience. Kudos to them for venturing outside of their own comfort zone!

Purcell Mountain Lodge hosted for me an outstanding experience. The lodge itself is lovely in its own right, and the food was consistently remarkable - even our sandwiches were amazing!

Of course, none of this experience came for free. There are many supporting individuals who contributed a week of their time, talents and skills to facilitate my experience. Additionally, without the generous financial support of many donors, this experience would have been financially impractical for all of us who had the privilege to attend. I am more than grateful to all of the many supporters who came together in their own ways to bring this about. And I have admiration for and am appreciative to Tyson, firstly, for having the imagination and single-minded determination to bring his vision to fruition, and secondly for having enough belief in me to include me in this, the inaugural outing.

With deep appreciation,

—Peter Quaiattini, Jan 2022

To learn more about Braille Mountain Initiative trips, fundraisers or to get involved you can visit!