I’ve just come back from my annual skiing trip, which is a bit different from the norm. To explain why, I’m posting up a piece I had broadcast on Lyric FM. There was a slot on Lyric FM called The Quiet Quarter, where new and established writers wrote five pieces with a connecting theme, which were then broadcast on a mid morning programme. My pieces were about my life as visually impaired person and the piece about my skiing trip was published in The Quiet Quarter Anthology, published by New Island.
Here it is.
Every year, a group of skiers descends on a corner of southern Germany seldom visited by Irish skiers. Our trip follows the traditional formula enjoyed by thousands of Irish skiers, thrills and spills on the slopes, frothy beer and yodelliing. The only thing that marks us out are our green vests, emblazoned with the words Blind Skier.
Our trip is a far cry from the Twilight Warrior image put forward by television programmes featuring visually impaired skiers, further enhanced by an earnest voiceover designed to induce a warm, fuzzy feeling of admiration. In reality, we’re more anti-heroes than superheroes.
The recipe for learning to ski is the same whether you can see or not. Start. Stop. Turn. Fall over. Rinse and Repeat. The only difference is that we ski to the accompaniment of roared commands, “Left…right…hard left…marvellous…keep it running.” In my first year, I acquired the nickname Dangerous Derbhile, because I skied so slowly and so low to the ground. I found that the spectres my imagination creates are far more vivid than any barriers created by my eyes. But before long, skiing became a matter of course. This year, I skied with the demons on steep red slopes.
We have no choice but to get up close and personal with our guides; our relationship is a tactile one. The guides’ friendly elbows steer us onto ski lifts, down slippery steps and into ski cafes. It’s one of the perks of the trip, the chance to exchange affectionate gestures with well muscled specimens.
Many of our guides are ex-Army personnel, with the typical sighted person’s horror at the idea of physical limitation. But seeing us sailing down the mountain helps them to realize that being visually impaired need not be a cage. For our part, the trip offers the greatest freedom we are ever likely to know. As we bomb down the slopes with the wind in our hair, niggles about rogue steps and elusive computer mice vanish.
Our trip may be life changing, but it is more than mere Chicken Soup for the Skiers’ Soul. It’s a far more potent brew. Its fiery afterglow lingers long in the minds – and the mouths – of all who experience it.