Visually and mobility-impaired skiers meet

Skiing for light

Ski for Light

Photo courtesy of Ski for Light
Perry Heffelfinger (front) having a blast outrunning her guide at a Ski for Light event in 2017.

Staff Compilation
Ski for Light

The 43rd Annual Ski for Light International Week began Jan. 21 and will conclude Jan. 28 in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Northeast California. The Sierra stretches north-to-south along the eastern edge of California, and is renowned for rugged terrain, majestic beauty, and an abundance of outdoor recreational facilities of all types.

The week-long event teaches visually impaired and mobility-impaired people how to cross-country ski. Some of the participants may be total novices, others have some experience on snow. It attracts 250 or more total attendees from different countries including more than 115 able-bodied volunteer guides to assist with the training. The week concludes with a 5-kilometer rally and 10-kilometer race, each with several categories based on age, sex, and level of disability. There is an Olympic-type start and finish line and national anthems. Visually and mobility-impaired people cross-country ski in “tracks” (or grooves) set in the snow by trail-grooming equipment. There are two sets of tracks next to each other on the trails, one for the visually- or mobility-impaired person’s skis, the other for the guide’s. With visually impaired skiers, the guide tells the skier about upcoming changes in the direction and level of the tracks, offers instructional tips and suggestions, and tells the skier about the countryside. Mobility-impaired participants ski in the tracks in a sit-ski, with the guide providing instructional tips and physical assistance as necessary. Emphasis is placed on recreational trail skiing, rather than competition, with the skier and guide deciding together how far, how long, and on what kind of terrain they will ski.

Among the non-skiing highlights of the week is a Norway Night, featuring entertainment from the Norwegian delegation.

The roots of Ski for Light trace back to the 1950s when blind Norwegian musician Erling Stordahl first raised his dream to create a program in Norway to teach blind people to cross-country ski. He shared the idea with friend Olav Pedersen in 1955. In 1964, the Ridderrenn was created. This now draws 1,000 disabled participants and guides from around the world to Norway each year. Pedersen immigrated to Colorado in 1965. He returned to Norway in 1973 to discuss with Stordahl how to develop a Ridderrenn in the United States. That came to be in 1975 in Frisco, Colo., with Stordahl and his wife, Anna, present. There were 40 Norwegian blind skiers and guides, and 20 American and Canadian skiers and guides. Sons of Norway has been a major supporter since the beginning. Originally called Race for Light, it was changed to Ski for Light to emphasize the recreational aspect.

Ski for Light Bulletin Editor Andrea Goddard is one of only two skiers in the current group who is both visually and mobility-impaired. She skis using a sit-ski and a guide, and calls the program “truly a thing of power, fulfillment, and resilience.”

“One of the most critical components to a successful ski week and to the success of Ski for Light is the recruitment of new guides, without whom skiing would not be possible,” Goddard told The Norwegian American. “Our volunteer guides want to be there just as much as each of the participants does, and this makes for a galvanizing, egalitarian organizational culture that is unsurpassed in my experience.”

Ski for Light skiers will use the Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski Area in Truckee, Calif. Recently voted as one of the top three cross-country ski areas in North America, Tahoe Donner has a 100-km trail system with terrain for all ability levels, and an average annual snowfall of 360 inches.

Nine independent regional organizations in the United States use the name Ski for Light and hold skiing events for the visually and mobility-impaired.

If you’re interested in participating in next year’s Ski for Light event, visit to begin.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 26, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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