Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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January 31, 2013

No fear: Blind skiers take to Western slopes

(Continued)

Elliott became involved with the group in the 1980s when his daughter Erin, who was born blind, threw down her cane and refused to learn Braille because she was being teased by her classmates. She was 9 years old at the time, and Elliott said he was at a loss of what to do — until he discovered blind skiing.

"All of a sudden, it wasn't Erin the blind kid, it was Erin the skier," he said. "The fact that so many people don't ski, that when you have someone who is blind saying they went on a ski vacation, that's what is so powerful."

The foundation accepts skiers of all ability levels. But one attribute is required of everyone: trust.

Vic Gurganious is a member of the alpine ski team at the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah, which is not affiliated with the Chicago foundation but does similar work. He said he follows his guide "like a religion."

"The guide is the most important part of your equipment," he said. "You can have good skis. You can have good poles. You can have good conditions. But without a decent guide, you're not going to perform."

Gurganious, 52, has extremely poor vision due to albinism. He said he reaches speeds of up to 60 mph while communicating with his guide via a two-way radio built into his helmet. He hopes to make the U.S. disabled ski team and participate in the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, next year.

For Danelle Umstead of Winter Park, that dream couldn't have come at a better time. Umstead, who has retinitis pigmentosa, said her father got her into skiing at a particularly low part of her life.

"I had lost all usable vision. I had lost my mother. I had lost my will to live, and so when my father took me skiing I had probably been in a bad place for a few years," said Umstead. She soon changed, she said, "from a couch potato to a ski bum."

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