WINTER PARK, Colo. (AP) — Taking a deep breath, Wally Mozdzierz points his skis down the icy slope and leans forward. He hears the snow crunch and feels the contours change beneath him as he glides swiftly down the mountain, his guide following close behind.
The run is exhilarating and adrenaline pumping — common sensations for anyone on the slopes. But for Mozdzierz, it's different. He's totally blind.
"Slight right. Good. Good. Sharp left. Good. Good. Shallow right," the guide barks as Mozdzierz navigates the bumpy run at Winter Park, home to the National Sports Center for the Disabled.
Mozdzierz, 52, of Chicago, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa when he was about 20. He gradually lost his sight over two decades. Thanks to the sports center and similar groups such as the American Blind Skiing Foundation, a Chicago-based nonprofit, he and others who are blind get snow sports lessons — and for some, a way to defeat depression and a sedentary lifestyle that sometimes accompany being blind.
"It's just something I never thought I would do again when I lost my vision," said Mozdzierz, who skis with his eyes closed (he says there's no point in keeping them open). "I think it freaks a lot of sighted people out. I can't see it, so it doesn't freak me out."
"I have no fear."
Mozdzierz has taken some tumbles, hit some trees and fallen 50 feet off a cliff into a pine bough. But he continues to tackle some of the steepest and most challenging terrain, including the toughest-rated double black diamond runs.
"That's what we need, so you almost don't see the disability anymore," said Jim Elliott, one of the foundation's guides. "These kinds of activities are very, very valuable and therapeutic."