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Vermont Adaptive hosts ski festival for the blind

United States Association of Blind Athletes Sixth Annual Ski Festival took place at Pico Mountain, Feb. 9-10

Skiing with a group at Pico this past weekend, it was evident that they all love to ski, but the typical long-winded reasons about techniques, adrenaline, or glamor were not the primary reasons given. Rather, it was the freedom skiing provided that attracted these athletes. Each one wore orange bibs that read "visually impaired" or "blind" and they were among the happiest people on the hill, smiling and laughing with excited anticipation for the next run.

Ed Plumacher, a skier his whole life, started losing his vision when he was 40 years old. He explained that his decision to embrace the challenge of skiing was because it gave them a sense of freedom, saying "When I am skiing, I am free. Free of my handicap. Free of my disability. I just love being out here."

Plumacher, now 52, recently decided to ski again and signed up for the ski festival at Pico. He once was an avid skier but this time, he would have to do it blind- his disability would need to be overcome with help and practice. Although it's the same sport, skiing to him now means something very different.

Plumacher, the group blind athletes, their families and a host of volunteers gathered at Pico Mountain, Feb. 9-10 for the United States Association of Blind Athletes Sixth Annual Ski Festival. The athletes, who came from the New England states, as well as Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota, were given the opportunity to learn to ski or race in the sports of Alpine and Nordic skiing.

1--Right -Ed -Plumacher .-Frank -Kelly -Left

"USABA is extremely pleased to partner with Vermont Adaptive to provide an opportunity for skiers who are blind and visually impaired. Now in its sixth year, the event has really expanded," said Mark Lucas, USABA's executive director in a recent release.
Vermont Adaptive provided trained guides and instructors, usually two per athlete, one who skis in front and one behind the visually impaired skier.

Athletes of all abilities showed up for the event last weekend. Some had skied prior to becoming blind and others had not. Pasqual Agnone, lost 90% of his vision in his early 20's. "This is my third day skiing in my life," he explained. Watching him make graceful turns, it was hard to believe. "All I am doing is listening to my guides. Long Strides. Tight turns. I am improvising the basics," he explained. "Once an athlete, always an athlete!"

Agnone insists on the importance of continuing to push himself. He took a couple more runs with his guides and then headed for the race course.

This was the best turnout Vermont Adaptive had seen for this event, with 31 registered athletes, organizers said. As such events continue to grow, so does the demand for volunteers. Peter Casey joined as an adaptive volunteer after witnessing the joy a guide was able to provide a disabled child. "4 years ago, I was coming down 49er and saw some guy with something that looked like a  wheel barrel full of tools," he said. "When I got a little closer, I realized there was a child inside of it. The smile I saw on that kids face made me sign up to volunteer for Vermont Adaptive that day."

The Vermont Adaptive program and all its volunteers and supporters provide an opportunity for athletes to do something they love, outdoors and, perhaps most importantly, give them the sense of freedom from their disability as it no longer has to prevent them from skiing.

Plumacher was very thankful for the day on the slopes and encourages others with disabilities to try it. "Don't give in," he insists. "I would recommend this program to anybody. They understand our conditions. They make the transition very smooth and teach us techniques to help the sport adapt to us. I got something that I truly love back. I can't thank them enough."

The next event for Vermont Adaptive, Rally in the Valley, will take place at Sugarbush Mountain Resort St Patrick's Day weekend.
About Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports

Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports is the largest year-round disabled sports non-profit organization in Vermont offering the most diverse program opportunities and unique, specialized equipment. Vermont Adaptive promotes independence and furthers equality through access and instruction to winter and summer sports and recreational opportunities. For more information, visit www.vermontadaptive.org.