If you are like most people who first find their way to the Ski for Light website, you have heard good things from friends, family or acquaintances about SFL. You are curious, but you don't really understand what Ski for Light is, or why so many people who have attended one of our events call it the experience of a lifetime. Can it really be all that people have said? Isn't it just a "learn-to-ski" program?
On this page we will describe for you what the SFL organization and program is all about, and try to put into words for you what makes it so special, and so different from other adaptive programs.
After learning more, we hope that you will decide that attending the next Ski for Light event could be worth a try.
Ski for Light, Inc. is an all-volunteer not-for-profit corporation that was founded in 1975. It was created by a group of Norwegian-Americans who were familiar with a program in Norway, the Ridderrenn, and the success that program had enjoyed over the years in teaching blind/visually-impaired and mobility-impaired people the Norwegian national sport of cross-country skiing.
The two cornerstone premises, or beliefs, that led to the creation of Ski for Light were that:
Ski for Light has thrived for all these years because of the continuing truth of these beliefs. They remain as true today as they were in 1975, and are the foundation upon which the entire program is built.
Each year Ski for Light, Inc. conducts a week-long cross-country skiing event at a U.S. location that varies from year to year. For the list of places where the Ski for Light week has been held in the past, visit our Location History page.
The primary goal of the week is to teach blind, visually-impaired and mobility-impaired people who have never skied before the basics of the sport, and to give people who have already learned the basics a chance to improve their skill and technique, or to let them just have fun on the snow. About 25% of the skiers are first-time participants each year, while the remaining 75% are people who have attended before.
The week usually attracts 250 or more total attendees. The typical composition of the group is:
The entire group stays for the entire week, from Sunday evening of the first week to Sunday morning of the second week, at a single event hotel. All meals are group meals. The fee paid by all attendees - guides, disabled skiers, and volunteers alike - covers hotel room for all seven nights, all 20 meals, transportation to/from the nearest airport at the beginning and end of the week, transportation each day to/from the ski area, cross-country trail fees, and, for first-time disabled skiers only, the use of rental ski equipment for the week.
A prospective disabled participant does not have to be an athlete to participate, but merely someone who is interested in enjoying a more physically active lifestyle and who feels that his/her overall health and level of fitness will allow safe participation in the program. The only expectation of new participants is that during the week they give cross-country skiing a serious try.
A prospective instructor/guide does not need any previous experience guiding disabled skiers. An extensive training program is held on Saturday evening and Sunday morning/afternoon at the start of the week where all new and second-time guides are taught the communication and guiding techniques necessary to safely guide a blind/visually-impaired or mobility-impaired skier. There is no extra charge for this training. Beyond attending these training sessions, the only expectation of new guides is that they be at least intermediate level classic cross-country skiers who are capable of safely managing their own speed and direction on both level ground and hills, while at the same time communicating with their skiing partner.
The skiing portion of the week starts on Monday morning and concludes the following Saturday. Each blind/visually-impaired or mobility-impaired skier is matched with an experienced sighted cross-country skier for the entire week. If you aren't familiar with how blind/visually-impaired and mobility- impaired people cross-country ski, it is done 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. The blind/visually-impaired or mobility-impaired person skis in one set of tracks, the guide skis in the other set along side the skier. With blind/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.
On Saturday, a 5-kilometer rally and 10-kilometer race is conducted in which each skier has an opportunity to test and demonstrate his or her newly-acquired skills over a measured distance. This event, complete with an Olympic-type start and finish line and national anthems, is the highlight of the week for most participants.
Most skier/guide pairs meet at breakfast each day, then travel together to the ski area. They usually ski in the morning, have lunch, then do a bit more skiing in the afternoon before returning to the hotel in mid-afternoon. The guide's guiding responsibility ends at this point, but there is never a shortage of other attendees, blind/visually-impaired, mobility- impaired, or sighted, with whom you can participate in the non-skiing late afternoon and evening portions of the week.
While skiing is the focal point of the week, it is only part of the Ski for Light experience and, in fact, the Ski for Light event is held regardless of snow conditions.
The Ski for Light week includes both late-afternoon and after-dinner organized and informal activities, a group dinner each evening, with presentations and awards toward the end of dinner on some nights.
When skiers return from the ski area each day, at anywhere from 2:30 to 4:30 pm, some choose to head for the lounge, swimming pool or hot-tub to meet old friends and make new ones while others choose to nap or just hang out in their room. Some choose to join one of the "special-interest" sessions held each afternoon. These popular sessions allow volunteer group leaders to share information about topics such as their hobby, job, language or almost any subject with others who want to know more about it. After dinner activities vary from year to year, but usually include a DJ some nights, a silent auction, a program or entertainment with some sort of local flavor, Norway Night, where members of the Norwegian Delegation entertain the group, and a banquet followed by a dance on Saturday.
Part of the answer to this question is that the two cornerstone beliefs upon which SFL was created remain powerful and true year after year: blind/visually- impaired and mobility impaired people really can learn to ski quite competently and have a lot of fun while doing it, and; sighted, experienced cross-country skiers really do leave SFL feeling as if they have received more back than they have given during the week.
The rest of the answer is that the total Ski for Light experience is much more than just learning how to ski. It is much more than just the combination of both skiing and non-skiing activities and a busy schedule. It is, in fact, how people who have attended usually feel about themselves and about others at the end of the week. This is the end result of several things that are not immediately obvious unless you have attended a Ski for Light event:
One last but very powerful factor behind why so many people return year after year is the organizational culture that has evolved at SFL over the years. While it may sound a bit trite, it is quite true that Ski for Light is one of the very few places where a disabled person does not have to think much about being disabled. No one much notices, or cares. People are treated as individuals, not disabled individuals. There is always a friendly face or voice if you want a friend or need assistance, but no one will make false assumptions about your abilities.
If you have questions and/or want additional information about the program, we invite you to read Frequently Asked Questions from Prospective First-Time Attendees
If you would like to talk with someone, or to communicate via e-mail, please contact one of the three application coordinators listed below.Visually-Impaired Participant Application Coordinator:
If you are excited about what you have read and learned about Ski for Light, and would like to know the details of the next event, please proceed to the Details of the next SFL Event page. From there, you can continue to the easy-to-complete online application form. Note: information about the next event is posted on about July 1 of each year.
We look forward to meeting you at our next event!